Memories of meeting queen at Rakaia

Mayor Ernest Bathurst, Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh at the Ashburton Domain in 1954. Photo courtesy Ashburton Museum & Historical Society.
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Heather Guthrie vividly remembers the moment 70 years ago when she met Queen Elizabeth II at her home town of Rakaia.

In 1954, the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh were on a sixweek tour of New Zealand. On January 22, the royal couple were heading for a mayoral welcome in the Ashburton Domain and then three days rest and relaxation at Longbeach Estate.

When their royal motorcade exited the Rakaia Bridge, which had been decorated in sheaves of wheat and scarlet poppies, about 2000 people lining the highway hoped it would pause momentarily in the little Mid Canterbury town on the banks of the Rakaia River. They were not disappointed.

Near Meads Tearooms, today Harvey’s Bakehouse, the chauffeured vehicle stopped. The Queen wound down her rear window, when the wife of Rakaia vicar Stephen Parr lifted up five-year-old Heather and thrust her head through the open window. “I had a bunch of pink and white gladioli in my hand, and I came face to face with the most important woman in the world,” Heather said.

“I had been trained to say ‘These are for you, Your Majesty’, and I remembered the words.’’

Upon receiving the flowers, the Queen replied “Thank you dear, they’re lovely.”

Heather, daughter of Joy and Walter Ashford, who owned Ashfords Handicrafts in Rakaia, was dressed in a Ballantynes white embroidered dress with her hair plaited. After the royal meeting, she quickly became the envy of hundreds of other children who crowded around wanting to know what the Queen said.

Heather Guthrie.

“I can picture their faces. People couldn’t believe she spoke to me,” Heather said. “My parents wanted to know every detail.”

Heather remembered more than what the Queen said. She said the Queen had bare feet. This clashed with her idealised vision of Her Majesty, which was the Queen in her coronation regalia wearing an ermine robe.

“She’s cast aside her openweave raffia shoes and they were lying on the floor of the car,” Heather said. “I was shocked at seeing her bare feet and thought ‘That’s not right’. When it was all over and everyone wanted to know the details, all I could say was ‘The Queen had bare feet!’’’

Heather, who now lives in Christchurch, is enjoying looking back all those years ago with the 70th anniversary of the royal visit this year.