Seventy years is a long time. In that period the world itself changed. They used to say,” The Sun Never Sets on the British Empire”. But the Empire is no more, it has been replaced by the Commonwealth.
All this happened during the 70-year reign of Queen Elizabeth II, who died aged 96 at Balmoral Castle in Scotland on the 8th of September.
Great Britain, including Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland went into a period of mourning as it bade a final goodbye to the longest serving Sovereign in the history of the nation. Her son, the heir, now reigns as King Charles III.
It was indeed a momentous change in the country, for only days before her death, the Queen had appointed a new Prime Minister, the third female to hold the post, all during her reign.
The end of the British Empire actually began long before Queen Elizabeth came to the throne. In 1947, after a period of more than 200 years, its largest colony, India was partitioned into Hindu majority India and Muslim majority Pakistan.
It led to the displacement of several millions on both sides of the new nations. Families that once lived side by side suddenly became enemies, many having to leave ancestral homes with only the clothes on their back.
Still more have no idea what happened to family members even to this day, 75 years later.
Malaya, as we were then was a British colony. We attained independence in August 1957. Until then we sang “God Save The Queen” as the anthem. It has of course been replaced by “Negaraku”.
As the crumbling British Empire gave independence to more and more colonies in Africa, the Queen took a significant role in creating the Commonwealth.
When Britain decided to pull out its troops East of Aden, this new grouping took on greater significance in the international scene. Here in South East Asia, the Domino Theory was highlighted.
Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia were under the communist sway. China was playing a more dominant role in regional politics.
The Queen did her work by meeting the various heads of state and governments. She has been a regular visitor to all these countries. In fact, she visited Malaysia twice, the first time sailing on HMY Britannia.
This writer had the privilege to meet the Queen in 1972 when she, Prince Philip and Princess Ann stopped over at Kota Kinabalu.
In fact, the Queen and I exchanged pleasantries when Her Majesty stopped to inquire if “You were the Emcee?” To which I replied, “Yes Ma’am”.
I was the MC of a cultural performance put on by the State Culture, Youth and Sports Department.
To me personally, the British were not harsh rulers, unlike the Dutch in Indonesia, and the Belgians in Congo, Africa.
Even the French were considered favourably in Indochina, although the Communists wanted them out and fought bloody battles, like Dian Bien Phu under Vo Nguyen Giap, a formidable general who went on to defeat the Americans in the 1970s.
The death of Queen Elizabeth II brings to an end the second reign, after Queen Elizabeth I, who never married. But her time also saw momentous change and victory over the Spanish Armada of King Philip.
With that the English had mastery over the high seas and went on to establish new colonies in the New World and elsewhere.
What will the new King Charles face? Plenty as he has to deal with a rebellious second son and daughter-in-law who seems out to tarnish the Royal Family.
King Charles has to be the unifying force in Britain and indeed the Commonwealth, many of the member states he has visited in his capacity as Prince of Wales or heir to the throne. Fourteen nations honour him as their Head of State.
But many are openly indicating that they want their own as the head of state or declaring themselves as Republics.
But the traditional links that the late Queen had built will last. It’s for the new King to solidify what his mother had spent her lifetime doing.
G S Kumar
G S Kumar is a veteran journalist and broadcaster. He actually began his journalistic career with the Asian Defence Journal (ADJ) back in 1974 as an Assistant Editor. He returned to broadcasting and spent the next 17 years on both sides of the Causeway before ending his stint as an Executive Producer with Current Affairs in Singapore Broadcasting Corporation (SBC). Then from 1988 till now he has served with The Straits Times (Singapore), SingTel Yellow Pages and even with The Malaysian Reserve. He is keen on news and current affairs and the “plight of mankind” in an ever changing world.