The tiny Latin American country that fell in love with Queen Elizabeth

In Panama, the tributes have flowed in from every corner of society. President Laurentino Cortizo was quick among foreign leaders to send his “heartfelt condolences”, recalling how she honoured the country with her “historic state visit six decades ago”. Meanwhile, on the streets of the old town, Adan Cerrud, a 73-year-old artist who has run a stall selling his drawings to tourists for the past three decades, puts it differently but no less heartfelt. “She was a person of the world but we knew what she meant to us,” he says.

It was on November 24, 1953, when Queen Elizabeth and a 32-year-old Prince Philip arrived in Bermuda for the beginning of their six-month tour of the Commonwealth. On the eve of their departure, Sir Winston Churchill declared in the House of Commons: “This will be the first time in history that a British sovereign has circumnavigated the globe.” The mammoth expedition remains the longest royal tour in history.

After spending a few days in Bermuda (which remains a British overseas territory) and Jamaica (which, at the time, was a British colony and nearly a decade away from independence), the Queen and Prince Philip steamed across the Caribbean on the ocean liner SS Gothic which had been refitted to serve as a royal yacht for the six-month Commonwealth tour. 

They had a utilitarian purpose for visiting Panama: to traverse the country’s famous canal and join the Pacific Ocean en route to New Zealand and Australia. But rather than simply passing through it was decided, following discussions with the US, which administered the Panama Canal Zone at the time, and the Panamanian president José Antonio Remón Cantera, that the young Queen should make an official visit on foreign soil for the first time.

Any reservations over how she might be greeted were immediately dispelled when their ship docked early on the morning of November 29 in the Panamanian port city of Colón. Ships along the canal blasted their horns while a Royal Navy band played on the decks of the Gothic as a 21-cannon salute crackled out from the shore.

As the ship continued along the Panama Canal, the Queen and Duke disembarked at Colón and were taken on an open-top tour of the city in two white convertibles. Old newsreels of the visit show crowds of people in their Sunday best cheering them as they drove towards the Municipal Palace. 


Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Back to top button