15th June 2019. Although early on the 15th of June 1953 the sky was overcast and conditions were initially rather dull over the coast of southern England, weather on the 15th of June 2019 was markedly different at Boulder, Colorado. In fact, it was a glorious morning in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. The late afternoon featured some cloud and showers over Denver, but it remained dry in the vicinity of Boulder Municipal Airport. Just to the west majestic peaks were still covered with snowfall. They resembled the points of a crown and thus provided the perfect backdrop for a salute to Her Majesty The Queen.
Today marks the 66th anniversary of the Coronation Review of the Fleet, which was held only a fortnight after Queen Elizabeth II officially undertook duties as Sovereign. On 15 June 1953 Grumman Avenger Bureau Number 53503 led the Royal Canadian Navy’s aerial contingent from the deck of the aircraft carrier Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Magnificent. The 1945-vintage airplane was in the vanguard of a formation of 16 Royal Canadian Navy aircraft (8 anti-submarine warfare Avengers and 8 Hawker Sea Fury fighters) cruising above the waters of the Solent during the flypast segment of the Royal Navy Review. Those spectators gazing skyward included the following: The Queen, His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh, the Queen Mother, other members of the Royal Family, Prime Minister Winston Spencer Churchill and thousands of sailors aboard hundreds of anchored naval vessels.
This historic post-coronation naval gathering was celebrated by the Commemorative Air Force through the Rocky Mountain Wing. As a public tribute the flight of Avenger 53503, which is now possessed by the Grand Junction-based organisation, was featured at the 11th Annual 1940’s WWII Era Ball. The event was a production of the nonprofit 1940’s Ball NFP, and the stated goals were to remember and honour the services and sacrifices of military veterans. The D-Day landings of 6 June 1944 were one focal point. A number of Second World War vets attended and all who served during that great conflict and others were celebrated. The aforementioned, of course, includes Her Majesty The Queen, who in 1945 was a trained member of the British Army’s Auxiliary Territorial Service.
Consulate General of Britain in Houston Karen Bell and Erin Kuhn, Consul, Government and Prosperity, of the United Kingdom Government Office in Denver, were supportive. Squadron Leader Mark Buckley of the Royal Air Force was their designated representative.
A 2019 tribute had been proposed by a Commemorative Air Force colonel after posthumous inductions, which were sponsored by Bomber Command Museum of Canada, of two Coloradans into the Colorado Aviation Hall of Fame. Ralph and Robert Hendricks both joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1941 and perished during the war. Robert tragically died in Canada prior to the end of training at No. 6 Elementary Flying Training School, Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. After his brother’s death Ralph was discharged and became a U.S. Navy Reserve aviator and Avenger pilot. He perished aboard United States Ship (USS) Bunker Hill and 53503 is now painted in the livery of Air Group 84’s Torpedo Squadron 84 (VT-84), the unit to which Ralph was posted on the day an Imperial Japanese Navy kamikaze pilot took his life and the lives of numerous shipmates.
To accomplish the day’s objectives the Wing sent aloft Chris Ryan, a rated Avenger pilot, and a Commemorative Air Force reenactor/passenger who possesses one line of lineage from the kings of Scotland and additionally Native American (USA) and First Nations (Canada) ancestry. Intentionally or not, the man symbolically represented the roots of the two great nations as well as the countries’ original aboriginal residents. He was dressed in a replicated period Royal Canadian Navy Leading Seaman Air Fitter’s white summer uniform. The outfit in part saluted Canadian Gordon Arnold Broster, who served aboard Magnificent twice and retired from the Royal Canadian Navy after many years of dedicated service. Although not a member of the crew in 1953, Broster held that rank at the time of the Coronation Review of the Fleet. Furthermore, being so attired drew attention the fact that Queen Elizabeth II’s grandfather (King George V), father (King George VI), husband (Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh), and 2 sons (Charles, Prince of Wales and Duke of Cornwall and Rothesay, and Prince Andrew, Duke of York) served in the Royal Navy.
In recognition of the Royal Canadian Navy’s aviation branch, the passenger carried aloft an authentic pair of Korean War era pilot wings and other relevant items for distribution to supporters after the sortie.
At 16.00 hours (4:00) the Ball commenced on the airport grounds, with the Glenn Miller Orchestra and other performers entertaining the capacity crowd. Prior to the Commemorative Air Force flypasts God Save the Queen, The Star-Spangled Banner and O Canada emanated from speakers. After the playing of the national anthems Bob Caskey, the Executive Officer of the Rocky Mountain Wing, and Stephen Kelly, President of the Colorado Aviation Historical Society, spoke of Avenger 53503’s history and the airplane’s importance to Colorado’s aviation legacy. Shortly thereafter, Consul General of Canada in Denver Stéphane Lessard proposed, in English and French, a formal toast to The Queen. Upon his proposal men and women across the venue raised a filled glass or goblet.
Meanwhile 53503 circled the area at low altitude. Upon receiving commands via wireless communications Chris Ryan made two slow passes over the runway. Ball Producer Khyentse George afterward said, “It was spectacular and our more than 3,000 attendees seemed to really appreciate all the work put into planning and executing the flight and toast.” She added, “Folks were really enjoying the display.”
The reenactor voiced one great disappointment related to the proceedings: “I could not attend the formal toast, being at the time airborne inside the Avenger.” But he quickly added, “Of course, this regret was tempered by the knowledge that being one of the two in the aeroplane was itself a singular honour.” Khyentse George told him, “I wish you could have been on the ground to see everyone’s reactions.”
Also amongst the assemblage were members of The Royal British Legion, The Royal Canadian Legion, Naval Association of Canada, Navy League of the United States, Coast Guard Auxiliary Association, International Bomber Command Centre, Royal Air Force Historical Society, Civil Air Patrol/United States Air Force Auxiliary, Air Force Association, Royal Canadian Air Force Association, Bomber Command Museum of Canada, Air Force Historical Foundation, Canada Colorado Association, Army Aviation Heritage Foundation and Honorary Order of Kentucky Colonels.
A notable individual who could not attend due to commitments in the British Isles is former Royal Air Force fighter pilot Brian Meadley, author of the entertaining book There I Was. Brian had, however, visited the renowned Jack Brown’s Seaplane Base at Winter Haven, Florida prior to the Commemorative Air Force flight. During his visit Mr. Meadley related a few memories from his experience of being one of the Gloster Meteor pilots who flew during the 15 July 1953 Royal Air Force Coronation Review. On 18 May 2019 The Queen attended Lady Gabriella Windsor’s wedding and Brian viewed a photo of Her Majesty entering St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle. “Every time I see a picture of our gracious Queen I feel so glad to be British,” he remarked.
Another invitee who could not be present was Otto Zavakos, a resident of Allens Park, Colorado. He is a cousin of Pilot Officer Frank Zavakos, a young man from Dayton, Ohio who in 1941 joined the Royal Air Force and died at the controls of a No. 71 Squadron Supermarine Spitfire fighter as the machine crashed into the English Channel after engine failure.
At least seven nonprofits were enlisted to contribute in one way or another to the initiative. They include the Commemorative Air Force, Rocky Mountain Wing of the Commemorative Air Force, 1940’s Ball NFP, Bomber Command Museum of Canada, Halifax 57 Rescue (Canada) and Colorado Aviation Historical Society.
Particularly noteworthy contributions were made by songwriters James Blondeau, Greg Geeves and Jocelyne Dearden, via the charitable entity Airplane Hunters in Ottawa, Ontario. The trio composed and recorded a song (And They Dreamed of the Skies) that was played as the Avenger passed in review. The tune was additionally incorporated into a video that has been posted onto YouTube and other websites. The film version features images of Gordon Broster and Second World War Royal Canadian Air Force Leading Aircraftman Peter Robinson of the famous No. 435 (T) ‘Chinthe’ Squadron, which in 1945 supported British forces from Tulihul, India. Both men reside in British Columbia.
The undertaking was deemed to be an outstanding success by all, for the flight and static display of the regal airplane served to highlight the historical and continuing special relationships between the Mother country (England), the United States of America and Canada. Notably, the activities that took place in Boulder also unofficially underscored revered wartime British Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill’s belief that, in reference to the USA and UK, “[T]he bond of the two great nations on either sides of the Atlantic was a living entity to be fostered and prized.”
William Shawcross, within a 5 December 2011 Vanity Fair article, stated the following about The Queen: “Through it all, she has continued to perform her job with devotion, honour, discretion, and constancy. The debt she is owed is incalculable.” And now, after more than 6 decades as Sovereign and Head of State, Her Majesty’s subjects and supporters look forward to many more years of exemplary and steadfast leadership. God Bless The Queen.
Many thanks are due Wing Leader Kent Taylor and the officers, staff and members of the Commemorative Air Force’s Rocky Mountain Wing and Stephen Foster and Dave Kempa of the Colorado Aviation Historical Society. Ms. Khyentse George, who is the Creator/Producer of 1940’s Ball NFP, Andrew George and the staff of 1940’s Ball deserve special mention for tirelessly endeavouring to make the 11th Annual 1940s WWII Era Ball a great success. John Cameron of the Canadian Military Police Museum must be thanked for providing essential details related to the replicated Leading Seaman uniform worn by the Commemorative Air Force reenactor. Furthermore, acknowledgement of the invaluable assistance that was provided by Cathy and Jeff Robinson of British Columbia is necessary, for, in addition to supplying photographs of their fathers and details of the parents’ respective service records, the duo assisted with pre-flight historical research. Susana Gale contributed critical housing support. Grateful acknowledgement also is due Bill Smith of Art of Framing in Winter Haven, Florida. Carol Kelly-Kaiser and Donna Tippen of Winter Haven are due thanks for tackling some of the tailoring work related to the replicated uniform. No listing of persons related to this endeavour would be complete without the mention of the late Violet Maxine Hogan, who consistently provided inspiration, encouragement and financial contributions for such undertakings.