LONDON (AP) – Tonga’s top diplomat in the UK will be thinking about two monarchs this weekend as Britain and the Commonwealth celebrate the platinum anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II.
There is, of course, Elizabeth, who will celebrate 70 years on the throne with four days of parades and festivities.
But High Commissioner Titilupe Fanetupuva Tuivacana also remembers her great-grandmother, Queen Salote Tupu III, who fell in love with the British as she rode the streets of London in an open carriage during Elizabeth’s 1953 coronation parade.
Despite the torrential rain, Queen Salote refused to close the summit out of respect for the new monarch, sparking festivities from the revelers standing in the streets.
“Every Tanganian knows about this experience,” Tuiwakana told the Associated Press. “I even have some people who come up to me (in London) and ask, ‘Are you Tangan?’ These are the ladies who were there 70 years ago. “They still remember what happened.”
Tonga is an example of how Britain’s relationship with the world changed during the reign of Queen Elizabeth II.
The archipelago of 170 islands in the South Pacific at the time of the coronation was a British protectorate. It became fully independent in 1970 and joined the Commonwealth, a voluntary union of 54 countries that grew out of the British Empire and is headed by Elizabeth.
Britain has worked closely with Australia and New Zealand, two other Commonwealth countries, to help Tonga after a volcanic eruption and tsunami that devastated the islands earlier this year.
Queen Salote was only 18 years old when she ascended the throne in 1918. She is credited with laying the groundwork for independence, although she died in 1965 before seeing how it became a reality.
Her actions at the coronation helped strengthen ties between the two countries, the diplomat said.
“There were crowds and crowds of people who witnessed this happy event and a sign of traditional Tangan respect that has been passed down from generation to generation,” she said. “I think it in a sense not only reflects the relationship between the United Kingdom and Tonga, but also between the people of the United Kingdom who were there and the people of Tonga.”
One of those who witnessed the event was David Hodge, a young soldier who marched on the parade. Immediately behind the car of the Tongan monarch was Hodge’s light infantry unit of Somerset, which had just been sent to what was then known as the Lesser.
“The crowd liked her to sit in an open carriage, ignoring the weather and always with a beautiful smile on her face,” Hodge wrote on the 40th anniversary of his coronation in 1993. “Her happiness summed up that day for a lot of people.”
Hodge died in 2013. But his daughter Susan Dudridge will be dancing at Sunday’s anniversary competition, which will be a direct link between the coronation parade and the celebration this weekend.
She will think of her dad when she joins 10,000 performers at a procession that ends near Buckingham Palace.
“My dad was very proud when he was chosen to attend the coronation, so the opportunity to follow in his footsteps is amazing,” she said. “And I’m just as proud to be a part of this amazing day.”
Preparing for the anniversary has also been a time of reflection for Tonga’s High Commissioner, who has a small engraving of Queen Elizabeth II on the table and a huge black-and-white photo of her great-grandmother on the office wall.
Tuivacano sees the similarities between the two queens on opposite sides of the world. Both were crowned at a young age and took their places in a male-dominated world. However, both have become iconic in their own right and are respected by generations.
When she takes a photo of Queen Salote off the wall to pose for a photo, Tuiwakano gently touches the edge of the frame, treating her with great care. Almost the queen’s spirit is near.
The great-grandmother, whom she never met, still serves as a landmark. Asked what she would say to Queen Salote if she had the chance, she quietly answers.
“I would tell her that she has left a great legacy not only for our family, but also for Tonga and the Pacific, and for the whole world,” she said. “We all tried to follow their example. I would tell her that. “
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