The Veteran and the Princess by Canadian Broadcaster, Les Stoodley
17 June 1983 Princess Diana in bright yellow greeting the crowds in Bicentennial Square, Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada
The late Princess Diana left a long and positive shadow when she was part of the Royal Family. Let’s go back to those days of the first Canadian tour made by the Prince and Princess of Wales in late June and early July 1983.
The couple arrived in Halifax, Nova Scotia, then moved on to Saint John, New Brunswick, St. John’s , Newfoundland and finally Charlottetown, PEI. CBC radio decided to provide live radio coverage of the visits to the three major cities in the Maritime Provinces. I was one of the lucky three broadcasters to be selected for the tour.
My job was what I liked doing best: getting out in the crowd and talking with people who had spoken with or shook hands with the Royals.
The tour got off to a rousing start above, in Halifax, with thousands filling the Garrison Grounds in the downtown area of the city. Princess Diana was obviously the center of attention.
Our next broadcast was from Saint John, New Brunswick and it was there that an encounter between a veteran and the Princess was, for me, the highlight of the coverage. The couple arrived in the Port City overnight, aboard the Royal yacht Britannia from Shelburne, Nova Scotia. The early morning was foggy and the thousands of people who had travelled from all across the province were worried the mist wouldn’t allow them to see the Prince and Princess.
Just before they were to leave Britannia, the fog lifted and the sun shone.
Bicentennial/Market Square is in the center of downtown Saint John and it was there the people gathered. One area was sectioned off for veterans. They were all provided chairs. They waited impatiently for their chance to greet the special visitors.
I was assigned to the area close to the vets. I was connected to the audio truck by 150 feet of microphone cord just behind the line of about 100 members of the Royal Canadian Legion.
Finally, as they walked near our location, I jumped on an empty steel chair to get a better view which would allow me to describe what was happening. Directly in front of me was a First World War veteran, my guess a man in his mid to late-80s. He sat, slightly bent, holding his cane and watching Diana make her way up the line.
Princess Di smiled, shook hands and spoke with each of the veterans as she came closer to my location.
The focus of my attention shifted from the beautiful young woman who had already captured the hearts of those she met to the veteran in front of me.
It seemed that the closer she got to this brave old man, the straighter he got. When she finally reached his spot, he was ram-rod straight and his right hand whipped up in the traditional military salute and was then smartly extended to the Princess. What happened next is etched in my memory.
Diana leaned close to the man whose hand she held and gently spoke to him for about 15 seconds. Then with all the grace and dignity I’ve ever witnessed, this only 23-year-old, who had been thrust into the world spotlight, lowered the gentleman back to his chair.
As I spoke the words, the lady in the bright yellow dress, lifted her head and looked at me from about 15 feet away. Like the veteran, I was awestruck by the physical beauty in front of me but also entranced by the spiritual beauty she radiated.
That same day, the Royal couple continued on to Rothesay Collegiate School.
The next day they visited Charlo and Campbellton where again the crowds were large and enthusiastic.
On the evening of 18 June 1983 they attended a formal dinner at the Saint John Convention Centre in Saint John, New Brunswick.