Well handwritten, sometimes with a spelling mistake or a smudge of ink, letters from a young Princess Elizabeth provide a lasting insight into the carefree early life of a girl who never expected to become queen.
The now-historic documents were written in the 1930s to the only friend the future monarch had ever chosen for himself as a child, Sonia Graham-Hodgson, and – along with some fascinating and candid photographs – a now treasured family memory. There are signs.
The remarkable friendship began with the girls playing hopscotch and hide-and-seek in private parks near their central London homes, and would go on for decades. Whilst she stayed in royal residences across the country, the young Princess Elizabeth, known as ‘Lilibet’, maintains a lively correspondence with her dear friend, with letters showcasing her early obsession with horses. There are, even those of the toy variety.
A letter from when she was ten, showing her concern for ‘Ben’, her favorite toy pony, whom she had left with Sonia as the family moved to Buckingham Palace after the abdication of her uncle Edward VIII. , whereby his father became King George VI. ,
Written on the note paper headed by the Palace on March 7, 1937, he thanked Sonia for taking care of Ben.
The remarkable friendship began when Princess Elizabeth (left) suddenly ran into Sonia (right) – daughter of prominent radiologist Harold Graham-Hodgson – at Hamilton Gardens, Piccadilly, and asked if she wanted to play.
While she lived in royal residences across the country, the young Princess Elizabeth, better known as ‘Lilibet’, maintains a lively correspondence with her dear friend.
A letter from when she was ten, showing her concern for ‘Ben’, her favorite toy pony, whom she had left with Sonia as the family moved to Buckingham Palace after the abdication of her uncle Edward VIII. , whereby his father became King George VI.
Inviting her friend over for tea, the young Lillibet asked: ‘Please, do you think you can bring “Ben” with you? can you bear it? I am sure he enjoyed being with you.’
He asked his friend to forgive him for any ‘spots, disturbances etc.’ as the letter was written in haste after a busy day enjoying the snow at the Royal Lodge. “We made an igloo, an armchair, and an iced cake,” she says excitedly. It appears that the reunion did not take place, and this time another letter from Windsor Castle in April 1937, asking Sonia to send Ben to London ‘in a paper parcel … I don’t see any point in wrapping him’ There will be trouble. For a while, will you?’
Three years earlier, on September 14, 1934, the eight-year-old princess wrote to Sonia from Birkhal on the Balmoral estate, where she was living with her parents and her sister Margaret, to her friend about her new ‘naughty’ She was telling everything. Pony called Pixie and was going on a picnic with her mother.
But all was not well at Royal Deeside as Elizabeth talked about the funeral of a dead Robin found in the grounds. The future queen wrote, ‘We dug a pit and filled it with rose petals and flowers and covered it and placed it around the grave blue flowers.’
Elizabeth asked her friend to forgive any ‘spots, messes etc.’ as the letter was written hastily after a busy day enjoying the snow at the Royal Lodge.
Princess Elizabeth (left) pictured with her sister Margaret (right) and her beloved toy pony ‘Ben’ (Parikrama), which she left in Sonia’s care when she moved into Buckingham Palace
The girls did not see each other during World War II, but they later continued to meet and correspond until Sonia’s death in 2012 at the age of 86. By that time she was known by her married name Beri.
Sonia’s daughter, Victoria d’Ayers Willis, recalled yesterday: ‘They got on really well and just started clicking. They saw each other as much as they could and they corresponded exactly the same way until my mother died.’
It was a remarkably enduring friendship that began when five-year-old Princess Elizabeth suddenly ran up to Sonia, daughter of Harold Graham-Hodgson, the chief radiologist at Piccadilly’s Hamilton Gardens, and asked if she wanted to play.
They shared dancing and skating lessons, dined at each other’s homes, and attended Brownies and Girl Guides together. In later years, the princess and her then-fiancé, Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten, attended Sonia’s 21st birthday party, and she in turn was a guest at their 1947 wedding at Westminster Abbey.
Ms d’Ayers Willis recalled how the Queen was a frequent visitor to her family home as she grew up. She said: ‘The first time I was introduced to the Queen at our house in London, I was five years old and my brother was three. I remember the day off from school, which was so exciting, and he was practicing his bow and I was practicing my courtesy. I remember looking out the window for him to come because I thought he must be wearing the crown. She was not, which was disappointing.
After thanking Sonia for her gifts and mentioning some correspondence between her governess, Krophy, and Sonia, Willie, the Queen makes another attempt to be reunited with her toy pony.
Sonia (left) and Elizabeth (right, with Margaret on the trike) shared dance and skating lessons, dined at each other’s homes, and attended brownies and Girl Guides together
‘We were brought to meet him in our best bibs and tuckers and my brother leaned so low that he almost fell on his lap. It was so funny because he suddenly said, ‘oh be careful’ and pushed it forward before he actually landed on it.
‘As we got older, she would sometimes attend dinner parties too, but I didn’t go to those parties because they were only for my mom’s friends. Instead, I’ll have dinner with the detective in the kitchen.
‘Thanks to my mother’s lifelong friendship with her, we were fortunate enough to see a more relaxed side of the Queen.
‘My mother was a kind, generous person like Her Majesty and a firm determination of manners.’
Looking at her mother’s scrapbooks and photographs, she said: ‘I feel great nostalgia seeing them, knowing how fond they were of each other and that the queen is still gone. She was my mother’s last friend who is still alive and I know she was 96 but it was still a shock. It certainly feels like it’s the end of an era. I am very proud that my mother was a part of it.
Writing from Scotland, the eight-year-old princess told Sonia about her pony and a dead bird in a handwritten letter we reproduced in type
Sonia (pictured) remained friends with the Queen into adulthood and was a guest at the 1947 wedding of Elizabeth and Philip at Westminster Abbey.