The following is an account from Rhodes Scholar and former Gleaner journalist, David Salmon, of his participation as Jamaica’s standard-bearer in the May 6 coronation of King Charles III and Queen Camilla.
The coronation of King Charles III was an event filled with pomp, pageantry, grandeur, and spectacle. For me, it was an opportunity to walk the aisles of history in a location I have only visited in my dreams.
I was initially surprised when I received the email from King’s House that I had been selected to carry Jamaica’s standard in the procession of the Commonwealth realms, though when I read that Governor General Sir Patrick Allen selected me because I was “a high achiever who has made a significant contribution to society”, I realised from then that I had to represent the black, green, and gold and do it well. It was a historic occasion, and I wanted to be part of history.
This selection came at a pivotal moment in Jamaica’s history, as this would perhaps be the last time the country would participate in a coronation as a Commonwealth realm.
When I first entered Westminster Abbey and saw the soaring vaulted ceiling, I was filled with awe as I marvelled at the church’s architecture. I was also filled with reverence as 40 monarchs have been crowned at this site since 1066, and 30 kings and queens were buried in her vaults. Hence, its significance to history was not lost on me.
Seeing the preparation of the abbey for the coronation service was like seeing ants working on a large project. The structure around us dwarfed us in size, but we were contributing and etching our mark on history. Entering the building for the first time produced an ethereal feeling as the pictures I had seen simply failed to convey the building’s enormous size and splendour.
As I looked and touched the weathered stones that formed the base of the abbey’s columns, I imagined a 13th-century stone mason carving the rock and setting it in place. While he would not have lived long enough to see its completion, the fact that we were here witnessing the result of his work was very poignant. I imagined what his life was like and whether he knew at the time that he was contributing to history 800 years later.
On Thursday, prior to the coronation, the standard-bearers rehearsed the route to take through the abbey and the order in which we would line up for the coronation procession. Bearing the weight of our standard was not easy, and we had to design our own way of holding our nations’ flags that kept the banner stable while also ensuring that our standards’ colours were visible.
We also participated in a run-through of the coronation with stand-ins for King Charles III and Queen Camilla.
One of the more humorous moments of the rehearsal was seeing the Queen’s representative attempt to bear the weight of the crown on her head. Rather than alleviate her discomfort, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, seemingly, made it worse. To compromise, the service proceeded without the crown being placed on her head and it was situated right next to her instead.
At the rehearsal, I also saw the crown jewels up close, including the Sovereign’s Orb, the Sovereign’s Sceptre with Cross, and St Edward’s Crown.
Historical events like this are often accompanied by interactions with prominent figures. However, it was the intimate moments that stood out for me. An example of this was meeting fellow standard-bearers from across the Commonwealth. I had very fruitful conversations with Antigua’s independent senator, Kiz Johnson; Belize’s standard-bearer, Cameron Gegg; and listening to the war stories of Grenda’s standard-bearer, Sergeant Major Johnson Beharry. There were representatives from the other Commonwealth realms’ armed forces, youth advocates, and Australia even nominated their national football player, Sam Kerr.
Before leaving the rehearsal, Papua New Guinea’s standard-bearer, Noel Leana, and I explored the abbey and visited the tombs of several of England’s greatest monarchs, including Henry III, the 13th-century king who commissioned the construction of the church; his son, Edward I; Henry V; and Elizabeth I. Seeing the tombs of these figures we often read about from history was fascinating on its own. Now, I would be participating in the coronation of one of their descendants.
Interestingly, the day of the coronation did not begin with the most auspicious start. I got lost at the Victoria train station, as due to the security measures, I had to travel much further away from the abbey than expected. The closest security point was two kilometres away, and guests had to navigate the labyrinth of London’s streets and a never-ending stream of police officers.
Upon entering Church House, we were greeted by a Foreign Office Official, Carlene Robinson, who was from Jamaica. As each minute passed, we waited by sipping tea and feasting on croissants. At one point, the Premier of Nevis, Mark Brantley, surprised us with a visit before we lined up for the procession.
During this time, the weather took a turn for the worse, as the earlier sunny day we had experienced at the rehearsal was replaced by grey clouds and gusts of frigid wind. Not to mention that it even started to rain.
The standard itself was quite heavy to carry on its own. With the wind, it became a large sail, and I was hoping and praying in my mind that the flag would remain stationary just long enough for me to enter the Great West Door. Nevertheless, Lady Allen and Sir Patrick were quite supportive, and despite the rain, Sir Patrick took the opportunity to lighten the mood with a quip about the weather.
While we waited, Canada’s prime minister, Justin Trudeau, gave a nod of support as he saw the colours of the Jamaican flag. Hearing the trumpets ahead of our flag added to the grandeur of our entrance. Step by step, second by second, history was being made.
I was not nervous to see the throng of seated guests, I was actually more concerned about dropping the flag. From the moment we entered the abbey through the great doors, I was fixated on completing the mission. Each second felt like a minute, and at that moment, the march of time slowed to a crawl.
As we walked in the nave through the Quire screen, it was reassuring to see the smiling faces of the abbey’s guests and to hear the melody being played by the ensemble.
After handing our standards to the clergyman to be placed in the sacrarium, we proceeded to our seats in the South Ambulatory, which were located next to the high altar. What struck me was that we were seated beside the tomb of King Richard II. This was quite ironic given that I had studied William Shakespeare’s play of the same name for CAPE Literature while attending Wolmer’s Boys’ School.
The coronation service itself was remarkable, with the music being the highlight. As a lover of classical music, hearing the Westminster orchestra play renditions of Handel’s Zadok the Priest and hymns such as Praise My Soul was quite special. One of my favourite pieces performed at the service was Alleluia, which was sung by the Ascension gospel choir.
After the service, several of the standard-bearers met with heads of state and other prominent world figures in Church House. I even had the chance to speak with Caribbean leaders about the future of the region.
Having experienced this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, this moment is etched not only in memory, but in history.
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