Sixty years ago Sunday, Nelson’s Carl Zanon was a wide-eyed sea cadet watching Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation.
The 16-year-old was BC’s representative among a delegation of Royal Canadian Sea Cadets invited to witness the new queen’s ascension to the throne.
“I was excited but didn’t understand the breadth of it,” he recalls of learning he’d been chosen. “I had no idea when I was selected what took place. But Victor Graves, our commanding officer, understood what I would see.”
The two-month journey began in early May with a train ride to Halifax. In each province along the way another cadet joined until together they boarded the fleet aircraft carrier HMCS Magnificent for the journey across the Atlantic.
“We were stationed on the bridge during the day and able to see all that was going on,” Zanon says. “It was a brilliant opportunity to participate. At one point they gave me a key to the rum room to make a delivery. I asked had they ever lost a runner?”
Upon arriving in London, the cadets met 43 others from across the Commonwealth and during the coronation were seated near Westminster Abbey as the queen’s golden carriage went by — Zanon got a photo. They also participated in a naval review where the queen inspected a huge flotilla and toured up and down England and Scotland, banqueted and celebrated in large cities and small towns alike.
On the return trip, a North Atlantic storm pounded their convoy for two days.
“The ship movement was enormous,” says Zanon, although the cadets avoided seasickness. “It was reported that a signal was sent to HMCS Sioux advising ‘Your periscope is showing.’“
Zanon is modest about why he was picked to go from among all the cadets in BC — each corps nominated someone — but friend David Leslie, a retired army colonel and fellow member of the Hampton Gray VC cadets, says it was no surprise.
“Karl was on student council, a top-notch basketball player, and an active member of every organization in school,” he says. “In sea cadets, his appointment was chief petty officer. In every respect he was seen as a leader at a very early age.”
Zanon’s youthful experience made an impression on him. He left Nelson in 1955 and continued his naval training. After receiving his commission, he spent two years in the navy, then obtained an engineering degree and did technology work in eastern Canada and the US.
Zanon, who now lives in West Kelowna and still teaches at Okanagan College, didn’t stay in touch with his fellow cadets from the Canadian coronation contingent. “Sadly, no. You have to think of the times — we didn’t have the communication of today.”
In recent months, however, he sought them out. Two have since died and most he couldn’t find, but he did get ahold of three in Alberta and Ontario.
Zanon also recently returned to Nelson to speak to local cadets about his royal journey of six decades ago.