THE QUEEN 1926-2022
Balclutha’s 91›year›old Gladys Lemm was proud to reminisce about her meeting with the Queen in 1977.
Queen Elizabeth II visited New Zealand nine times between 1953 and 2002, including February 22 to March 7, 1977, as part of a Commonwealth tour to mark her Silver (25th) Jubilee.
Mrs Lemm had glimpsed the Queen in 1953 when the Royal Couple drove through Balclutha on their way from Dunedin to Invercargill.
‘‘We built a float in the shape of the royal yacht and gathered at Hospital Rd to wave as she drove past.
‘‘It was a great celebration,’’ Mrs Lemm said.
The 1977 itinerary followed that of 1953–54, with the Royal Couple’s opening of Wellington’s Beehive as a major highlight.
Mrs Lemm was a teacher›aide at Balclutha’s Rosebank School at the time.
‘‘Lorna Cross was one of the head teachers at that time and she organised for about a 40›seater bus›load of us to go and see the Queen.
‘‘There were days of excitement. It was a very big thing in those days’’ she said.
The younger school children were prioritised and Mrs Lemm was looking after a boy with special needs named Michael.
‘‘I was delighted to be going and when we got there the airport people offered the best spaces to people with disabilities, so Michael and I were right at the front.
‘‘The Queen arrived and walked along the line and we could see her getting closer and it was very exciting and then she stopped and said hello to Michael and asked him a question.
‘‘I almost couldn’t believe it.’’
But young Michael was unable to answer. ‘‘He was only about 6 or 7 and I suppose he was star›struck.
‘‘As I was trying to think of how to help, the Queen looked up and spoke to me.
‘‘I honestly don’t remember what she said but I remember saying how old Michael was and that he had muscular dystrophy and was just a bit shy.
‘‘She asked some questions and was very polite and interested and I suppose I managed to answer her, and then she had to carry on.’’
On the bus ride home teachers and children surrounded Michael and Mrs Lemm like new celebrities, but she said she could only remember the happy daze ‘‘like a dream come true’’.
She was able to obtain a photograph of her experience, a copy of which is now in a specially printed album of her life prepared by her children and their own families.
‘‘I’ll never forget, I got such a surprise when she stopped and spoke directly to us,’’ Mrs Lemm said.
‘‘It was very special. She was so gracious and charming.
‘‘She was the Queen.’’