Note: Queen Elizabeth II, the longest-reigning British monarch in history, passed away earlier this afternoon. The George C. Marshall Foundation offers this article in commemoration of her life and legacy.
Commemorating Queen Elizabeth’s accession to the throne 70 years ago this month, guest blogger Tom Bowers shares some of the connections between George and Katherine Marshall, and Queen Elizabeth.
George Marshall met Queen Elizabeth II on a few occasions when she was a princess, and he sent her a sympathy note when her father, King George VI, died in 1952. She replied with a handwritten note: “Dear General Marshall, I was deeply touched by your kind letter of sympathy, and I do want to thank you with all my heart for your thought in writing. I know that the King very much enjoyed meeting you, and I remember so well when you were here during the war.…With again my thanks to you and Mrs. Marshall for thinking of us at this time of great sorrow I am, yours, very sincerely, Elizabeth R.”
The Marshalls attended the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, along with General Omar Bradley and other distinguished Americans. Katherine Marshall was invited to some of the festivities, but not all. She wore a dress that she had purchased at Razook’s, a store in Pinehurst, North Carolina.
Marshall’s aide, Colonel C.J. George, described what happened when Marshall entered Westminster Abbey: “The entire gathering arose and the orchestra played. The General was completely ignorant of the fact that this was an honor being paid him, because as he walked up the aisle, he glanced over his shoulder to see if there was some important VIP behind. He did not know until the following morning that it was he who should have taken the bow.” General Bradley also described this, but the story has not been corroborated by other sources.
An Associated Press story of the coronation did not mention such a crowd reaction, but it did say that Marshall was “seated in the first row of the choir, nearest the throne. He was wearing evening dress with a purple ribbon running diagonally across his white shirt front.” The story also said that Prime Minister Winston Churchill, regaled in a royal blue robe, stepped out of the processional to shake hands with Marshall, who returned the gesture with “massive dignity.” Marshall recalled the incident in a detailed letter to former President Harry Truman: “Churchill dignified me in the Abbey by turning out of the procession to shake hands with me after he had reached the dais.”
At a banquet for the new queen at Buckingham Palace on June 3, Marshall was the only American present, and he told former Truman that he had been seated “two chairs removed from the queen.” Later that night, the Marshalls attended a ball given by Perle Mesta, and he danced until after 2:30 in the morning. The Marshalls enjoyed other social affairs during the celebration, including banquets and a private luncheon hosted by the Churchills.
Tom Bowers is the former docent director at George Marshall’s Dodona Manor in Leesburg, Virginia. He was professor and dean of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill from 1971 to 2006.