Wearside Echoes: When a future Queen visited Sunderland

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TODAY we continue our seven-part celebration of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee with a look at the 1940s – when Her Royal Highness visited Sunderland for the first time.

THE Roker Roar rang out across Wearside when Princess Elizabeth – heiress to the throne – visited for the first time in 1946.

Heavy rain failed to dampen the high spirits of a six-mile throng of well-wishers, who lined Her Royal Highness’s procession route on April 30.

“The reception by the crowds gave no doubt about the kindly loyalty of Wearsiders and their affection for the young Princess,” reported the Echo.

Princess Elizabeth with tasked with two royal duties to perform during her first visit – the opening of a new hospital, and the launch of an historic ship.

Sunderland’s new Eye Infirmary was her first port of call, where she toured the facilities and chatted with patients, including 13-year-old Ralph Blackett, who was recovering from a squint operation.

“The sympathetic nature of the Princess was displayed,” the Echo commented. “She asked him ‘How are you getting on?’ and he replied, brightly, ‘”I am fine, thank you.’”

Nurses formed a guard of honour as the Princess left the Infirmary and, although needing an umbrella to keep off the rain, she lifted it high to allow an Echo snapper to take pictures.

Her second visit of the day was to the shipyard of Sir James Laing, where she launched the firm’s 770th vessel – British Princess.

“As soon as the Princess reached the launching platform, workmen began to knock away the first chocks beneath the vessel,” the Echo told its readers.

“Workmen threw their hats into the air as the ship entered the water. The sirens and buzzers of ships in the river sounded in a triumphant chorus.”

Second piece: Second World War KING George and Queen Elizabeth paid their first wartime visit to Sunderland on June, 20, 1941 – with the details initially kept secret due to security fears. “Although unheralded, the news flashed around the town in no time at all, and the streets were soon packed with throngs of people,” reported the Echo. Among the highlights was a visit to Sunderland’s shipyards, where Their Majesties chatted to workers during a lunch-break – including 74-year-old employee John Walker. The Royal couple’s second morale-boosting visit to the town, on April 8, 1943, was also supposed to be hush-hush – but everywhere they went they were cheered by huge, happy crowds.

After arriving on the Royal train at Sunderland Station, where they were welcomed by Mayor Myers Wayman, the pair were driven to nearby shipyards – the names of which were censored.

“Their specific purpose was to pay tribute to the indefatigable work of Sunderland’s world-famous shipyards. Her Majesty was particularly interested in the contribution of women,” said the Echo.

Indeed, both the King and Queen stopped to talk to a group of women workers, which included 50-year-old solderer Mrs Page – the oldest woman employed in the shipyard.

“The Queen asked how I liked my work, and I told her I liked it well. I said it was very healthy work, and she said we all looked very healthy through working in the open air,” said Mrs Page.

As their Majesties toured the yards, they were apparently amused to see several notices chalked on the hulls of ships, including “Tankers delivered from this yard by airmail” and “Tanker for Monty.”

The messages prompted the King to ask a shop steward on the production committee about relations between men and management, to which he replied: “We are all one big happy family.”

Another worker, Harry Connor, who was marking off a plate, told the King and Queen: “We are the men that are helping to beat the U-boats.” “Yes,” remarked Her Majesty, “That’s the idea!”

Sidebar: Royal snippets

** The Duke of Kent visited Sunderland’s shipyards on January 19, 1942.

** Sunderland’s largest public hall was destroyed in an air raid on April 16, 1941. The Victoria Hall had been named after Queen Victoria, with smaller halls known as Edward and Alexandra.

** Queen Alexander Road – Sunderland’s first ‘ring road’ – was only named with the word Queen during World War Two – on a suggestion by Alderman David Cairns.