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General News · 20th September 2022
Not a day goes by when I don't think about Ginnie, but even more often in the last 10 days. Therefor yesterday was very special, when David dropped by with some Italian prune plums and a story that Bruce wrote out, sparked by Rob's (Ginnie's brother) question for more details of one of Ginnie's very fond memories of the time she met Queen Elizabeth II.

Ginnie and Queen Elizabeth II - 1994 on the Twin Islands
by Bruce Ellingsen

In late July, 1994, Ginnie was asked if she would take the place of Iris Steigemann who had worked for the Margraf and Margrafin of Baden Baden, the owners of the Twin Islands on the southeast side of Cortes Island. Iris was late in a pregnancy and wasn’t able to help with the opening up the impressive large log Lodge prior to the arrival of the German family for their three week Summer holiday.

Ginnie and Bruce had plans for a holiday in England so Ginnie agreed to the work in order to earn some money toward the cost of the trip. During the interview by Magdalene Knepperges who, along with her husband, Paul, were the year-round caretakers, Ginnie was told there was to be a special visitor on August 19th; Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, and was asked if she minded having a background security check to satisfy protocol. “Of course not” she replied.

The Royal couple were coming for the opening of the 25th British Commonwealth games in Victoria on August 18th, then were to fly up to the Twin Islands for a three day holiday with the owners who happened to be related to Prince Phillip. It was to be a quiet retreat, not publicized.

So Ginnie was off to the Twin Islands for about ten days of work with Magdalene in the opening up of the Lodge, setting and attending to many mouse traps (Ginnie said they caught over fifty mice while she was there), cleaning everything and bringing all the carpets, linens, cookware, etc. out of storage in preparation for the arrival of the German family at the beginning of August. After their arrival, she continued on with services in caring for them plus the Royal couple (and their two man security team - one from the RCMP and one from Scotland Yard) after they arrived.

For a least a week prior to the visit by the Queen and Duke there was, of course, a lot of security preparation led by five combined representatives of the Canadian RCMP and members of Scotland Yard. They were checking all the likely points of access to the Twins, having a team of divers check under the dock where the float plane would deposit the Royal couple as well as having Zodiac design high speed watercraft zipping around, establishing a perimeter around the Twins to control water access and checking on all the operators of approaching water craft, warning them away.

And lastly, a group of highly trained security experts who had checked out all the facilities for the Royal couple in Victoria prior to the opening of the Games came to the Twins and thoroughly went through all the buildings and the general area around the Lodge where the Queen would be staying.

There was to be a “SWAT” team of four camping out near the gardens on the south island about 200 yards from the Lodge. Paul Knepperges, the older caretaker, led them to the site. He said one of them was quite overweight and was really puffing and panting on the climb. A Military helicopter later flew in couple of “ATV”s (all terrain vehicles) for the SWAT teams use.

As Paul showed them the site for them to camp, one of the team asked if there were any snakes on the island. When told that there were only harmless garter snakes, he replied “I’ll have to sleep in a hammock then.”Paul questioned how effective they would be if anything really happened.

Ginnie had been sleeping in a small bedroom behind the kitchen but when the Queen’s and her security team arrived, she had to move in with the caretaking couple in their cottage so that a Scotland Yard and an RCMP rep could sleep in that room. The mice were only under control but certainly not eliminated and Ginnie found evidence of them running around on the log walls in that small bedroom, on the bed and over the furniture. When she was introduced to the two that were to stay in the bedroom, she found them very pleasant and chatty. Before they settled in their room for the night, she thought she had better warn them about the mice. When they emerged in the morning she found the Scotland Yard fellow morose and uncommunicative. He apologized later in the day, saying that some of his training had involved staying overnight in an abandoned castle in Britain and that rats were running over him through the night and, ever since then, he had a great fear of rats and mice, so he hadn’t slept a wink after Ginnie had mentioned the mice.

(We later had a chuckle about all these phobias in the so-called “security teams” saying that all an IRA saboteur would have to do would be to throw a snake and a rat at them and they would be out of commission!)

The Queen and her entourage arrived on August 19th and, as they made their way up the long pathway to the Lodge the staff were lined up to be introduced to them. Ginnie said protocol said that she should perform a mild curtsey, shake an offered hand and say, “Your Majesty” but thereafter to address her as “M’am”. When she looked into the bright eyes of this shorter, elderly woman, she was most impressed by her warmth and direct gaze. “At that moment, I had the feeling that if there was any threat to the Queen, I would protect her with my life.”

Unbeknownst to the staff, when the helicopter delivered the ATV’s behind the Lodge, the downwash from its rotors had blown out the pilot light in the propane water heater serving the large bedroom reserved for the Queen at the far end of the bedroom wing. When her lady-in-waiting was drawing a bath for the Queen the first evening, the water ran cold fairly quickly. She took it quietly in her stride and she came down to the kitchen (around a hundred feet away) where Ginnie was cleaning up after dinner and asked if she could boil a kettle. Off she went with the hot water, then returned for a second to top up the bath. Noticing a quizzical look in Ginnie’s eye, she explained what had happened. Ginnie was most impressed by how competently she dealt with it all. Of course the pilot light was re-ignited the next morning and the problem disappeared.

As far as the food that was prepared two dinners prepared for the Queen and the Duke, the only preferences expressed was that it not be fish ( apparently they frequently were served fish at many of the formal dinners they attend) and the Duke did not like strawberries. Of the two dinners prepared, the first was centred around a roast leg of SaltSpring Island lamb and the second was a chicken dinner with chickens supplied by Joan Disney from Cortes. Vegetables to accompany the meats were local, in-season from Cortes growers.

On that second day, Ginnie had permission to come over to attend a morning wedding of one of Ruby and John Gordon’s twin daughters in Smelt Bay and after that we went over to Disney’s to collect the chickens. She returned to the Twins from the beach at the Loon Ranch (owned at the time by our very good friends, Hannes and Brigitte Grosse) with the chickens in an insulated cooler box. Later she remarked that, in spite of all the earlier intense security precautions, no one bothered to check what it was that she had in that box! Could have been a bomb or anything!

Mid mornings, Ginnie went to the Queen’s bedroom to tidy up, make the bed and replenish anything needed. She was impressed by the Queen’s tiny little, well worn leather shoes, her collection of small, leather bound family members photos on the bedside table and nothing seemingly pretentious. The Queen had a couple of small oatcakes and a pot of tea, prepared by her Lady-in-Waiting, in her bedroom, to start her day; lunches were cold cuts and salads and, as with the dinner, were set out on a sideboard adjacent to the very large dining room. When courses were completed, a small bell was tinkled, the staff removed the plates and dishes and replaced them with a next course. There was no waiting upon the individuals at the dining table.

On one of the days that the Queen was on the Twins, word had circulated on Cortes. Kim Paulley, a local and a trained opera singer, headed out with others in the Hollyhock rowing boat to Long Tom (a small rocky island half way to the Twins from Cortes) and from there she sang in her strong voice God Save the Queen. We understand that the Queen did hear it!

Prince Philip went out in the Margraf’s fast boat, accompanied by Paul Knepperges, each day, mainly to scout around for marine life but mostly to look for seabirds. They visited Mitlenatch Island, cruised around it but didn’t go ashore.

After breakfast on the third day, when the visitors were to leave, the Military helicopter came into the clearing, hovering at the back of the Lodge. Ginnie, Magdalene and Paul were out watching it all. The Queen emerged with a little old fashioned box camera, watched the ATV’s being hoisted up in to the helicopter, the turned and said “Isn’t this exciting! It’s just like being at a small airport.”

When the De Havilland Otter came around mid-day to collect the Royal couple, Ginnie and the other staff went individually in to the dining room to say farewell. The Queen said to Ginnie “Thank you very much for looking after me so well. I am very refreshed.” Another hand shake, a curtsey and Ginnie received an autographed portrait of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh.

Some weeks later, when we were on the ferry heading off on our trip to England, Hannes and Brigitte Grosse were also on the ferry. Just the day before, the Margrafin, who had been taking some photos of the Queen’s visit, had delivered copies to Brigitte, to be handed on to Ginnie. Perfect timing and they were taken with us and shown to Ginnie’s Mum (and others, of course!). Hazel was quite ecstatic and immediately took them out to have a number of copies made and circulated them widely to other relations and friends.

So happened an unexpected but most memorable episode in Ginnie’s life here on our little island.