MB: living and writing the early days of parks canada

MB Williams to her family, 16 Nov 1931

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1931

14 St. John’s Wood Court.
St. John’s Wood. London.
N.W.8.
Nov 16/1931

Dear People.

            This is just a line to tell you that we have now a permanent address, as above. We have taken a small furnished flat - “centrally heated” as they say in this country, which means hot water coils, a rare thing. Most of them have only gas or electric fires.  In the oldest houses there is a grate with a miserable moping fire of half a dozen small pieces of coal. This is quite comfy and we have also electric heaters

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in case really severe weather occurs so that we feel we can control the situation. We are fairly central, just a penny bus ride from Selfridges. You turn at that corner from Oxford St. & go northwest to St. John’s Wood. It is much higher and dryer than Kensington or Chelsea wh. We had first thought of.

            Have been only a little over a week in London & very rushed, looking for a house & seeing sights. Three great spectacles last week. Lord Mayor’s show which we saw in comfort from the

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windows of the Palace Strand Hotel where we were staying - a wonderful place where you get room & breakfast, bath, books & general service for $2.25 per day. No tips. The Lord Mayor looked very important in his ancient gold coach but the show was somewhat spoiled by a downpour of rain. However London crowds don’t mind that & the streets were lined with a six-deep thicket of umbrellas for hours before. The procession was about a mile long & was something after the order of our Labour Day affairs. Floats showing the progress of industry etc. first bicycle, & motor car old

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horse omnibus etc. Then the beef-eaters from the Tower.

            Tues we went to the opening of Parl. Bill Herridge had written to Col Vannier, who is the real head of the High Commissioners office & he is simply turning the office on end to get us into things. There is of course a great demand for tickets but he managed at the last moment to get us two for the Royal Gallery. That is a long gallery opening out from behind the Throne through which the King & Queen pass. We saw the peers & peeresses come in in gold lace & diamonds & all the processional ceremony. Imagine a long Gothic hall with tiers of seats rising at each side (where we were) Royal blue carpet rolled down for the occasion. The crown & orb in position, Beaf-eaters, heralds & kings chamberlains all drawn up at each side of the open way. At 10 min to 12 the Crown was solemnly borne into the

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anti-chamber. Then the Prince of Wales entered & afterwards Prince George. Then we heard the crowds cheering outside & the bands playing announcing the arrival of the King & Queen & at 12 exactly, on the first stroke of Big Ben the heralds blew a blast on their bugles. The great doors opened at the lower end of the hall & the Royal procession entered. The King was leading the Queen by the hand & they were both dressed exactly as you see them in the state portraits. Great cloaks of red velvet with ermine capes & trains carried by two pages. The Queen had a wonderful dress of cream satin embroidered in pearls & the most wonderful collar and breast plate of diamonds. Diamond crown & earrings. In fact - when she walked she sparkled like a cut crystal chandelier. The King wore his crown, with the great ruby & Koh-i-noor diamond. It was rather becoming only it looked a little too large as if it should have been taken in a bit.

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A whole lot of dignitaries including M. Baldwin followed. We waited until they came out & then went into the House of Lords where we rubbed shoulders with a lot of duchesses etc. waiting to go home.

            Next day we were even more fortunate for the Armistice Celebration. Col. Vannier got us tickets for M. Thomas’ office immediately opposite the Cenotaph & two windows from where the Queen was. We could see everything marvellously & it was one of most thrilling experiences I believe we shall ever have. You have no conception of what Eng. & the Empire mean till you see the British people on a day like this. We went at a little after 9 & the streets were black with people then - standing 15 deep on the sidewalks. The Cenotaph is in the middle of Whitehall & from early morning the street is closed for traffic from Westminster to Trafalgar Square so that the whole thing is carried out without any confusion. It was a wonderful morning, warm & sunny & London is beautiful when the sun shines.

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About 10 we went out on to the balconies & Lady Williams Taylor of Montreal happened to stand next to us & as she had seen it many times before she was able to tell us just what was going on. You can see from the pictures just how it looked. At 10.50 the Prince came out of the Home offices & took his place & the Cabinet Ministers etc. The bishop, choir & about 10 bands were already in place. At 10.55 he stepped forward, bowed & laid his wreath at the foot of the Cenotaph. Then Mr. MacDonald, Mr. Baldwin, and Mr. Ferguson & the representatives of the Dominions laid theirs & the Bishop of London said a prayer. At 11 the bells rang out all over the city. The flags dipped & then there was absolute silence for 2 min. The motor buses stopped & the people got out took off their hats & waited. You can’t imagine how thrilling it was. Then the bishop prayed again & the Grenadier [freands] Band played almost in a whisper the first bars of God Save the King. You realized that that was what the whole thing meant.

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It was tremendous. The tears simply ran down our faces.

            Thurs. we went to Col Vanniers to lunch & had a lovely time. Going out for three other engagements this week so we shall soon know people.

            Hope to write oftener now.

            No word from you yet but Blanche has just phoned to say there are letters here which I hope may be from you.

            Best love to you all

            M.B.

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M.B. Williams, “MB Williams to her family, 16 Nov 1931,” MB: Living and Writing the Early Years of Parks Canada, accessed September 24, 2017, http://mbwilliams.academic-news.org/items/show/33.

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