Guelph rallied to pack wedding ceremony items for then-Princess Elizabeth
City officials coordinated the collection of non-perishable food to be sent to Britain
“Princess Elizabeth Personally Thanks Guelph For Food Parcels Provided People of Britain,” said a headline in the Guelph Mercury on April 16, 1948.
Several months earlier, on July 10, 1947, the newspaper had carried the announcement from Buckingham Palace that King George VI had approved of the engagement of “his beloved daughter” Princess Elizabeth to Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten, RN, son of the late Prince Andrew of Greece. The wedding would be on November 20, 1947.
According to the report, London was buzzing with excitement. The news of Princess Elizabeth’s engagement was timely. The postwar years in Britain were bleak. The country had emerged from the conflict victorious but badly battered. It was beset with economic woes, labour strife and political turmoil. Rationing was still in effect.
To many Britons, a royal wedding was like a light at the end of a dark tunnel. Elizabeth had been just a girl of 13 when the war started. Nonetheless, she had done her bit for the war effort. Now, she was a young woman betrothed to a handsome young naval officer. There was a silver streak of promise for the future in the fact that she had grown up during the years of darkness and was moving forward.
The princess and her fiancé made it clear immediately after the news of their engagement was released that they did not want wedding presents. However, they were aware that people throughout the British Commonwealth would want to send gifts along with their best wishes. They saw a way in which they could channel all that good feeling into a project of sharing that would benefit the country.
As the United Kingdom slowly recovered from the war, many of its people – particularly those in the lowest income bracket – were in great need. Elizabeth requested that in lieu of wedding presents, people in Canada and other Commonwealth countries send gift boxes of food that would be distributed in her name to recipients throughout the UK.
The princess’s request quickly became a topic of discussion for Guelph City Council (as was the case in communities across the country). Councillors thought that much more could be accomplished by the people of a municipality pooling their efforts and working together than by individuals acting on their own. A committee at city hall would coordinate the collection of gifts of non-perishable food to be sent to Britain. Mayor Gordon L. Rife said he would consult with the mayors of Toronto and other Ontario municipalities on how best to cooperate in establishing a central depot.
Guelphites responded enthusiastically to the call for donations. Organizations like the Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire (IODE) volunteered time to pack up the boxes and ready them for shipping.
In spite of Elizabeth and Philip’s insistence that there be no wedding presents, gifts were nonetheless lavished on them; 2,583 altogether. The presents ranged from hand-woven cloth sent by Mahatma Gandhi, to the Aga Khan’s gift of a racehorse. Women’s stockings were still in short supply everywhere, so Elizabeth’s admirers sent her 148 pairs of them. Most of the gifts would be given away, but first a special display of them was organized to raise money for charity.
Meanwhile, the boxes of food flowed into the UK from all over, including Guelph. Parcels were then distributed to people in need. Each box included a letter from the princess.
“Many kind friends overseas sent me gifts of food at the time of my wedding. I want to distribute it as best I can, and to share my good fortune with others. I therefore ask you to accept this parcel with my very best wishes.” (Signed) Elizabeth.
Many recipients wrote back to the princess expressing their gratitude. She decided to forward some of those letters to Canada. The correspondence destined for Ontario was sent through the London office of J.S.P. Armstrong, agent general in the United Kingdom for the Province of Ontario. Armstrong’s letter to Mayor Rife said:
“At the personal request of Her Royal Highness Princess Elizabeth, I am enclosing herewith a few of the original letters received by her in acknowledgement of the many food parcels sent as wedding presents by the People of Guelph, for distribution to the People of Britain … Her Royal Highness has read each of these and asks that some of them be forwarded to you, as she has stated that – “… Nothing could show more clearly what real satisfaction the generosity of the people of Ontario has given in homes throughout the length and breadth of the Kingdom.”
The Mercury published a letter written by Jane Mary Murphy, age seven, of Cheddar, Somerset.
“Your Royal Highness, Princess Elizabeth. I wish to Thank you very much for sending Mrs. Hodges a parcel Which she was very pleased to receive. I have a calendar with your Picture on it in my Bedroom. I would like to have a parcel too, But I am Not a Widdow so I don’t suppose you can manage it.”
We don’t know if Jane got her parcel, but we do know that young Elizabeth did “manage” to reach out on behalf of her countrymen, and people in communities like Guelph responded.