Royal Visit of 1953-54

Page 7 – Great place to bring up children

A great place to bring up children

On the day of the reception for children at Athletic Park, the Evening Post wrote: ‘As the mother of two young children 12,000 miles away, the Queen today assumed the role of mother to her wider family, and it was this maternal aspect that so caught the imagination and love of the New Zealand citizens of the future’.

Special efforts were made throughout the royal visit to give prominence to the nation’s children and to the Queen’s role as a mother. This had not initially been the case. When the draft itinerary was released in April 1953 there was a storm of criticism about the absence of specific gatherings for children. The organisers responded. There were children’s gatherings at Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Dunedin and Invercargill, and the Queen visited children’s wards at two hospitals and spent time at Karitane Hospital in Dunedin.

Communities were asked to group children in prominent positions along the Queen’s route. The Education Department agreed to fund the transport of children to see the Queen and produced 380,000 commemorative medallions which were presented to children in classroom ceremonies.

Why was there such a strong emphasis on children?

  • The Queen was a young mother who had left Prince Charles and Princess Anne behind in Britain – so it was believed she would be interested in children.
  • As the country recovered from depression and war, New Zealand was in the midst of a baby boom. In 1953 there were 46,000 births among the non-Māori population, an increase of over 50% on the figure 10 years earlier.
  • There was a fear that the younger generation might lack the instinctual loyalty to Empire of those who had participated in the world wars. The royal visit might imbue them with these imperial feelings.
  • Healthy children were seen as an excellent advertisement for New Zealand; they might encourage young parents in Britain to emigrate.

Auckland’s youth gathering

Children on the Domain

The gathering of young people in the Domain on 24 December 1953 created special anxiety. When the Duke and Duchess of York had visited in 1927, the children at the Auckland rally had broken ranks and mobbed the Duchess. There must be no repeat of such scenes. So initial plans for youth organisations to stage a giant tableau of St Edward’s crown were abandoned for fear this would ask too much of their discipline.

Instead the children were given cards of red, white and blue, which when raised formed a Union Jack. The children were arranged in ranks with one teacher for every 24 pupils. Each wore a card on which was printed the child’s name, school, rally block, bus number, and the route to the nearest toilet. In case this last was insufficient, guide ropes led to the toilets, carefully camouflaged behind palm fronds. To deal with that other childhood embarrassment, fainting, white lines marked the route to the nearest water tap, and six aid posts, seven stretchers and three ambulances stood by. To the delight of New Zealand observers, the children never once broke ranks and, as the Herald commented, ‘showed that present-day New Zealand children are orderly folk like their elders, and that the easy discipline of modern schools … is a valuable preparation for the duties of citizenship.’

How to cite this page

'Great place to bring up children', URL:, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 13-Jan-2016