Danvers and the Royals

The Queen speaking and smiling.

I thought it would be appropriate on this Patriots’ Day Weekend, and after watching the Saturday morning funeral of Great Britain’s Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, to recall the brush members of the Danvers Alarm Company once had with the Royals.

Back in 1973 Bob Osgood and I, members of the Danvers Bicentennial Committee, decided to establish a recreated 18th century militia unit to participate in various parades, programs, and educational events commemorating the 200th anniversary of the establishment of our country. The Danvers Alarm List Company was clothed, mustered, and active by the fall of 1974, and participated in over 50 events with our men, women and children during our first full year as a non-profit educational organization. We also took on management, and later ownership of the historic Rebecca Nurse Homestead.

On Sunday, July 11, 1976, we had the honor of participating in the official “Visit of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh to Boston,”  including a Royal Review. Over 35 of us, including men in arms, two fifers, two drummers, women, children, and our official photographer, Richard Crowley, went by train to Boston. Three future Danvers Selectmen – David Butler, John L. George, and David P. Mckenna, as well as townies Bill Clemens, Howard  (Pete)  Haynes, George Briggs, and others participated with family members in the events. Our Captain George Meehan was away on a business trip, though his wife Cynthia, and kids were able to attend. As Lieutenant of the Company, I was in command, and we ended up having a magical day.

At about 12:30 pm, our company and other units were stationed at Washington Mall to act as an honor cordon as the Royals and other dignitaries walked from the Old State House to a luncheon at Boston City Hall.  As the Queen approached us, escorted by Mayor Kevin White, we heard the U.S. Army Herald Trumpeters play an opening fanfare.  I ordered our men to “Take Care,” at which point the men with shouldered muskets saluted with the palm of their right hand flat above their right eye. As an officer, I raised my three-cornered hat with my right hand high into the air. The security guards flinched when we did this, while a British security man looked up to check my hat. The Queen acknowledged us and moved on to the end of our line where my wife Ethel, Cynthia Meehan, Joan George, and several children were positioned. Ethel had practiced the women and girls to curtsy if given the chance, as “maybe Queen Elizabeth would notice and nod in our direction.” As Ethel later reminisced, “When she approached I said ‘Ladies,’ and at that we all five curtsied and, lo and behold, we caught her eye! She stopped, and then approached us. First she looked at the girls –‘Where are you from?’ she asked. ‘The Danvers Alarm List Company’ Cynthia and I sang. Obviously confused by the unusual name of our group, she asked, ‘for the Bicentenniary?’ ‘Our husbands are members of this colonial militia,’ I explained, waiving my hand in the direction of the men. ‘Oh, I see,’ she replied, smiling. If she said anything more as she walked away from us, I can’t recall. I felt I had to take a picture of her, close-up, and I did.”

Meanwhile, behind the Queen, Prince Philip was walking down the brick path with Governor Michael Dukakis. The Prince spied David Butler, his wife Brenda, and their young son, Paul. Paul was dressed in maritime canvas slops, and sported a long neckerchief. His outfit was that of a navy lad, or possibly a “powder monkey” aboard ship. The Prince, being a royal navy man, stopped and spoke with them in a very friendly and animated manner about Paul’s representation. Dave gave him a little background about our unit and various outfits.  After the walk-by in which both royals actually stopped and talked with our unit, we broke for a quick lunch of home-brought sandwiches.

At 3:00 we lined up for a Royal Party parade review of the Revolutionary War re-enactors.  The review was lead by the Royal Marines Band from Her Majesties Yacht  Britania.   The dignitaries were in chairs on an elevated red-draped dais in front of historic 18th century Faneuil Hall. To the Queen’s right was Elliot L. Richardson, of “Saturday Night Massacre Watergate” fame, and who until February 1976 had served under the Ford administration as Ambassador to Great Britain.

Our unit consisted of our musicians and flag bearer in the front rank, with me leading our two ranks of musket men, and with the women and children marching behind the militia. We were not allowed to have any gunpowder, or edged weapons, and were prohibited from performing any street maneuvers, which we often liked to do. As we approached the dais, we noted that both the Queen and Prince Philip cocked their heads to the left as they read our now dipping flag. The green field had words in white reading “DANVERS ALARM CO,”  and below that “THE KING UNWILLING.”  I’m sure they wondered what that was about. The words on our town seal speak to King George II himself not wanting to allow Danvers as a township which could send representatives to the colonial Massachusetts legislature. We did it anyway!

So that’s our brush with British royalty. It was a wonderful and memorable day for us.  And though of no legal or filial relationship with our country, save for our affection with a long-standing ally and to a long-living and dignified Queen and her Prince, we can appreciate the devoted life-well-lived by Philip and give best wishes to a graceful Elizabeth.

Richard B. Trask
April 17, 2021