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Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2494

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Wirral telephonist who put through call to tell Elizabeth she was Queen celebrates 100th birthday

The telephonist who put through the call to inform Elizabeth II that her father had died and she was Queen has celebrated her 100th birthday.

Peggy Warde, a former parishioner of St Winefride’s Church, Neston, the Wirral, said she would like nothing better than a letter from the Queen to congratulate her on her 100th birthday on December 17 – and she received it shortly before her big occasion.

She has never forgotten the role she played in the accession of Queen Elizabeth to the throne in 1952.

Mrs Warde had followed beloved husband Fred out to Uganda shortly after the Second World War and she had taken a job as the supervisor of a telephone call centre in Mbali, near the border with Kenya.

It was from there that she inadvertently played a role in one of the most significant historical events of the country’s 20th century history.

For Mrs Warde was the woman who in 1952 put through the call to tell Princess Elizabeth that her father, King George VI, had died and that she was now Queen.

The profound significance of the occasion has left a deep impact on Peggy and a mark on her memory which has never been erased.

Peggy Warde oneThe letter from the Queen carries tremendous emotional value because of the connection she feels she has with Elizabeth.

“It means so much to me,” she told the Shrewsbury Catholic Voice.

Mrs Warde still remembers clearly the moment when she was asked to transfer the call to the royal party visiting Kenya as part of an international tour.

She said: “I didn’t think it was important but I was placed in a room by myself and this call came through.

“They said they wanted to speak to Her Majesty. I put them through then I had to stay on the phone to make sure it (the line) didn’t go off.

“I didn’t know the King was dead at that time but during the conversation it came out that the King was dead and that shook me up completely.

“I was absolutely staggered. It took everything out of me. I had no idea (beforehand) why I was putting the call through.”

The call had been made by a journalist called Grenville Roberts, who worked on the East African Standard and was covering the royal visit.

He spoke to Commander Michael Parker, Prince Philip’s private secretary, who passed on the message to the Duke of Edinburgh who in turn broke the news to the Queen.

Originally, it was the King himself who was supposed to have undertaken the tour, which was to include New Zealand and Australia, but Elizabeth stepped into his shoes when he fell ill.

The Princess was staying in the Treetops hotel in Kenya on February 6, 1952, the night her father died unexpectedly in his sleep at Sandringham.

On learning of the tragic news, arrangements were quickly made for the Royal party to return to London where, on landing, a black mourning outfit was sent to the plane so that the Queen could change before disembarking into the glare of global publicity.

It is normal for the Queen to answer requests for a letter of congratulations when a British couple reaches a diamond wedding anniversary or when an individual celebrates their 100th birthday.

A decade ago the Queen made an exception for Peggy in recognition of the role she played at the moment she ascended to the throne.

The Queen’s lady-in-waiting wrote to Mrs Warde’s son-in-law, Dr Lewis Draper, to congratulate her on her 90th birthday and to say that the Queen was “most interested to learn that Mrs Warde was supervisor of the telephone office at Mbali at the time of the Queen’s Accession and touched to know that she is so deeply affected by the memory of that sad and historic telephone call”.

Mrs Warde celebrated her birthday with her two children and many of her seven grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren who will flew in from all over the world for a party at Birkenhead Park Cricket Club.

Mrs Warde was born in Wallasey, the Wirral, during the second year of the First World War – and just 11 days before the British Cabinet demanded the conscription of young men into compulsory service in the armed forces.

She was adopted as a child and went to live in Newton-le-Willows, near Warrington, but moved to America for three years when she was a teenager.

Married at the age of 21, Mrs Warde gave birth to her daughter, Patricia, in 1938 and in 1946 gave birth to son Tony, who was just three months old when the family left for a new life in Uganda after her husband, a brilliant mechanic, was offered a good job there.

They spent five years in Kampala before moving to Mbali in 1951. The family returned to England in the late 1960s, during the period of upheaval that saw the notorious dictator Idi Amin seize power in Uganda.

Mrs Warde lived in her own home in Neston until she was 96 years old when she moved to a care home in Prenton because of increasing frailty.


(Picture by Simon Caldwell)