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A Reign to Remember: A Canadian looks back on her sense of kinship with Queen Elizabeth II

Kitty Wintrob, who grew up in London, had a lot in common with the late monarch

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The Queen has always held a very special place in my heart, but not only because of her unwavering commitment to the people of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth over her 70-year reign. You see, I was born in London's working-class East End just three months after newborn Princess Elizabeth took her very first breath at her parents' home in Mayfair.

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And while our lives couldn't have been more different, I have felt a deep connection to her ever since. 

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As a child living in Britain, I was well aware of the Royal Family. My mum would always talk about Queen Mary being "a real lady," but I thought she was rather old and wore very strange-looking hats. After dinner, I'd happily sit with Mum and Dad and Uncle Yudi in front of the radio (we called it a wireless back then) to hear the news and follow the exciting lives of King George VI, Queen Elizabeth and their two daughters, Elizabeth and Margaret. 

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They may have been princesses, but in many ways they were just like me – especially Elizabeth. We both had curly hair, though she tamed hers better than I ever could. We were both Girl Guides. When the government ordered the evacuation of half a million people, mostly children, from London in September 1939 in case the Germans began bombing the city, I was sent with my school to the countryside while the princesses were kept safe at Windsor Castle. 

Children's Hour Broadcast

WATCH: Listen to the late Queen Elizabeth II and Princess Margaret's Children's Hour broadcast from 1940

I can still hear 13-year-old Elizabeth's voice during a special BBC Children's Hour wartime broadcast as she told us, "Good night, children, and good luck to you all." It really put me at ease.

And on May 8, 1945 – VE Day – I was one of the thousands of people dancing down Pall Mall to Buckingham Palace to celebrate the war's end alongside her. Young people were climbing up lamp posts and onto the statue of Queen Victoria, and policemen didn't even stop them. Instead of searchlights scanning the sky as in wartime, fireworks shot up from parks nearby.

"We want Winny," we all shouted, referring to Sir Winston Churchill. Then a roar went up and out he came onto the balcony alongside the King, Queen and the princesses (with Elizabeth wearing her Auxiliary Territorial Service uniform) and we all bellowed, "God Save the King!"

The Royal Family on VE Day, 1945© Photo: Getty Images

Queen Elizabeth II (then Princess Elizabeth), the Queen Mother, then-U.K. Prime Minister Winston Churchill, King George VI and Princess Margaret on VE Day in London, May 8, 1945

When Elizabeth became Queen, we were both in our mid-20s. I was still single but she was married to Prince Philip, whom my friends and I thought was the most handsome man ever. I was working as a clear at County Hall just beside Westminster Bridge. One day, Her Majesty made an official visit to my workplace. They had closed off one of the corridors for security reasons but somehow I managed to sneak in. After all those years, I was so close to the Queen that I could almost touch her! 

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On June 2, 1953, I was once again transfixed by Elizabeth's poise during her coronation. Earlier that week, I'd gone with a few girlfriends to the West End to attend a dance (we went to a lot of dance in an effort to meet our own Prince Charmings) and saw workers putting up the scaffolding and seats along the procession route. Anyway, that day, we didn't have a tV, so Mrs. Kauffman next door invited us in to watch the ceremony over a cup of tea. Despite the steady rain, throngs of people lined the Mall and cheered as the parade of footmen and horse-drawn carriages went by. It was all pomp and pageantry and so beautiful. 

Crowds at Queen Elizabeth II's coronation© Photo: Getty Images

Massive crowds lined the streets of London for Queen Elizabeth II's 1953 coronation

As soon as the coronation was over, the real party began on our street. There were streamers between the lamp posts and we all brought out our tables and chairs and sandwiches and desserts to share. My father wasn't a drinker, but somehow he brought out beer for everyone and we all shouted toasts like, "Hip hip hooray!" "God save the Queen!" "Long may she reign!" Even Mum took a sip – I think it was the first beer she'd ever tasted. Everyone was laughing and singing "We're Gonna Hang Out the Washing on the Siegfried Line," "Daisy Bell (Bicycle Built for Two)" and other fun songs. 

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That evening, I rushed with my boyfriend down to the Mall to get in on the action. Like years before, people were hugging and dancing and having a great time. Once again, we started calling for a balcony appearance – but this time our chants were: "We want the Queen!"

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip following her coronation in 1953© Photo: Getty Images

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip wave from the Buckingham Palace balcony following her coronation in 1953

Finally, out she came, woking breathtaking in her big crown and flanked by her Mum as well as her handsome husband and their young children. Lights flooded the Mall and Trafalgar Square, lifting the spirits of the nation. As a city still reeling from the Blitz, we all felt hopeful and at peace. 

Although I moved to Toronto in 1959 to marry a Canadian, the kinship I feel with the Queen is still as strong as ever. 

I will miss sharing my life with Her Majesty. She was one of a kind and a model to all. May her memory be for a blessing, and may her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren continue her incredible legacy. 

Kitty Wintrob is author of I'm Not Going Back: Wartime Memoir of a Child Evacuee. This piece originally appeared in Issue 838-839 of HELLO! Canada

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