~ ONE JOURNEY ~
~ There is only one journey: going inside yourself. ~
- Rainer Maria Rilke
Osbert Chung, a.d.c. to HRH ~ Thursday, September 18, 2008
We have a number of concierges/security folk who sit at the entrance desk to the building. Usually, Tom or I just pass by with brief pleasantries or a wave, a smile and a greeting.
But, I was recently chatting with one of the fellows on duty there--Bert, an extraordinarily youthful-looking septuagenarian (or thereabouts--he told me his age once, but I've forgotten it). He began telling me a little about his life and it's certainly a fascinating one.
He began his life in Jamaica, the son of an Asian couple from China who spoke only Cantonese.
"I was fourteen before I got my first pair of shoes, and I lived in a mud hut. We were so very poor--our entire village. But my father always said that we should shoot for the stars. And we all did. We believed in ourselves and we all succeeded, my brothers and sisters. One of my brothers became one of the world's best pilots. And as for me--when I was a child in Jamaica, I always used to say 'Someday, I'm going to live with the Queen of England!' And do you know what, Susan?" A pause. He leaned forward and lowered his voice. "I did just that."
Well! Of course, this was a story I simply couldn't resist. Never mind the streetcar and getting to class on time (I was way early anyway, so I wasn't greatly concerned).
"Really!" I said. "You lived with the queen?"
Bert is a consummate storyteller. He'd hooked me. He wasn't about to let me off that easily, with some quick answer.
"That's right! The children used to tease me when I said that as a child. Even my parents got a little worried and took me to see the doctor. But the doctor said 'he's just a dreamer. Let him dream!' But no-one took me seriously. And then, you'll never guess what happened. I worked hard and was admitted to the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, in England. That's where all the royal princes have trained, not to mention the Sultan of Brunei, David Niven, and even Ian Fleming, who wrote the James Bond books. And me--I got in, from my poor little village in Jamaica."
"And no shoes till you were fourteen!" I agreed, admittedly impressed, though at the same time wavering on the edge of doubt. Was Bert bullshitting me? I mean, seriously. It sounded a little unbelievable. But I do love a good story, whether it's true or not. So I kept listening.
"It was when I was just finishing at Sandurst that I was invited to serve at Buckingham Palace, working for Queen Elizabeth's aunt, Alice, the Countess of Athlone." A pause, and he looked off into the distance. "I remember that first day I arrived at the palace, and Sarah Ferguson's father, Major Ferguson, greeted me. He showed me to my room--and Susan, I was in shock. The bed alone was worth fifteen thousand pounds--it was a far cry from the mud hut, that room!
'Don't unpack yet,' he said. 'We have to go and meet the Queen, first.' And he took me to the room where she, her mother and Prince Philip were sitting. And I shall never forget her first words to me. She said,
'Welcome, Bertie--' everyone else calls me Bert, but she always called me Bertie, though I only found out why later on. It was because her father was called Bertie. He, too was a military man, you see, and she said I reminded her a little of him."
Bert gave me a smile. "She's a wonderful woman, the Queen, though my favourite was her mother. I was so sad when the queen mother died, I tell you. But at that first meeting, she said to me, 'Welcome, Bertie. In thanks for your loyal service to us and our country, we would like to invite you to serve, here at Buckingham Palace.' And of course, I accepted."
This wasn't the end of Bert's extraordinary story--as you may well imagine. He then told me of how the Queen decided that she wanted to see the little mud village where Bert grew up.
"'But Your Majesty,' I said. 'There isn't any kind of accommodation there that's fit for royalty! My village is very, very poor and humble.'
"'Nonetheless, we shall go there for a visit. You have six months to find something and make the plans.'
"At first, it seemed an impossible task. I didn't know what to do. But then, one of the people I had put the word out to gave me a call and said, 'A wealthy Canadian has just built a vacation home not far from the village. Maybe he'd be willing to host the royal entourage.' And so, I found myself calling Mr. Loblaw from Buckingham Palace. 'Mr. Loblaw,' I said, "how would you like to host a visit from the Queen and the Royal family, at your Jamaican home?'
"He said, 'Is this a joke?'
"'No sir,' I said. Of course, he agreed. And so, six months later, we all flew into Jamaica and went to visit my village. And as the Queen got out of the car to pay homage to a fallen soldier monument in the village, everyone was staring and watching and calling out. They had recognised me, you see. And they were saying, in the patois 'Him say he gonna live with the Queen, and look--there she is!'"
Nor is that the end of Bert's extraordinary story. After his stint with the queen, she apparently sent along accolades to Prince Rainer and Princess Grace of Monaco, and so that was the next place he headed off to work as Aide-de-camp. Queen Elizabeth apparently also passed along the news that a visit to Bert's village in Jamaica was well worthwhile, because he soon found himself calling up Mr. Loblaw once more and asking whether he'd be willing to host the royal family of Monaco! After that, he apparently served as a.d.c. to two different Governer-Generals (of Jamaica and of Canada). And so, it was one precedent after another that he broke--he was the first Jamaican to serve as a.d.c. to the Royal Family in Buckingham Palace, and the first to serve the same position for two Governer-Generals. He even stood in as acting Governer-General on a few occasions, when the necessity arose.
Quite an extraordinary story, I'd say! Almost too extraordinary. And so, when Bert said he had kept all the memorabilia, I leaped at the chance to see it all. Documentation--the budding historian in me was delighted. He brought it in today.
And there it was: The pictures of him with a young Prince Charles and Princess Anne and Queen Elizabeth, in Jamaica. Him walking down the stairs and standing with Princess Grace and Prince Rainier. Another of him with the Governer-General of Jamaica (and newspaper clippings of that same shot, with the caption, mentioning him by name). A photo of him hosting a state dinner for the UN Security Council, circa 1968. And
so on. Truly amazing.
And this time 'round, I was clever enough to leave plenty of time--so I wasn't even late for class!
(this was the only one I could find on the web. It's from http://www.jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20070902/lead/lead4.html)
UPDATE: February 14, 2011
This blog post of mine has received a wonderful amount of attention--and Bert is thrilled! I am so glad that people have found and been able to read this wonderful story of an extraordinary man. I've also been told that some people have submitted the piece to publishers seeking stories about people who have triumphed over adversity and have come a long way from their humble beginnings. Bert certainly has done that, and more, and so this is truly wonderful news. I hope his story inspires many.
Please note, however, that this piece of writing is under copyright. If, however, you wish to reprint it, you do so with my blessing, as it is a story worth spreading. I only ask that you give me a byline and send me an email, at diva [dot] nat [at] gmail [dot] com to let me know of your intention. Similarly, if you change or edit it in any way, please ask permission before publishing the piece with the changes. These are the only conditions--though of course, if you wish to pay me for the time I spent working on it and writing it up, I won't refuse!
If you do not wish to attribute the piece, then you are also welcome to write your own version of Bert's story! Facts are not under copyright and so if you write about his life in your own words, then you can do with it what you will. It is often a courtesy to cite your sources (if Bert was your source, as he was mine, then no worries--that will be clear from your piece. But if you consulted this piece, then a courtesy citation would be appreciated, but is not obligatory).
::Posted by Anduril Elessar @ 5:44 PM::::