When I was a boy, radio was a medium which we generally used for entertainment and rarely to “catch up on the news.” Television was still in its infancy (we received three stations in North Lewisburg). CNN, Internet, cell phones, and texting were a long, long way off in the future.
We depended upon our daily newspapers (the Urbana Daily Citizen, the Springfield News-Sun, and primarily the Columbus Dispatch), which were distributed from house-to-house by newspaper boys like myself to keep abreast of what was happening in the world. Additionally, we went to the local movie theater not simply to be entertained; we went to be informed.
Even our small North Lewisburg theater had a full bill of information to disseminate each evening. The program started off with previews of coming attractions…those sight and sound bites which stirred up our interests and encouraged us to attend the next major movie event. These previews were generally followed by a cartoon featuring Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy, Tom and Jerry, or other comic characters we had come to know and love. There might also be an informative “short,” or documentary…a bit of fluff to help us eventually walk out of the theater with some “learning.”
And before the main feature, there was always a short, grainy, black and white newsreel which reviewed the highlights of the week’s events from around the world. This short film was our access to the rest of the world…moving pictures which helped us to know and understand what was happening. A single newsreel usually played all week, until it was replaced by a newer edition at the start of the next week.
I vividly recall those weekly excursions into the world outside our town. Stories of war (the Korean War was in full-swing at this time), natural disasters like floods and severe weather, and economic woes like the wholesale slaughter and burial of diseased cattle filled the silver screen with glimpses of reality.
One week in February 1952 there was a short newsreel about King George VI and Queen Elizabeth of England who had taken time off from their daily routines to say farewell to their daughter, the Princess Elizabeth, and her husband Phillip. The young couple was headed out to the far reaches of the British Empire to “show the flag,” so to speak. George VI, although he was ill from lung cancer (he had recently lost a lung to surgery), wanted to take this occasion to say goodbye to his oldest daughter.
The reader can click on this link to go to YouTube to see this historic newsreel:
Now why, out of all of the newsreels of this time period which are available, did I select this one to feature in this “Along Spain Creek” blog? There are a few reasons: Firstly, I remember this newsreel “like it was yesterday.” The images and the message have stayed with me over these many years since I sat in that aisle seat in the old theater. Secondly, this newsreel was a prelude to the one which followed the next week, when it was suddenly and dramatically announced that King George VI had died unexpectedly. Thirdly, it was a prelude to the ascension of Elizabeth II to the throne of Great Britain on February 6, 1952.
Anyone who truly knows me understands that I am an American patriot to the core. I believe wholeheartedly in our system of government, a Constitutional Republic. The blood of Revolutionary War veterans courses through my veins. I have no love of aristocracy or class.
Yet I must admit that Queen Elizabeth II, as she enters her 60th year as monarch of Great Britain, has been “a class act.” As an ambulance driver during the harrowing days of World War II, she served her country with honor and distinction. As Queen, she has served as the focal point of the rich heritage which is the British Commonwealth of Nations. While outrageous behavior and scandals have brought negative press to the royal family, Elizabeth II has for the most part stood above it. She has given her heart, her soul, and her very life to her nation and her people.
So, while sitting in that old theater, looking at the then-current newsreel of the events which transpired in early February 1952, with no knowledge of what would happen the following week, those of us who were watching...your parents, your friends, myself and perhaps even you...became parties to history. And isn’t that life?