I am not by conviction a monarchist. One of the weaknesses of a dynastic system is that you can get some excellent people, like our much-missed Elizabeth, some hopeless ones such as Edward VIII, or even ones who do not want to do it. I will leave you to work out to whom I am referring.
Elizabeth and her consort, Philip, did a great deal of good. It will be difficult to live up to their examples. I want to look at a particular example – youth work.
I am one of that minority of people who was born before Elizabeth became Queen. I can remember her Coronation – going to see it at the cinema because we did not have a telly. I can remember too listening to the ceremony on the radio, and the Queen taking her oath. She has certainly lived up to it. Throughout her reign, she has promoted the concepts of service, duty, and helping others when some politicians have done their best to trash those values. For that, we should be grateful.
The Boy Scouts and Community Service Volunteers
I did not know the Queen personally. Like many others, I saw her at various functions. I first encountered her at a Boy Scout Jamboree in Sutton Coldfield in 1956. All I can remember was that she seemed very small as she was driven past us in a Land Rover. Then I saw her again at Windsor Castle when I was in a parade of Queen’s Scouts who marched past her.
Later on, I was invited to a reception at Buckingham Palace as I was one of the first Community Service Volunteers – an organisation which encouraged young people to do voluntary work. She appeared at the top of the staircase with, of all people, Margaret Thatcher. Neither seemed at ease with each other. Perhaps because they had rather different views of the world. I found it pleasanter to talk to Neil Kinnock who was also there.
The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme
I did meet the Duke of Edinburgh, but only because my wife was mayor. Much earlier I had attended one of the launch meetings for the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme, which was organised by John Hunt. He had organised the ascent of Everest in 1953. The scheme was launched in 1956 and has expanded to 144 nations. It requires participants to take part in expeditions, achieve a level of fitness, perform community service and pursue a hobby. Although the requirements were similar to those for Queen’s Scout I joined and later became an instructor.
I think my minor connection with the royal family has now become obvious. It was because I was involved in youth and community work. The Queen was the Patron of the Boy Scouts, and the Duke patron of his Award Scheme. Before his death, he presented 500 Gold Awards.
I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the Boy Scouts. They taught me how to read a map and organise myself in the great outdoors, and I have loved hill walking and mountain climbing ever since. I was even out in Northumberland last Sunday. Everything I learned in the Boy Scouts was done by volunteers. These people were saints and we should really appreciate them.
Later my wife and I helped to pass these skills on to other young people through the Duke of Edinburgh’s scheme. We went up to Northumberland for the expeditions, and then nipped over the border because you could free camp in Scotland but not in the National Park in England. You had to go on proper campsites. I can remember the young girls asking if there was anywhere where they could plug in their hairdriers, and young lads asking where the café was on Windy Gyle.
The outdoor expeditions were not the same as going up a climbing wall or spending a day on the fells. The youngsters had to stay out overnight and that meant learning how to get on with each other, and how to prepare food in the outdoors. Otherwise, you went hungry.
Self-reliance and cooperation
Both the Scouts and the Duke of Edinburgh’s Scheme taught the values of self-reliance and cooperating with others. Other aspects of the schemes encouraged community service and helping others. Above all, it was about thinking of others and contributing to society. These were not the values promoted by Mrs Thatcher, nor, it seems, by Liz Truss. Both schemes are now international, operating in over 150 countries.
Of course, many volunteers gave unstintingly to organising these schemes. They were not run solely by Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh. But they lent their positions and patronage to encourage them, and I think society is much the better for it.
Modern politicians seem to think our salvation lies in encouraging the rich to make as much as they can and hoping some of this will “trickle down” to the less well off. I have yet to be convinced, Looking after ourselves and ignoring the less fortunate seems to be the order of the day. I would rather have the values of service and contributing to society which our late Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh promoted. Let us honour their memory by continuing to encourage our young people to make the world a better place for all of us.