Just over 60 years ago, in June 1953, the ‘Daily Express’ newspaper produced a compilation of six daily editions, as a souvenir of what they described as ‘The Story of the Century’ - the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth 2nd… But between the cheery reports of pomp and parties, celebration and crowds, there appeared a darker, more tragic story…
Monday June 1st 1953 - Coronation Day minus 1
Jockey Gordon Richards and cricketer Jack Hobbs are congratulated on being awarded knighthoods in the Coronation Honours. People bed down on the Mall to reserve a front row position for the Coronation tomorrow. Mars Bars, Spangles and Bounty advertise with the slogan “Everybody’s Happy! Everybody’s Gay!” Dr Sinclair Snow, vicar of Bognor Regis says, “Every Englishman with a TV set whose room is not full of guests on Coronation Day should be ashamed of themselves!”
Tuesday June 2nd 1953 - Coronation Day
Edmund Hilary and Sherpa ‘Tiger’ Tensing conquer the world’s highest peak. Under the banner ‘Be Proud of Britain on this day’, the headline announces - “All this - and Everest Too!” In between drawings of the Queen’s ‘dream dress’, and a map showing the Coronation route, there is a report on Page 5 of a police investigation into the murder yesterday of 16 year old Barbara Songhurst from Teddington whose body was found in the Thames by Eel Pie Island. Her 18 year old friend, Christine Reed with whom she had been out cycling, is missing.
Wednesday June 3rd - Coronation Day plus 1
The paper is full of photographs of the Coronation service, the Queen’s “Golden Coach” and the 150,000 people lining the Mall. Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill describes the new Queen as “this gleaming figure, crowned on our history and enthroned forever in our hearts.” Christine Reed’s bicycle is found in the Thames, 100 yards from where her friend Barbara Songhurst’s body was discovered. The police call in divers to search the river. An ox, roasted at Keverne in Cornwall, provided 2000 ‘Coronation Sandwiches’.
Thursday June 4th - Coronation Day plus 2
Headline - “Eel Pie Isle Murder Hunt at Midnight. Thames Dragged for Second Girl.” Police search Teddington Lock with a mine detector and question a U.S Air Force deserter at Bushy Park. Patrons at cinemas, dancehall and cafes in Richmond, Twickenham and Teddington are also interviewed. More photographs of the Coronation service are published. Air Lingus advertises £11/10 shillings return flights, London to Dublin, “in armchair comfort.” Aubrey Fitzgerald of Hove complains about lack of ice in pubs and restaurants.
Friday June 5th - Coronation Day plus 3
Headline 1 - Korea Truce Hopes Soar”. Is this the end of the 3 year war between North and South Korea? Headline 2 - Instead of the few hundred expected, over 20,000 people come to Teddington River Pageant, anticipating that the divers taking part will find the body of Christine Reed who is still missing. Loudspeakers announce “We are not looking for bodies. We are only here for the pageant.” Police squad cars are called to control the crowds. A Ukrainian man is arrested and then released. More photographs of Queen’s “Down Your Way” drive around London.
Saturday June 6th - Coronation Day plus 4
Police find ‘Barbara and Christine’ murder weapon on the towpath at Teddington -a sharpened 10 inch file. If the body of Christine Reed is not found today the river is to be drained from Eel Pie Island down to Richmond Lock. Korean War peace talks are delayed once again…
…And there the ‘Daily Express’ Coronation Souvenir ended
- The Thames was eventually drained on Saturday 6th June and Christine Reed’s body found. Like her friend Barbara Songhurst she had been raped, beaten and stabbed. The murderer was Alfred Charles Whiteway who lived in Teddington. He was arrested a month later after two further attacks on women on Oxshott Heath in Surrey. What police officers did not know at the time of Whiteway’s arrest was he had been carrying an axe which he had managed to hide under a seat in the patrol car. It was found some time later by a police officer who did not realise its significance. He took it home and used it to chop wood. Forensic tests on the blood found on the axe and on Whiteway’s shoes linked him to the murder. When finally shown the axe Whiteway broke down and confessed to the killings, He was hung at Wandsworth Prison on December 22nd 1953.
- The war between North and South Korea ended on 27 July 1953, when the armistice was finally signed and a demilitarised zone established between the two countries.
- Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor, the eldest daughter of King George 6th was crowned as Queen Elizabeth 2nd on 2nd June 1953. She remains our Queen until this day.
– from Martyn Day