When King George VI came to D.C., people turned out to greet him. Some still remember.


Queen Elizabeth asks Girl Scout Leah Burket about the medal she’s wearing after Leah presented her with a bouquet on behalf of the 3,000 Girl Scouts who paraded on the White House lawn on June 8, 1939. King George VI is at right. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)
John Kelly
Columnist June 21

The year 1939 seems like an awfully long time ago: 75 years.

But some Washingtonians remember it like it was almost yesterday. After Answer Man’s recent column on the historic visit of Britain’s King George VI and Queen Elizabeth to Washington, he heard from readers who were there.

John Kelly writes "John Kelly's Washington," a daily look at Washington's less-famous side. Born in Washington, John started at The Post in 1989 as deputy editor in the Weekend section. View Archive

“Our mother took two or three of us down on the buses from our home in Chevy Chase,” wrote McLean’s William Neff. “I was set in a street-level Pennsylvania Avenue store window, where I had a fine view.”

William was to march in Harry Truman’s 1949 inaugural parade with the old Washington High School Cadets and see Gen. Douglas MacArthur arrive at the Capitol to deliver his “Old soldiers never die; they just fade away” speech in 1951.

“The accident of geography which has put some of us here for large periods of our lives does have some fringe benefits,” he wrote.

Bethesda’s Anne Fahy Sheehan remembers catching sight of the monarchs. “I was standing on Rock Creek Parkway and vividly remember seeing the royals as they passed by,” she wrote. “I was 9 years old and my Mother had taken me and my siblings out of school to see the event. I even remember the dress that I wore, white dotted swiss.”

Ann Ault grew up in Tenleytown. She was part of the Girl Scout honor guard that greeted the king and queen. “It was extremely hot,” she said. “Brutally hot. Several of the girls fainted or got sick.” (She has a sadder reason to remember the royal visit: Her father, James T. Brady, died of a heart attack the morning after Ann saw the queen. He was 46. She was 12.)

Historian Ann Robertson noted that Leah Burket, the Silver Spring Girl Scout who was selected to present a bouquet to Queen Elizabeth, became a minor celebrity.

Leah, 15, told The Washington Post that the queen was curious about one of her badges: “The Queen said her daughter, Elizabeth, was working for her badges. I said, ‘I know you are proud of her.’ I didn’t know what else to say.”

In her blog about Girl Scout history in the nation’s capital, Ann wrote: “The photo of Leah and the royals was reproduced around the world. She recalled getting letters containing the clipping from people across the United States, as well as from Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and India. She became pen pals with several of them and learned about the hardships many people faced in war-torn Britain.”

The experience must have affected Leah. Ann said the teenager used her Girl Scout leadership skills to organize a “Bundles for Britain” dance at Montgomery Blair High School, sending clothing, first-aid kits and other items to British families.

At the time of the royal visit, Cornelia Strawser of Falls Church was in the second grade at Alexandria’s Washington School. “We were taken to Washington Street to watch the royal party drive by on their way from Fort Hunt to Arlington Cemetery, and I remember seeing the Queen’s hand waving through the car window,” she wrote.

Cornelia found a mimeographed description of the entertainment at the White House state dinner in honor of the king and queen. A diverse group of entertainers showcased American music and dance. There was Kate Smith, whose offerings included her trademark “When the Moon Comes Over the Mountain.” Marian Anderson, who a few months earlier had been denied permission to sing at DAR Constitution Hall, sang. So did folk-song collector Alan Lomax and the North Carolina Spiritual Singers.

North Carolina’s Soco Gap Square Dance Team made quite an impression — literally. Their hard-soled shoes pounded the White House floor. Wrote The Post: “It was something for a King, particularly one who never had before seen American mountaineers rip a little whoopee to pieces.”

The program concluded with “God Save the King” and “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Send a Kid to Camp

The first session of summer camp at Moss Hollow, a wonderfully bucolic refuge for at-risk kids from our area, kicks off Monday. Your support is vital. To make a donation, go to www.familymattersdc.org. Or send a check, payable to “Send a Kid to Camp,” to Family Matters of Greater Washington, 1509 16th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20036, Attn: Accounting Dept.

If you donate $200 to $299, you’ll receive a $25 gift certificate to the D.C.-area restaurant chain Clyde’s. Give $300 or more, and you’ll get a $50 gift certificate. (Certificates will be mailed in August.)

Please help us raise $500,000 by July 11.

Have a question about the Washington area? Send it to answerman@washpost.com.
For previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.

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