Childhood memories of royal visit

FARM MODELS: Peter Oliver (second from left) helps his dad Angus (far right) out with dipping sheep for the benefit of a British newspaper photographer in 1954.
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More memories of Queen Elizabeth II’s stay at Mid Canterbury’s Longbeach Estate 70 years ago have been recalled.

Following former estate owner Virginia Thomas sharing her memories with The Ashburton Courier, a former resident has come forward with his recollections.

Peter Oliver, 77, of Geraldine, lived on the estate with his farm worker parents when the young queen stayed.

Her Majesty and the Duke of Edinburgh were there three nights as they took time out from their nationwide postcoronation tour of the country in 1954.

‘‘I can remember the queen riding a beautiful big white horse with spots on it,’’ Peter said. The horse was from the estate’s stables.

Just seven-years-old at the time, Peter and his dad Angus Oliver, who was the estate’s stud shepherd, were helped by the duke as they drenched sheep.

While the queen was often on horseback, the duke would be ‘‘nosing around looking at everything’’, keen to lend a hand.

As his dad showed the duke how to undertake the task, which in those days involved putting a pill in the sheep’s mouth from a hand-held dispenser, Peter excitedly watched on.

‘‘I had to carry a pill box for my father, because the duke was being shown how to dose sheep.

We had to explain to the duke not to put your fingers in the front because that’s where the teeth are, and he did get it wrong,’’ Peter said.

The prince sustained a bite, which drew some ‘‘royal blood’’, but not enough blood for Peter to see whether it was blue or not.

It is assumed the duke handled his injury with dignity, considering Peter does not recall whether the royal said anything at the time.

‘‘He pulled his hand away, just wrapped it up,’’ Peter said.

Prior to the visit, a British newspaper visited to get photos of the types of farm activities which would be under way on the property while the royal couple were there. Peter said the newspaper got photos of crops being headed and sheep being dipped.

For the latter, Peter and his dad were obliging models. Peter enthusiastically mirrored his dad in using a pole to push the sheep down and along the dipping channel to ensure they were fully treated.

Another thing he got to do was attend a service in the small Grigg family church on the property alongside the royal couple.

His experiences with the royals meant he had plenty to tell his fellow pupils at Eiffelton School when he returned for the school year.

The royal stay was at the end of January in the school holidays. He said his memories of the visit are ones which stay with him to this day.

‘‘When you think of all the other kids who never got that close to the queen, we were quite privileged really.’’

Recently Virginia Thomas spoke of her memories. Aged 18 at the time of the visit, she lived in the homestead with her parents John and Gonda Grigg who farmed the estate.

She described the late queen as ‘‘a magnificent person’’ who had wanted to ‘‘become part of everything’’ on the farm, including helping her father draft sheep at weaning. She and her family had the pleasure of riding horses with the royal couple on the estate.

Today Longbeach Estate remains in the Grigg family, farmed by her son Bill Thomas and his family. The estate was established by her great grandfather, pioneer John Grigg, who arrived in New Zealand in 1854.

Peter Oliver.