Soldiers who formed the ceremonial guard for the Queen’s Coronation visit to Northern Ireland in 1953 were each given five rounds of live ammunition, a previously secret military memo has revealed.
A secret communication to the officer in charge of the guard set out details of a further store of reserve ammunition to be held at Hillsborough Castle.
The details emerge in one of three Royal files originally the property of the Governor of Northern Ireland which have been declassified at the Public Record Office in Belfast.
The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh travelled to Belfast for a three-day visit a month after the monarch’s coronation in Westminster Abbey.
In post-war Northern Ireland, then enjoying a period of political stability, the trip was a massive event, and a public holiday was declared.
The Queen travelled to Lisburn, Ballymena, Ballymoney and eventually to Londonderry — first by steam train and then by warship into the Maiden City.
Less than a month before the visit, a June 10 1953 memo from Army headquarters in Lisburn was addressed to Major D Neill of the Royal Irish Fusiliers, the officer commanding the military guard.
The two-page letter, which was marked ‘Secret’, was issued by the colonel in charge of the Army in Northern Ireland, and set out several paragraphs of instruction, asking the recipient to pay “particular attention” to them.
As well as ceremonial duties of the guard, there were instructions about supporting the police and fire service in the event of a fire and protecting the Queen if there was an emergency.
He was instructed to carry out a reconnaissance of Hillsborough Castle’s grounds to establish where to situate “alarm posts” and also plans for “an emergency caused by a person or persons forcibly intruding on to the grounds of Government House”.
He then added: “Although it is not laid down in the ‘Orders for the Military Guard’, each sentry will carry FIVE rounds .303 SAA in his pocket during the period on guard duty.
“In addition to this, ONE box .303 SAA will be kept in the guard room as a reserve. This box will be sealed and will be opened only on your orders or on the orders of an officer delegated by you.”
Two pages detailing money given to household staff as presents at the end of the visit shows that the butler and the cook were each given £6 (more than £170 today), while the oddman was given £2 (almost £60). In total, staff were given £50 in presents.
Hillsborough Castle requested extra copies of the Belfast Telegraph and other newspapers during the three days of the Queen’s visit.
A note to a Hillsborough newsagent requested additional copies of several London papers as well as 12 additional copies each of the Belfast Telegraph, the News Letter and the Northern Whig.
No copies of the Irish News, the main nationalist newspaper, were requested.
The files, which have lain in archives for almost 70 years, contain copies of the Belfast newspapers’ reaction to the visit.
The Belfast Telegraph headline on the morning after the Queen’s arrival was ‘Ulster opens heart to the Queen… excited, flag-waving thousands acclaim radiant monarch’.
But elsewhere on the front page was an allusion to such happiness not being universal, with a report of the Belfast-Dublin railway line being damaged 250 yards from the border in south Armagh.