The Queen in the army, 1945.

The Queen turns 90: Embracing Public Service


Yesterday was the Queen’s birthday, celebrated by many. One of the reasons she has retained her popularity lies in the fact that she has contributed a great deal to good causes and the country as a whole, in a much more direct way than some other members of the monarchy.

Only a few years after her unexpected elevation from being the cousin of the future heir to the British throne, to becoming the heir to the throne herself, Princess Elizabeth was appointed colonel-in-chief of the Grenadier Guards by her father, King George VI. Shortly afterwards, she made her first public appearance, inspecting the troops in 1942.

Determined to help the war effort, in 1945, Elizabeth joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service (as pictured above), where she trained alongside other British women to be an expert driver and mechanic. While her volunteer work only lasted a few months, it offered Elizabeth an invaluable glimpse into the non-royal world. This experience of life outside the monarchy was repeated immediately after the war when she and her sister, Princess Margaret, were allowed to walk anonymously among the crowds of London on Victory in Europe Day (VE Day).

After her marriage to Prince Philip, her accession to the throne, and once her four children (Charles, Anne, Andrew and Edward), had reached school age, Elizabeth increased the amount of time she spent traveling around Britain, the Commonwealth, and beyond.

In 1973 the Queen attended the Commonwealth Conference in Ottawa, Canada and in 1976 travelled to the United States for the 200th anniversary celebration of America’s independence from Britain. Only a few weeks later, Elizabeth opened the 1979 Olympics in Montreal, Canada. That same year she also travelled to Kuwait, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Oman, earning her worldwide respect.

Queen Elizabeth II continues to travel to this day; and to share her life with the people of the UK and the world at large. When she celebrated her Diamond Jubilee in 2012, she marked the occasion by opening Buckingham Palace to the BBC, who put together a concert which quickly became a historic event. Household names, such as Paul McCartney, Brain May, and Shirley Bassey, performed music from her home, in front of an audience of millions. The Queen herself even took part; playing a cameo in a short James Bond film with actor Daniel Craig.

On September 9, 2015, Queen Elizabeth II inherited her great-great grandmother Queen Victoria’s title as Britain’s longest ruling monarch. Now in her 64th year as queen, Elizabeth II is still much loved by the British public, and the Commonwealth she has devoted her life to serving.

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Dr Kathryn Bates is a graduate of archaeology and history. She has excavated across the world as an archaeologist, and tutored medieval history at Leicester University. She joined the administrative team at Oxford Open Learning twelve years ago. Alongside her distance learning work, Dr Bates is a bestselling novelist, and an itinerant creative writing tutor for primary school children.

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