On June 17th 2017 I met Queen Elizabeth of England at All Saints Church in Poplar, East London.
I couldn't help but think what my small Granny would say if she could see me now. I think she would have found it hard to believe that her granddaughter would find herself in such exalted company. Her granddaughter was feeling the same!
The sweetness of Queen Elizabeth's smile reminded me of my grandmother's smile. The kindness of her words reminded me of my grandmother's kindness. I felt deeply aware of the humanity of this woman, Elizabeth. She is after all a ninety year old woman who walks slowly and carefully and who has known her own share of life's tragedies. Yet every day she 'suits up and shows up' to fulfill the many responsibilities that life has placed upon her. And in that sense she and my Granny have much in common.
The occasion of our meeting was a Memorial Service for eighteen children who died in Poplar, East London in 1917 when their school, Upper North Street Primary School, was bombed. Among them was John Percy Brennan, aged 5, whose father was a policeman from Shankill, Co. Kilkenny. A survivor of the bombing was Mary O'Donnell Cunnington a school teacher from Tralee. Mary was later awarded an O.B.E. for her courage in rescuing children from the bombed out school. I was asked to help find the Irish cousins of John and Mary. With the help of Deirdre Walsh from Radio Kerry, Mary's maternal Irish cousins were found. Though sadly we did not succeed in finding John's Irish family, as yet.
The Memorial Service was beautiful.
My Granny would have loved the words of the prayers and the singing of the children.
She would have worn her ' good shoes' that always pinched and her special occasion hat. She would have noticed how each one of the V.I.P. guests made it clear in their words and deeds that they were present to remember the children and to sympathise with their families. I think she would have been proud to see the Queen shake her granddaughter's hand. In her humility, she would not have seen her own kindness in her great-granddaughter.
Granny would have relaxed into the sense of community that we all felt, families and volunteers alike.
She would have felt really well taken care of by Arthur Redway and John Dadson, the Church Wardens.
She would have said how much the world has changed when she met Rev. Jane Hodges 'and for the better.'
She would have run her prayerful hands over the names of the children etched on the commemorative coin.
Granny would have quietly but sincerely affirmed with the whole community;
'Let us commit ourselves to responsible living and faithful service and to work together for peace, with justice in the world.
Will you strive for all that makes for peace~We will.
Will you seek to heal the wounds of war~We will.
Will you work to protect all children in the world~We will.
Will you work for a just future for all humanity~We will.
She would have been glad to receive that reviving cup of tea with the Hannafin family in the Park.
My small Granny would have cried at the deaths of the little ones and would have prayed for their mothers and families. She would have said ' thank God, they are all together now.'
Granny would have gone home then on tired, sore feet and told the hens all about her travels, as she always did.
My sincere thanks to all the community of All Saints Church, Poplar for giving all us, of many faiths and none, the opportunity to come together and raise our voices as one for a better future for all our children.