Adoring crowds for Edward VIII in Portsmouth – Nostalgia

King Edward VIII in Portsmouth with, right, Lord Louis Mountbatten and Lt-Col WW Jefferd.
King Edward VIII in Portsmouth with, right, Lord Louis Mountbatten and Lt-Col WW Jefferd.
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It has been many years since a King visited Portsmouth. In days past, before fast roads, helicopters and aircraft many members of the royal family were seen in the city as they all used to arrive by train.

On most occasions they would visit the lord mayor in the Guildhall while outside thousands would throng the square to see the King, a prince or princess pass by before going on to an engagement.

As I was only a baby when King George VI died, obviously I, like the majority of people living today, know of no other monarch other than our present Queen.

My late maternal grandmother Ruth Sutton (née Brown) was born in 1896 and died in 1978. She lived during the reigns of Queen Victoria, Edward VII, George V, Edward VIII, George VI and our present queen –  not to mention two world wars of course.

When the royals did come a magnificent fuss was made of them.

For instance, in 1936 King Edward VIII, they city’s first Freeman, paid us a visit to see his navy for the first time since he ascended the throne.

The King arrived by car from a previous engagement but only as far as Portsbridge where the lord mayor, Alderman  WJ Avens,  along with other dignitaries awaited him. At the bridge his car stopped and, dressed in the uniform of Admiral of the Fleet and accompanied by the First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Ernle Chatfield, and Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten, the King stepped from his car and greeted the lord mayor.

A vast crowd literally surrounded the royal car (imagine that today) and it was some moments before an avenue could be cleared of loyal Portmuthians.

A busy two days was to be had.

After leaving Portsbridge the King was driven first to the Royal Naval Barracks where some 4,460 officers and men awaited his inspection. But because of heavy rain this inspection took place in the gymnasium.

From there, the King visited the Naval Torpedo Establishment, HMS Vernon, where he saw the whole of the ship’s company. At Marlborough Pier he received senior officers of the port. He then embarked on MTB 1, the first of the new torpedo boats. A short trip ended at Whale Island and he made yet another inspection of personnel at the gunnery school, HMS Excellent. The King then drove to Eastney Barracks for an inspection of the Royal Marines’ Portsmouth Division.

From Eastney Barracks his car took him along the seafront to the dockyard via Clarence Pier. Thousands of children had been given a day’s holiday and they lined the route. In addition there were detachments of Boy Scouts, Girl Guides, the police force, 600 ratings from the naval barracks, the Legion of Frontiersmen along with another 500 officers and men from various military units in the garrison.

Though the weather was inclement the crowds were enormous and the King had a tumultuous reception throughout the whole drive. Portsea residents gave him a great welcome as he passed along The Hard and entered the dockyard.

The following day saw more joy for the people of Portsmouth when the King visited Victoria Barracks to inspect the Middlesex Regiment of whom he was colonel-in-chief. The King then lunched on the royal yacht Victoria and Albert. Later in the day he returned to Buckingham Palace leaving behind many happy memories of his visit to the city which was so proud to have him as a Freeman.

How was it then, just a year later, he turned his back on all these loyal Portsmouth subjects, and abdicated?

• Last Friday week I wrote about Nelson’s last visit to the town and said he passed through the Landport Gate at 6pm. Apologies for the mistake. He travelled overnight from Merton, Surrey, and arrived in the town at 6am before having breakfast at the George Hotel in what we now call Old Portsmouth.