After having spent a week in London my first impressions have worn off and I am now knowing London as it really is – in summer. What it is like in winter does not interest me, nor would I enjoy it, according to the reports I have been given. So far, we have not had a hot day, but two have been warm and more than half have been wet. Even on the fine days most people carry an overcoat of some kind just in case! Apart from the weather, there is a fascination about London which gets into one’s blood.
When I first arrived it was very strange and I found myself lost on several occasions. Now I can go anywhere without a map of the city and only to-day I was able to show another stranger where to find the place he was wanting when he asked me in exactly the same manner as I had been asking people during the previous few days. There are so many traps for strangers that it pays to make sure. London was not laid out. It just grew. You think you can get to another place when you are sure of its direction and you start off only to find that the street along which you are walking is blind and you endeavour to get out of it without retracing your steps and after turning about two corners you give it up and ask someone where you are.
The travelling is wonderful and yet exasperating. There are plenty of ways of getting transport, but to the person in a hurry they are annoying. The buses and trains are cheap, in fact the taxis are cheap when compared with ours, but it is surprising the time they all take to get there. One penny will take you quite a long way in the city on the underground and the buses and provided you don’t get into a traffic jam the time taken is reasonable. However, in all the busy parts you have to wait for the traffic when on foot or on the bus.
During the first couple of days I would not use the underground as I had been warned I would get lost. I found it perfectly easy and the quickest method when moving a fair distance. Getting to the stations is not as bad as I expected, for they seem to be everywhere they are wanted. Of course, sometimes you have to go down two sets of escalators and a couple of flights of stair to get low enough down in the ground, but in every case they are quite close to the surface.
A strange thing happened on the first day I went underground. I recalled an incident of Dr. Simpson of Wellington meeting Albert Russell of Wellington in an underground some six years ago when neither knew the other was in London. That afternoon I was going through Westminster Abbey and who should I meet but Dr. Simpson and I did not have the slightest idea that he was not still in Wellington!
The underground took us almost to the Abbey and when we came out on to the street we saw quite a large crowd outside. At first Lois and I both thought it was some special party going through and we hesitated to decide where we would go. When we got closer I asked a policeman what it was all about and he said, “Someone is being hitched!” Just at that moment the bells began to peal and I saw about 20 press photographers getting into line to take a photo. I left Lo and ran over to join them, as I thought I might as well see everything that was to be seen and the best way was to be a press photographer for the time being. I got away with it alright, and as I had two cameras I looked the part. It was a very flash wedding and the bride was certainly beautiful. There were eight bridesmaids and they were all very pretty girls dressed in pale yellow with bouquets to match. I found out afterwards that it was the son of Lord Verulam who was marrying some society lady. As I blocked their way before they reached the other photographers they very kindly smiled and stopped for me to take a snap close up.
Then we went on to the Abbey. I will not attempt to describe it, for it requires a book to itself. There was one thing which impressed me very much. In all the continental cities when we were going through the cathedrals there were usually services of some kind on in one or other of the chapels and we were permitted to go in and the guide continued with his talk. In the Abbey a man went round and stopped all parties, telling them they could remain if they sat down and kept silent, otherwise they must leave the cathedral. Lois and I stayed for the service and were very glad, as the organ and choir were splendid. We saw where so many of the kings and queens of England had been crowned. I took a snap of the coronation chair, but it was too dark to get a result. We spent the best part of an afternoon in the Abbey until about six o’clock and still we had not seen all the many historical corners and relics.
In the morning of the same day we went to the Tower of London. I always had the impression that the Tower was a comparatively small place, but it took a couple of hours to go over it and even then we hurried over quite a lot that was interesting. It covers quite a large area and has several towers and other buildings in the space which was once surrounded by a moat.
I photographed the spot where Queen Anne Boleyn, Lady Jane Grey and others were beheaded, and saw the execution block and axe on which Lord Lovatt met his death on April 9th, 1747.
Many of the terrible stories about the Tower were retold by the Beefeaters and Yeomen Warders. What was well worth both the time and the cost was the visit to the Wakefield Tower where the crown jewels are kept. The two large diamonds in the crown and the sceptre took my breath away. That in the sceptre is said to be the largest diamond in the world, 516½ carats, and beyond price. The ruby given to the Black Prince in 1367 is also the largest in the world. I never tired of gazing upon these marvellous jewels, but time was going and I had to move on.
I called upon Mr. Holiday, the Manger of the Bank of New South Wales and was given a very nice reception. In most cases in London I found it was very difficult to get interviews with people I called upon without having to wait a long time. In this case Mr. Holiday was engaged, but he came out to me immediately, asked me to have lunch with him, and gave me a man to take me round the sights close by during the intervening hour. He was most interesting, and showed me the famous Guildhall where all the great banquets are given to the distinguished persons who visit London. Then we went to several banks and also Lloyds, that wonderful insurance business which is famous throughout the world. We saw the bell which is historical and is rung whenever a ship is lost at sea. As it was getting close to lunch time we had to leave other places until my next visit.
Then we went to the new City Club for lunch, where I had seagull eggs for the first time. I had seen them in the shops just previously for 3d. Each, but did not think I would have the opportunity of trying them so soon afterwards. They were very good and not much different from the ordinary hen egg.
On Sunday we spent the whole day in going on a trip up the Thames as far as Kew. It was the brightest and warmest day we have had in London and was very interesting. We spent all the afternoon in the Kew Gardens and saw the old palace.
We have visited several theatres, including Covent Garden, where the Grand Opera season is now in progress. We saw Rigoletto and thoroughly enjoyed it. It was a great sight to see the hundreds of taxis making their way to the doors of the theatre where the ladies in the beautiful frocks alighted. The seats are from £10 to about 10/-, but we could only get very ordinary seats at 25/-. However, it was money well spent. The opera was broadcast and therefore it started right on the tick of 8.30. The Royal Philharmonic orchestra was the best I have ever heard. They all stood while the conductor was taking up his position. He waited for absolute silence, which was obtained in a couple of seconds as everyone seemed to understand what was required. Then followed music which was thrilling, top notes which made a tremor run up and down your back and acting which was finished to the last knuckle joint. Occasionally, some person would endeavour to suppress a cough and it seemed to sound through the whole theatre, so good were the acoustics. The thought passed through my mind, “I hope I don’t have to sneeze!” I understand that Covent Garden is the best opera house in the world and the singers who appear here can offer no better testimony.
The Royal Tournament at Olympia was also a wonderful performance. The building seats – – – people and the seats are so arranged that everyone can see, notwithstanding that many people at the back are a good distance from the ring. The whole show is given by members of the military and naval forces. The most wonderful turn, to my mind, was that given by a team of motor cyclists. They rode their motor bikes in every possible position. Three men started on three bikes and as they went they picked up seven more men and they finished up riding together in the form of a pyramid – ten men on three bikes. They jumped hurdles of every kind by riding up a ramp at a high speed. A number of men formed a pyramid on a platform and they left a gap in the centre. A cyclist went up the ramp at a terrific speed and took a very long jump over the platform and through the men. If he had failed in any way someone must have been killed.
Another interesting display was given by the air force recruits. It was mostly physical exercises, but they finished up with a display of swinging clubs in the dark and each club had a torch at the end of it. As they were different colours you can imagine the sight which these lights moving fantastically made in the darkness.
The Royal Horse Artillery and the Scotch Guards were most interesting in their display.
What was undoubtedly the best and most spectacular ceremony as far as military organisation is concerned was the “Trooping of the Colour”, which takes place in the Horse Guards Parade ground once each year on the King’s birthday. Only a very limited number can get into the ground and therefore it is very difficult to get tickets. I tried everywhere I could think of, but was unsuccessful. I had a letter of introduction to the High Commissioner for New Zealand, and I thought this would be a good opportunity to secure his assistance and advice.
I arrived at his office and after going to three other people I was kept waiting for about a quarter of an hour and then I was shown into the office of his secretary. After cooling my heels for some minutes I was naturally expecting to be received by the High Commissioner, if only to say “good-day”. However, the secretary buried his head into a large diary and was turning the pages backwards and forwards and then without looking up to even see the colour of my skin to ascertain whether I was a Maori or not he said, “I am afraid I cannot do anything for you until next Monday week”.
As I had not asked him to do anything for me I did not know whether he was crazy or someone had made a mistake in taking me to his office. I replied, “I am sorry, but I didn’t understand”. He then looked at me and said, “You want to see Mr. Jordan, don’t you?” “Yes, of course,” I replied. “Well, I cannot make any appointment until next Monday week”. It just took my breath away for a moment. I had presented a letter from a man holding one of the highest positions in New Zealand and the High Commissioner could not see me for over a week! Recovering from the shock I said, “That will be splendid, as I will not be in London then and I will not waste any of Mr. Jordan’s time”. He saw the sarcasm in my remark and said that in that case he might be able to do something better, but the damage was done and I did not want to see Mr. Jordan at any time and so I told his secretary not to bother, but I would like him to be given the letter of introduction.
I have found it very difficult to make appointments with English people holding high positions but I did not think our own High Commissioner would be so unapproachable. Walking out in disgust I decided to forget about him and the trooping of the colour also.
When the morning arrived there was a different feeling about the matter. The local papers wrote it up fully, there had been several full dress rehearsals and everybody in the street was talking about it. Special traffic arrangements had been made, extra policemen were in the city by the thousand and there was an air of excitement everywhere. I went down with my camera to see what was going on. I caught the spirit of the moment and wanted to see everything. I asked a score of people, including policemen, how I could get into the enclosure. It could not be done without a ticket.
Then I tried the hard luck story with another policeman. I was a stranger from New Zealand, wanted very badly to see the ceremony, did not know how to get tickets, was terribly disappointed, etc. etc. and could he help me. “Well”, he said, “It would be worth my job to let you in without a ticket, but I will tell you where you might get through. Walk down behind the back of that crowd and get into Downing Street, then turn to your right, etc. etc. and you will come to a small doorway”.
It was only a chance, and I decided to take it. Fighting my way through the crowd took a long time and some of the guardsmen were already marching on to the parade ground. Then, as was expected, I got so tangled up with all his directions that I could not find the small doorway. I saw a small gate which was being guarded by a man in a tail coat and so I thought I would try him. I walked up hurriedly and looking straight ahead made for the gate. “I am afraid you are at the wrong gate, as this is the Prime Minister’s private entrance”. My bluff was no use and so I just apologised and got out as best I could.
Undaunted after my failure I walked along without knowing where I was going. A man overtook me and offered to sell me a seat on a stand for 10/-. I said I would take it if he could show me where the stand was and if it would be suitable for taking photos. I saw that what he had to offer was useless as it was only a ticket for an enclosure on the ground which was already filled. However, while aimlessly walking beside him I came to another entrance through a large building which was guarded by three policemen. I went up to the sergeant and pitched the same hard luck story. I gave him my card and also showed him some letters of introduction. Then I said I was prepared to pay to get in if it could be managed, and put my hand in my hip pocket. “no, no”, he said, “there is nothing to pay here, but if you go through that doorway and tell the policeman that you are a friend of mine he will let you through”. I thanked him profusely, but quietly passed over two half crowns. Once again adopting the air of importance, I quickly walked down the long corridor towards the policeman trying to make up my mind what to say to him. Just at the right moment a lady approached him and asked a question. While he was pointing out something to her I quietly slipped past and in another moment was in the enclosure. At last I was close to everything that was happening. The Life Guards were already marching into position and several bands were formed into one big band. I could see, but I could not see properly to take photos. as I was looking over the heads of other people. Further ahead where a stand was reserved for the King and Queen there were some empty seats.
I got up as far as these, but was again blocked by the same hefty policeman who seemed to meet me at every move. I told him the same story which had worked so well before, but he said he dared not let me through. I continued talking to him about New Zealand and used a little more bluff. The Horse Guards were approaching in all their splendour and Queen Mary was being cheered as she came behind them in her car with the Princesses. I saw a press photographer out in front. I whispered to the bobby, “Can’t I also be a press photographer and go out with him?” Half a crown was impressed on his gloved hand so that nobody saw. Stepping away for a second to tell someone else to stand back he gave me a wink and moved on.
I was now amongst the chairs reserved for special guests, but of course I dared not take one in case Lord so-and-so arrived and turned me out. The press photographer had moved on by this time and I could not see him. I strolled along as though I owned the place and pretended to take some snaps. Then the Queen reached the stand and I was just waiting for her to get closer to me when the bands struck up the National Anthem and everybody stood up. My view was blocked by these and I lost the photo. I took advantage of the scuffle when the Queen arrived to get closer to the front and just when I thought I had reached the end of my tether I was again stopped by a policeman. The same old story worked wonders and he said, “Wait until the King arrives and then hop out to the front quickly”. I offered him thanks and invited him to have a drink with a florin that seemed to be very acceptable to him. I was now so close that I decided sixpence would be my next tip, if any. However, when the King and all his Guardsmen arrived I was out in the front next to the ring of soldiers encircling the ground and I could see everything that was going on.
It was a wonderful sight. Every movement of the troops had been rehearsed over and over again and they were perfect in their marching and movements generally. The King inspected the Guards and the Trooping of the Colour followed. You will no doubt see this on the news reel at the pictures and so I will say no more. On my way I saw the last policeman who had helped me. I had a word with him, shook hands and gave him an invitation to New Zealand!
Time was now getting very short in London and we still had a lot to do. We had received an invitation to spend a week end with Jack Ewing’s people at Ferring-by-Sea, about 70 miles out of London.
We could not stay the week-end, but we caught an early train on Sunday morning and spent the whole day out there. They met us at the station with the car and could not do enough to make us enjoy ourselves. We enjoyed every minute of the day and when we returned at 11 o’clock at night we all agreed it was one of the best days of the trip.
We have now seen this wonderful spectacle and it is better than anything else I have yet seen of this kind. I thought the trooping of the colour was magnificent and beautifully done, but the Tattoo was positively wonderful. We were fortunate in obtaining four of the seats granted to the Royal Empire Society. As these were right behind the Royal box we had an excellent position. We left London in a motor bus as six o’clock and the run to Aldershot took about three hours. As they had to wait for most of the daylight to disappear the first item – a march past of some thousands of soldiers in English uniforms – took place at twenty minutes to ten. At 10 o’clock it was still not properly dark, but it was sufficiently dark to obtain good results from the searchlights which illuminated the field.
Just before the show started Queen Mary arrived and looked a very regal figure in a cream frock and hat, specially worn so that the 50,000 people could pick her out when she stood under a strong light to take the salute. Her popularity is still as great as ever and she was given a great reception by the crowd.
The Tattoo was a series of special military events, such as the arrival of King Henry VIII at his camp to meet King Francis I of France on the plain of Ardres near Calais in 1520. This was a most magnificent sight, as the old uniforms were used. As the men came on to the field at various points they were illuminated by the searchlights. Then the 1st Guards gave a display of drill which was better than anything else I had seen of this kind. To mention but one item. They were in lines of about 300 men. They all wore white coats. Imagine this long line sloping arms, saluting, fixing bayonets, etc. at the stroke of the drum precisely as one man. There was always just one click of the rifles and one movement from one end of the line to the other.
There was a massed bands parade. I have never seen over 1,000 bandsmen playing and marching together previously and I suppose I will never see the sight again. The music was beautiful and the marching in the different uniforms was positively perfect.
The Assault and Capture of Fort Moro, Havana, 1762, was reproduced in every detail. The properties in connection with this set must have cost some hundreds of pounds, but nothing had been spared in making the item successful. The native troops and the British fought together and the uniforms of those days and also the implements of war were all as used at the actual battle. There were approximately 5,000 troops employed in carrying out the attack and defending the fort.
I had previously enjoyed the display of physical culture given by the Royal Tournament at Olympia, but when something of the thing, but on a much larger scale was carried out by about 1,000 picked men the sight was one never to be forgotten. When all lights were out and these men started swinging their clubs, which had torches at the end showing different colours, there were rounds of applause from every corner of the huge stands holding the many thousands of people. At 11 p.m. an up-to-date item was given which was most realistic. The field artillery were in camp and sleeping. In the early hours of the morning a call was received that enemy planes were overhead. They were called out to prepare for an attack. The planes swooped down upon the camp and dropped bombs, which gave a wonderful pyrotechnic display. This was worked by having some kind of explosive ready to fire by the men on the ground each time the planes swooped down upon them. The anti-aircraft guns started their firing and the noise was deafening. Again and again the planes swooped down, until at last they were supposed to have obtained a real hit, for at one part of the field there burst forth showers of rockets and other fireworks which illuminated the ground and the sky with coloured lights and hundreds of stars dropping from the heavens. It was the best item of the evening up to the present.
There were several other very good items and just before midnight the last one was put on. It was a massing of all of those soldiers and bandsmen who had taken a part in the night’s proceedings. They were to be brought together in a special formation. They marched on from several points at the same time and yet they never got into each other’s way, although they crossed the path of the other regiments at several points. It was an exhibition of review organisation and military organisation. The searchlights were playing upon the men as they marched and until they got into their right spot, where they halted. In the front of the several thousand soldiers were the Scots Guards and the Welsh Guards. Those both wore white coats. The bands stopped. The searchlights increased their lights. Like a huge machine or toy soldiers operated by clockwork they presented arms at a stroke from the drum. There was a breathless silence everywhere. The spotlight was switched onto where Queen Mary was sitting. She immediately rose and the 50,000 people took the key from her and rose also. There was a slight pause and then quietly the National Anthem was started by the band. It increased in volume until it came to the roll of the drum, which seemed like thunder by comparison until the last notes were played. Another pause just as impressive as the former. Then the massed bands played “Abide with Me” and the vast audience sang the hymn. The still midnight air, those thousands of soldiers and the thousands of voices singing that hymn were something I will never forget. At the end of the hymn the massed bands played very softly “The Rose of England” and through loud speakers all round the field came the voice of a man reciting an epilogue which ended with the words, “The god of battles is the prince of peace”. You must actually feel these last few moments for yourself, for I cannot describe them properly. The Queen then rose to leave and cheers were given until she was out of sight.
What an night! I am glad I did not miss it. Now we had to get home. We had a cup of coffee and a sandwich and just dozed until we got back, just after three o’clock. It was daylight when I got to bed.
The next night I was late again, as I went to a special Masonic meeting which started at 3.45 in the afternoon and finished just before midnight. I cannot tell you all about that meeting, but I can let you know it was held in the new Peace Memorial Temple which is a beautiful building. I enjoyed it immensely and did not even mind having to reply to a special toast, as I was the only overseas visitor. The banquet, which was held after the lodge meeting, was the best I have every attended. I was given a souvenir from the “Old Actonians Lodge” in the form of a special glass with their name thereon, and a programme with the signatures of all the members of the Lodge who were present.
A couple of days later I enjoyed another meal of a different kind. I called to see if Mr. H.N. Casson happened to be in his office, as I know he is mostly in his country home in these days. He was there, but was just preparing to go to luncheon with his son, Peter. He received me in a most friendly manner and after a short talk insisted upon my accompanying him to lunch. Peter was getting ready for a trip to India and so he took us to have a special luncheon at an Indian restaurant. He did the party properly and I noticed it cost him 25/-, but what I enjoyed most was the opportunity to have a talk to these two men. Peter looked a man, although he was only 18 years of age. He is going to be a man who will be known throughout the world. He has already visited 22 countries and can speak five languages fluently. He is coming to New Zealand next year and of course has promised to send me word and meet me there . The time went all too quickly and I had to return to the Burroughs office,where I was spending the day, and Mr. Casson had to return to his home where he does all his work. He also hopes to come to New Zealand later on, but as he is now almost 70 years of age I am wondering whether he will feel like travelling all that distance when the time comes.