x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

A young photographer's first job proved to be his crowning moment

Charles Henry Wilson, 77, who is visiting the UAE to stay with his daughter, was on hand to snap Queen Elizabeth II's coronation.

Charles Henry Wilson with the photograph he took on his first assignment as a British Army photographer: the Queen passing by after her coronation in 1953.
Charles Henry Wilson with the photograph he took on his first assignment as a British Army photographer: the Queen passing by after her coronation in 1953.

DUBAI // Charles Henry Wilson's first day as a photographer was his biggest - taking pictures of Queen Elizabeth II's coronation.

Mr Wilson, then 18, and a more experienced colleague were assigned to the event as the British army's official photographers on June 2, 1953.

Six decades later, Mr Wilson, visiting the UAE to stay with his daughter in Dubai, is still proud of his photographs of history in the making.

"They were looking for someone to replace the outgoing photographer so I applied for the job," he said.

"I think they really wanted to see what I could do so my first assignment was the coronation."

One of his shots shows the queen in her carriage and Winston Churchill, then the prime minister, in his coach. In the background, large crowds pack London's streets eager to get a glimpse of the royal procession.

Another photograph shows the new queen wearing her crown and waving to people from inside her coach. Mr Wilson can be seen in another image, intently focused on taking a photograph of a column of soldiers marching by, his camera case hanging off his shoulder.

Mr Wilson, from the port town of Blyth, Northumberland, had accompanied the man he was hoping to replace to the War Office in London the night before the big day.

"We slept there and at around 5am the following day we headed out," he said.

"The other photographer went to the roof with a telephoto lens and I made my way down to the front of Admiralty Arch."

Although not dressed in his army uniform on the day, Mr Wilson, who had only recently completed his basic training, credits a press armband he was wearing for allowing him up-close access to the action.

"The crowds were getting pretty big but I made my way through in my civvies [civilian clothes].

"I had an armband with press written on it which made it easier for me to get access to where the photographers were.

"The place was full of cinematographers as opposed to stills photographers like myself," he said.

Mr Wilson took pictures on his own Kodak plate camera.

"It was amazing to be there on such a historic day for the country," said Mr Wilson, now 77.

"The coronation was the only topic of conversation for people in the country that day and it seemed as if everyone was celebrating.

"For her to be now celebrating her diamond jubilee is a fantastic achievement. I think everyone is going to enjoy the celebrations," he added.

Mr Wilson continued to work as a photographer with the army - he photographed boxing matches, officer groups and even an archaeological dig - before he moved into the private sector, where he ended his career taking wedding pictures.

But, nearly 60 years on, the photographs he took that day in 1953 remain his crowning achievement.

nhanif@thenational.ae