‘Awesome’ receiving medal from Queen
by SUE THOMAS
When Melva Mildenhall walked on the stage to receive her Queen’s Service Medal from the Queen in Wellington last month, she just prayed that one foot would follow the other.
“I was very nervous and just couldn’t believe it was really me up there,” says Melva, the Herald-Tribune accountant who received the QSM for her 40 years’ service to the Hastings Girls’ Brigade.
The greatest moment was when the Queen presented her with the QSM and then asked her if the Girls’ Brigade movement was strong in New Zealand.
“Even if I had the figures in my head I was too dazed to have quoted them,” recalled Melva, who simply replied: “Reasonably so, but not as strong as in Great Britain.”
“Indeed no,” said the Queen.
Melva, in her Girls’ Brigade uniform, bobbed in the way she had been instructed, then quickly walked off the stage, watched by a sea of faces, many of whom had more than an hour’s uninterrupted view of the Queen.
“I’ve never known such a large crowd of people to be so quiet. Even the orchestra was subdued. It made the occasion even more awesome.”
Being among the Queen’s Honours list was a great accomplishment but to have the Queen present the awards was a special honour for Melva and the 90 others.
But if any of the recipients thought they were in for three-hour protocol sessions, learning how to curtsy and to conduct themselves in front of the Queen, they were mistaken.
“It was all rather casual and we had only about a five minute briefing,” says Melva, who was a little surprised they were not thoroughly schooled.
On their arrival at the Michael Fowler Centre they were ushered into a room and directed to chairs on which their names and numbers were pinned.
Following a roll call they were given a clip on which the Queen would place the award. She does not have time to fiddle with pins that will not clasp on to slippery silks.
A sympathetic official, well aware that nerves were fraying, reminded the recipients it was “their big day” and suggested they “sit back, relax and enjoy it.”
They were then told in what order they would enter the stage. For Melva it was a long wait – she was 49th but confessed it must have been even more nerve-racking for the 91st with such a long wait for the big moment.
Tension mounted as the Queen arrived, heralded by the sounds of fanfare and trumpets.
Thankfully there were no speeches formalities to sit through, as the ceremony began immediately.
“The Queen didn’t waste a moment as she was running to time all day,” recalled Melva.
“I couldn’t very well stare at her too long as she was busy looking at me,” said Melva when she recalled shaking hands with the Queen.
But it was a little disappointing for proud family members among the audience who were keen to snap the big event on film.
No photographs were allowed during the ceremony and a group or press photographers were quickly shown the door after they took snaps of the first three recipients.
Official photographs were taken after the ceremony. Proudly wearing their medals, and clutching boxes they collected for them after the ceremony, the recipients and their partners were treated with morning tea with the Mayor of Wellington, Mr Ian Lawrence.
Even when she was in Wellington, still in her uniform and having lunch with family and friends, congratulations kept pouring in as people would stop and inquire about the occasion.
“It seemed like months of waiting in anticipation but it was all over in such a short time,” says Melva.
It may have only been just over an hour during a very routine ceremony, but for Melva and the other 90 New Zealanders it will always be a day to remember.