I returned to Westminster, after the dreaded news, from our home at Upton Cressett in Shropshire, having this morning tolled our Hanover bell, struck in 1701 to respect the Act of Succession. I struck it 96 times in respectful memory of Her Majesty. Farewell our longest, and most loved and devoted sovereign in the history of our country and of the Crown in Parliament. She loved her people, and they loved her, as did my constituents in Stone, for whom I speak. They showed that in those heady days of her 70th jubilee, which they joyfully celebrated with her, never forgetting the profound loss of her dearly loved husband, Prince Philip, only a few months before.
As the Queen requested, God helped her to keep her vow of service, which she made on her accession to the throne in February 1952. Born as I was on 10 May 1940—the very day that Churchill became Prime Minister—I vividly recall that moment in February 1952, at the age of 11, when the headmaster declaimed to us: “The King is dead. God save the Queen.” I watched her coronation with wonder on a small television screen in black and white on 2 June 1953, just as Hillary climbed Everest and we won the Ashes—it was a triple whammy because of the coronation itself.
The Queen was graceful in her majesty and, in equal parts, she was selfless; she had Christian faith and integrity; she was constant; she was wise; she had an extraordinary, spontaneous beauty; and she had the kindest and most expressive eyes, and a gentle and humorous smile. I was honoured and privileged to meet her and to speak with her several times. What she said to this lowly Back Bencher was more poignant than I deserved. “We read you in Hansard”, she said once. “Your Majesty”, I replied, “I am very surprised: very few do—particularly on the issue of Europe.” She thought that was very amusing.
I was proud to be knighted by the Queen herself at Windsor, one of the greatest honours of my life. She was the mother of our nation and of the Commonwealth. She was a supreme diplomat for our country and, as many have said, in Ireland also. She lived in the hearts of her subjects, who will always remember her. For them, she will never die. All our prayers are with the whole royal family. Mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, may she rest in peace. God save the King.