'Everything was spot on' Former Coldstream Guardsman from Norfolk remembers Queen's coronation

Harry Prior was in 2nd Battalion of The Coldstream Guards from January 1952 to January 1954 and was

Harry Prior, holding a flag and the plate which hung above his bed when he served in the Coldstream Guards. - Credit: Brittany Woodman

He was a private in the Coldstream Guards, marching ahead of the royal carriage at the Queen’s coronation, 69 years ago. As the nation prepares to celebrate the Platinum Jubilee, reporter Stuart Anderson spoke to former guardsman Harry Prior.

In those days, the famous Buckingham Palace guards in their bright red coats and bearskin hats stood outside the gates instead of behind them.

Harry Prior, now 88, was in their ranks in the early years of our monarch’s reign, and one memory has always stood out in his mind. 

“One time when the Queen came home we presented arms as she came through. When she entered the gates she waved, just to me,” Mr Prior said. 

Harry Prior was in 2nd Battalion of The Coldstream Guards from January 1952 to January 1954 and was

Harry Prior, who did his National Service in the Coldstream Guards from January 1952 to January 1954 and was in The Queen’s coronation parade. - Credit: Brittany Woodman

“When she put her hand up to me, that made my day I can never forget it. I was the only one that she waved to.”

Joining the army at age 18 was a watershed for the young Mr Prior, who hails from Witton Bridge, near North Walsham. Until he left for his training in Surrey, he had never travelled further than Norwich.

He was later assigned to the Coldstream Guards’ 2nd Battalion, based at Wellington Barracks in Westminster. 

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Mr Prior still remembers the coronation of Elizabeth II clearly, having woken up at 5.30am and spending hours in preparation. 

Harry Prior was in 2nd Battalion of The Coldstream Guards from January 1952 to January 1954 and was

Harry Prior and his niece Ros Keen. - Credit: Brittany Woodman

He said: “It took so long to get ready to do it. Everything had to be spot on.

“We were allowed no food or drink until we finished - all we had that day to suck was Horlicks tablets.”

A cheering crowd surges around the gates of Buckingham Palace to salute the newly crowned Queen Eliz

A cheering crowd surges around the gates of Buckingham Palace to salute the newly crowned Queen Elizabeth II, who appeared on the balcony with other members of the Royal family. - Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

Mr Prior went on parade at 10am, lining up in front of the palace, from where they marched behind a military band, ahead of the royal carriage, for the ceremony at Westminster Abbey. 

He said there was an unforgettable atmosphere with thousands of onlookers thronging the Mall - a fittingly grand occasion for a Queen he has always admired. 

“I think she’s lovely,” he said. 

Harry Prior was in 2nd Battalion of The Coldstream Guards from January 1952 to January 1954 and was

Harry Prior is looking forward to celebrating the Queen's diamond jubilee. - Credit: Brittany Woodman

Today, Union Jack bunting decorates the windows of Mr Prior's house, and a Platinum Jubilee tea towel hangs in the front window. He said the monarchy was what made Britain special.

“If we didn’t have the royals, this country would be like all the others,” he said. 

Although it was tough work at the time, Mr Prior said he was lucky to have served in the 2nd battalion, which, along with the coronation, carried out public duties such as guarding Buckingham Palace and the Tower of London, Trooping the Colour and Queen Mary’s funeral.

Queen Elizabeth II, wearing the Imperial State Crown, and the Duke of Edinburgh, dressed in uniform

Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh, waving from the balcony to the onlooking crowds at the gates of Buckingham Palace after the Coronation. - Credit: PA

“You always had your bearskin on, and in the wintertime, you had an overcoat," he said.

"If you were on parade and somebody next to you was feeling faint, he’d say, ‘Harry, I feel faint’. 

“So you’d move your shoulder up to him, and his mate on the other side would do the same, so we held him up.”

A soldier who fainted would be punished for being “idle on parade”.

THE QUEEN INSPECTS THE COLDSTREAM GUARDS REGIMENT.(PLEASE CREDIT G3 MEDIA OPS LONDON DISTRICT)

The Queen inspecting the Coldstream Guards in the year 2000, wearing the same bright red coats and bearskin hats Mr Prior wore in his time as a guardsman. - Credit: G3 MEDIA OPS LONDON DISTRICT

Mr Prior said standing guard outside the palace gates could also be challenging, but also had its upsides. 

He said: “People used to come up and say ‘I have a photo taken beside you?’

“But you couldn't speak, and sometimes they would ask if you were dumb. 

“But some of the young girls would put a note in your cuff, and when you went off you could read it.”

Mr Prior went on to gain his HGV licence while serving in Germany. 

“They asked me what I wanted to do and I said I wanted to drive,” he said. 

“So they put me in a tank, and that’s where I did my training.”

After he was demobbed he put his skills to good use, driving a meat lorry for George Bush and Son’s abattoir at Stalham for 35 years. 

Mr Prior still lives in the same house where he was born. “I keep well, I’ve got good neighbours, and my niece is a brick to me,” he said.

Mr Prior is planning to celebrate the jubilee in typical rural Norfolk style. 

There will be a photo display at the village hall, followed by an afternoon tea, where he will no doubt be called upon to tell of the day he wore a bearskin hat, and the Queen waved just to him on her way into Buckingham Palace.