Monday, February 27, 2017

Monday Morning Inspiration/Cocktails With The King and Queen of England

This will be a departure from our usual Monday Morning Inspiration post. 

Last December, I invited a few friends over for a small holiday gathering. During the evening, as usually happens, the subject of sewing cropped up. A friend commented that his uncle had been stationed in England during WWII and had continued his post for some time. He said that in 1949, his uncle was invited to have cocktails with the King and Queen of England, and had written a letter home detailing his experience. He thought that I would enjoy the letter for the description of the clothing. While the description is not elaborate, it's still quite interesting. 

So many of you are Downton Abbey fans, so I thought you would enjoy a real life account of an extraordinary evening. I asked my friend for permission to share the letter and he was honored to think that others might enjoy it too!

Enjoy :)

Cocktails With The King and Queen of Great Britain

“Sculthorpe was the closest base to Sandringham, where the royal family occasionally stayed.  At that time, George VI was the king. He was married to Queen Elizabeth, the present Queen Mother.  I was a ‘neighbor’ of the royal family. They invited various neighbors to Sandringham for a ‘sherry party.’ The occasion was on Feb. 22, celebrating Abraham Lincoln’s birthday.”  Sal wrote home about this experience in a letter that was subsequently published as follows:

92d Group Commander Tells Of Visit With King and Queen
The following is a letter received from Col. Salvatore E. Manzo, 92nd Bomb Group Commander, describing his recent visit to the King and Queen of England.

24 February 1949

In this letter I want to tell you about my visit with the King, Queen, and Princess Margaret at the King’s residence, Sandringham.

On Tuesday morning, 22nd Feb., I was having a staff meeting in my office when I was interrupted by a telephone call from Sandringham. It was an equerry in the King’s household inviting me to a cocktail party in the name of the King at Sandringham that evening at 6:00o’clock sharp. I was asked to bring one other officer with me. He made it a point to make sure that I understood the exact time.

You can imagine my reaction to that invitation. I was flabbergasted! I never expected to be invited to any affair attended by the Royal Family, let alone a cocktail party at their home. None of the Americans who have been here before me in the rotation of B-29 Groups have been invited, and no one from the other units presently here was invited. I have no idea why I was so fortunate to be selected. Lt. Col. Bill Norvell, my executive officer, went with me.

I told the driver of the RAF staff car we have to find out how to get there and to pick us up at 5:00 P.M.  Sandringham isn’t far from here. When I told the driver, an RAF airman, where we were going, he was astonished and immediately took off to polish the car and make preparations.  He was the envy of all his fellow airmen. A short time later he returned and suggested that we leave at 4:45 just to be sure.

We left at 5:00 and arrived at Sandringham at 5:30.  Since we were early we drove around the countryside to kill some time. At 5:45we approached the gate to the grounds and were stopped by a tall, immaculate bobby.  I told him we were expected at 6:00. He asked me my name, and when I replied he recognized that I was a guest without even referring to a list.  We went into the beautifully landscaped grounds and up to the enormous mansion.  Another bobby showed us where to park. Since we were early we sat in the car and waited for 6:00 o’clock.  In a few minutes the bobby said it would be all right to go in, so we actually entered the house about 5:50.  We were the first guests to arrive, and we were met at the door by two doormen who took our coats and checked our names against their list. The doormen were in uniform, of course. We waited there in this large entrance hall until the equerry who had called me came out. In the meantime some other titled guests had arrived and were waiting also. The equerry took me by the arm and led me to the room in which the party was to be held. I was first to enter.

The Queen and Princess Margaret came forward to greet me as I entered. Bill was right behind me. The equerry introduced me and they extended their hand in greeting. We chatted for a minute or so when the King walked into the room.  The Queen said, “Ah, here’s the King.”

Then she presented me to the King, who also extended his hand. Other guests were beginning to come in so we moved away.

It was a lovely room. The rugs, furniture, tapestries or paintings which covered the walls, and the swords and shields on the walls were all exquisite.  It was a very warm and friendly atmosphere. The waiters, of which there were six, wore uniforms of the King’s regiments with his monogram embroidered on the chest. They kept coming around with drinks and delicious canapés. They served whiskey, sherry, and gin. For the first time in England I got some ice in my drink.

There were 27 guests plus the Royal Family and a few members of the household [ladies-in-waiting, etc.] The party was small enough so you could meet and talk to everyone The guests were grand to us.

About 6:30 Lady Peale, one of the Queen’s favorite ladies-in-waiting, came to me and said she wanted to show me the drawing room across the hall. It was a lovely room with beautiful furniture, etc., fireplace at each end of the room with roaring fires in them, a lovely piano, and many trinkets. She said it had been the favorite room of Queen Alexandra, the King’s grandmother. Most of the objects in it were things that she had collected around the world. There was a large cabinet with tiny figurines of all kinds of animals in different types of stone, ivory, jade, etc. They were a collection of Queen Alexandra’s. Lady Peale showed me a full size painting of her.  She had been a beautiful woman.

About 6:45 I was able to make my way to where the King was sitting on the arm of a chair talking to some people. As I approached he saw me and stood up. The other guests then moved away and I was left talking with the King alone. We talked for about 15 or 20 minutes. Lady Peale had previously told me that Kings of all ages, they like people who amuse them. She said the King liked funny stories. I’ll be darned if I could think of a one.

We talked of many things; the past war, the present world conditions, the Atlantic Pact, our presence in England, his health, Eisenhower’s book and his recent appointment as head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, pheasant hunting, and a few other things. He is very concerned about the condition of the world today. He was afraid that the American people might still regard the ocean as too great a security factor when actually in this modern age it is not. I assured him that the American people, if anything, were more frightened of the prospects of another war than were his people because the British people have been so close to the threat and source of war for so long that they are better disciplined and more used to it.  He agreed with that. About Eisenhower’s book, he said that it was very well written, easy to read, and very fair. He likes Ike. He said that it was very interesting to read about other people’s reactions to the big decisions that were made during the war.

He told me that his health is much improved and that he is “now back on a full engine, all four cylinders.” He looked very fit.

All the time we were talking he was standing. The Queen and Mr. Keith were talking to Bill not far from us. About 7:00o’clock they came over. The Queen was concerned that he might be tired after standing so long, but he said no.

Bill and I worked on them a bit to visit the Group at Schulthorpe. Brazen Americans! Actually they said they’d love to but they were leaving on Thursday, the 24th, to return to London. The Queen said that maybe they could make it early in May.  I said we were leaving early in May and suggested April if they could. She said, “Can I climb up one of those little ladders and see the B-29 inside?”  She is wonderful.

I know you’re interested in what the ladies wore so I’ll try to describe it. Since it was an informal party the ladies wore cocktail dresses and no hats. The Queen had on a beige cocktail dress, solid color, with a silver fox neckpiece over her right shoulder down to her waist. She had on a 3-string pearl necklace of huge pearls, and a diamond and emerald clip on her left shoulder, earrings and bracelet to match. She had on a moderate amount of make-up and no fingernail polish. She looked beautiful, always smiling. Princess Margaret had on a cocktail dress. I believe it was chartreuse in color with brown dots on it. She was very attractive and not as short as I had pictured her. I didn’t talk to her much but I liked her.

The King wore a sport suit of tweed, predominately gray. He had on a blue shirt, a red and black tie, and brown suede shoes.

The person who impressed me most was the Queen. She is lovely, and charm personified. She was a perfect hostess, circulating among her guests, and always smiling. She appeared very interested in anything anyone said to her and she made us feel right at home. As a matter of fact, they all made us feel at home. Never once were we uncomfortable.

I forgot to mention, all the men wore business suits except Bill and I and Air Commodore McKee, the only RAF officer there.

To go on with the final events, about 7:05 guests started to take their leave. I was still talking to the King, Queen, and Princess Margaret. I moved away so they could bid their guests goodbye and got in line with the others. Then Princess Margaret’s dog came in and she started feeding it canapés. I went over to watch for a moment and lost my place in line, so I got on the end of the line. As a result I was the first to arrive and the last to leave. Their Majesties and the Princess shook hands as we left. In my conversations with them I called the King “Sir” and the Queen “Ma’am,” which is proper for an officer in uniform.

Back in the entrance hall I obtained the list of invited guests that the doorman had. I asked him if he had to retain it, and he asked me if I would like to have it. Of course I said, “Yes.” It has the royal crest and the words Sandringham, Norfolk engraved on it. Preceding the names of the guests is the following heading: “Their Majesties’ Sherry Party, February 22, 1949.”

Needless to say, the experience was one of the most thrilling of my life. I was greatly impressed with everyone and everything. It was a great honor for me, and I shall remember it the rest of my life. –  Col. Salvatore E. Manzo

Most of us who remember the Queen Mother only remember her as an older woman. I was intrigued, so I did a bit of research to see her in her younger days. 

Her wedding day.

In the movie, "The King's Speech," the Queen is depicted as a woman who truly loved her husband. That sentiment comes through is the above letter as well. 

I think she was also a very devoted mother.

I just had to include this picture. Here she is fishing, but, take note of the pearls!!! It must have been a signature piece for her as it is mentioned in the letter, and if you look at each picture, she is wearing pearls in all.

I hope you enjoyed the letter.

Have a wonderful week!

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  1. What a wonderful post! Many thanks to you Rhonda, and your friend for sharing it. It's simply lovely to read of such events from people who were there, participating in it (and not reporting it as a journalist). And the details of the clothing they wore make it so enchanting and immediate!

    1. So happy you enjoyed the post 😊
      It really is a bit of history.

  2. What a fascinating read! Thank you so much for sharing it, and thanks to your friend, too. I was struck with how warm, friendly, gracious and dignified the royal family was, something I associate with how the leaders of countries should be.

    1. So glad you enjoyed it 😊 And, I agree with you.

  3. Wow! Thank you so much for sharing this, Rhonda.

    1. I thought it was rather special. The credit for sharing actually goes to my friend 😊

  4. What a cool glimpse of history! Thanks so much to your friend for sharing!

  5. This made my Morning . Thank you for sharing. I am avid Monarchy fan ❤.
    If you have Amazon Prime there are many Documentaries on the Royal Family including a very informative one on the Queen Mother. It was fascinating, as you mention we remember her As the cute little elderly lady. I posted a short clip on My IG about Queen Elizabeth's dress (The seamstresses sewed strands of their hair into the gown ) Again thank you for this and thank you to your friend.

    1. Send me a link to your Instagram account. I would love to see the clip!

  6. Thank-you for sharing this, as well as finding the pictures. A glimpse into the past is always a treasure.

  7. I really enjoyed reading that. So descriptive. They certainly knew how to write letters back in the day.

    1. There's so much about, and in the letter that is gracious. Makes me want to strive to be more gracious in all that I do 😊