Belfast Telegraph

Thousands focused on a brief but special treat

By Chris Kilpatrick

The visit itself lasted just half an hour. But for those gathered to see Her Majesty the memories of her trip to Coleraine would be cherished for a lifetime. Among them, ex-service personnel, many of whom had risked their lives and saw those of friends lost fighting in her armed forces.

The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh were guests of honour at a commemorative event to mark the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War and all those who lost their lives in the subsequent four years.

Members of Isobel Phillips' family were among those to head to war a century ago.

An emotional Ms Phillips said she was full of pride at the Queen and Duke honouring the sacrifices of locals who went to fight and never came home.

"The whole occasion has been wonderful, I wouldn't have missed it for the world," she said. "Above everything, to see Her Majesty laying a wreath meant so much to me."

Veterans were also moved by the day.

Among them, 76-year-old Sammy McNair, who was inside the Town Hall for the historic reception.

"This is the pinnacle," he said. "Today is the cream on the top."

Another former soldier, Mike Smith, said he felt humbled.

Mr Smith, who served for more than two decades in several war-torn regions, settled in Northern Ireland after meeting his sweetheart while based at Ballykelly barracks.

"It's very important for me as a an ex-serving soldier to see any member of the royal family and in particular the Queen, the head of the forces, my commander-in-chief," he said.

Aged 86, Margaret Philpott stood from 9.30am to see the Queen, who she previously met twice. "It's a real pleasure," said charity fundraiser Mrs Philpott. "The rain won't put me off."

Hundreds gathered more than two hours before the special guests arrived. And when they did, around 11.30am, they were loudly cheered by a crowd of thousands.

The Queen and the Duke flew into the town from Hillsborough. Just before their convoy rolled into the Diamond area of the town, the Royal Standard was erected above the Town Hall.

There was a heavy police presence but the atmosphere was relaxed. Those parking their vehicles in the town centre were asked to open the boots of their vehicles and sniffer dogs patrolled with officers.

On the roof of the Town Hall, police used binoculars to keep a close eye on the crowd who were eager to see the couple who last visited Coleraine in 2007.

In the end, the only thing to cause officers to do a double-take was a man making his way through a cordon carrying a box marked 'live insects'.

Shops and businesses remained open, with a few savvy locals capitalising on the patriotic mood to cash in, plastic Union flags proving popular with many.

Five-year-old Steven Russell went further still, proudly showing off his red, white and blue hat and sunglasses.

His mother, Heather, said she would remind him of the day he saw the Queen for years to come.

"It's been very special," she said. "You see her on TV but it's amazing to be so close to her.

"She's a beautiful woman."

Even the weather played its part, heavy showers subsiding during the civic reception.

Royal British Legion flag-bearers and dignitaries greeted the Queen and the Duke, as workers in nearby businesses made use of their vantage points to take in the goings-on from above.

To reflect the lifestyle of the times, dozens of people were dressed in period costume.

Those in the crowd, seven to eight people deep, shuffled to get a look at the couple as they waved goodbye to their adoring subjects.

Some settled for a front-row view from 10 feet back, watching what was going on with the help of an iPad held up by a teenage boy to capture the occasion.

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