BRITISH HIGH COMMISSIONER IN TONGA: When I saw the news of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth’s death early in the morning of September 8th II, my first reactions were of course shock and sadness. When someone was such a big public figure in their own country and around the world, it’s hard to imagine the world without them. And I think it’s fair to say that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II was one of the best-known international personalities and one of the most respected. This was evidenced by the outpouring of tributes from around the world, leaders and individuals, including a message from HELLOs Majesty King Tupou VI.
Many countries have marked Queen Elizabeth’s death by lighting buildings in red, white and blue, or with pictures of the Queen. Others have dimmed their lights – the lights on the Eiffel Tower in France were turned off in a very symbolic gesture. And many international institutions committed to peace and progress, who see a kindred spirit in Queen Elizabeth’s values, flew their flags at half-mast, including at the United Nations in New York. His Majesty King Tupou very graciously ordered his royal standard to fly at half-staff over the palace, and the flags in Tonga themselves flew at half-staff on the day of the state funeral.
Queen Elizabeth was also the head of the Commonwealth, a values-guided community of nations with Commonwealth ties United Kingdom, which of course includes the Kingdom of Tonga. She became the driving force behind the Commonwealth as it emerged after the World War II and has always given the Commonwealth a special place in your work. We have seen this in your travels, for example when the Queen visited Tonga three times during her reign. His Majesty King Karl III will now take on the role of Head of the Commonwealth and I hope to visit Tonga at some point.
As well as Commonwealth links that United Kingdom and Tonga have strong bilateral ties through their royal families. This was thanks in part to an early visit by the late Queen Elizabeth on her Coronation Tour in 1953 HM Queen Salote III (then the only other female monarch in the Commonwealth) for joining her on that rainy Coronation Day. The pleasure with which the United Kingdom The public welcomed Queen Sālote at the coronation because she rode back to the palace in a pouring rain in an open carriage, which appears in every coronation broadcast. This first royal voyage of Queen Elizabeth also included the Meeting with the Turtle (Tuʻi Malila) presented by Captain Cook to the Tongan royal family in 1777
We were honored by the presence of several members of the Tonga Royal Family at a memorial service at St Paul’s Anglican Church in Nuku’alofa on September 14th. Her Majesty Queen Nanasipau’u, Her Royal Highnesses the Crown Prince and Princess, the King Princess and Lord Tuita, as well as Acting Prime Minister Hon Samiu Vaipulu and members of the Cabinet and other dignitaries attended a moving service commemorating Her Majesty’s life Queen Elizabeth. Crown Prince Tupouto’a ‘Ulukalala read from the Book of Lamentations, and the Hon. Viliami Latu read Psalm 23, ‘The Lord is my shepherd’, on behalf of the Cabinet, and I read from the Book of Revelations.
We also remembered the Queen as head of the Church of England. The Queen’s faith was strong and a foundation of her life of service and duty. Speaking on her 21st birthday in Cape Town about dedicating her entire life, “long or short”, to serving her country and the Commonwealth, she said she needs help from both people and from God: “But I will not have the strength to carry out this resolution alone unless you join it, which I invite you to do now: I know your support will be unfailing. God help me to keep my vow and God bless all who are willing to share it.’
Through her long reign, Queen Elizabeth became a part of our lives. How many lives has she touched without realizing it? Every day since her sad passing, Tongan friends here have told me stories of meeting Queen Elizabeth or of visiting them on visits to Tonga, New Zealand or Australia and I am once again amazed at how much one family we are in the Commonwealth, we have a lot of history together and such a lot in common.
I find it particularly fitting that His Majesty King Tupou VI traveled to London to attend Queen Elizabeth’s state funeral. It was, of course, His Majesty’s grandmother, Her late Majesty Queen Salote III, attending the coronation of Queen Elizabeth on that rainy day in 1953. So I was moved to hear Queen Salote’s great-grandson, His Royal Highness, give a reading at our memorial service. It is sad times like these that testify to the enduring and enduring strength of friendship and ties between the UK and Tonga.