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Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother: Frailty fails to dim devotion to duty; Reaching old age.

The Queen Mother, who had had a robust constitution throughout her life, began to show some of the symptoms of old age as she reached her 90s.

But with her characteristic devotion to duty, she continued to fulfil a host of public engagements.

The perception that age was beginning to take its toll on the Queen Mother and that she was beginning to show a frailty normally associated with people at least 10 years her junior set in as she was rushed to hospital after a piece of salmon lodged in her throat while she was staying in Scotland.

However, it was not until two years later - at the age of 95 - that the Queen Mother underwent the first of two hip replacements.

Despite her age, she proved to be as resilient as a woman 40 years her junior when she made a round-trip to Balmoral in one day for the Princess Royal's wedding on a bitterly cold Highland afternoon in December 1992.

At the age of 93, she was seen to be in need of help when she climbed steps, but staff still marvelled at her sprightliness.

The Queen gave a rare public display of her concern for her mother when, as usual, they attended the January meeting of the Women's Institute at West Newton, near Sandringham.

As they left the WI hall, the Queen apologised to one of the dedicated band of fans who follow the Royal Family for appearing to be rude at an earlier outdoor encounter.

'I didn't want to keep her hanging about,' she said in a stage whisper, motioning over her shoulder at her mother.

It was apparent that the Queen Mother began to find walking more difficult and appeared to lose her sight a little.

But royal watchers were surprised once more at her stamina when she remained standing throughout a lengthy ceremony to hand out shamrock to Irish Guards at Pirbright, Surrey, on St Patrick's Day, one of 90 public engagements she fulfilled during 1993. It was, however, during her annual spring stay in Scotland that the first real concerns for her health surfaced.

On May 20, 1993, the Queen Mother was rushed into Aberdeen Royal Infirmary for an emergency operation under general anaesthetic to remove a piece of fish that had become stuck in her throat.

The Palace played down the seriousness of the operation and the Queen Mother stayed in hospital for several nights before emerging to announce she was going to 'take it easy' for a while.

She suffered a severe blow soon afterwards when she learned of the death of her long-time companion, adviser and private secretary Sir Martin Gilliat.

Hardly had she got over that shock when she received the news in July of the death of another close companion, Ruth, Lady Fermoy.

A lady-in-waiting for more than 30 years and grandmother of the Princess of Wales, Lady Fermoy played an important role in the Queen Mother's life.

Through that summer, the Queen Mother's health suffered intermittently again.

In June she was forced to admit she had been overdoing things and took the rare step of pulling out of the annual Garter ceremony at St George's Chapel, Windsor.

For the first time publicly, royal aides put the decision down to her advanced years and the appalling weather which marked the day.

The Queen Mother cancelled plans to attend Royal Ascot, again almost unknown, and rested at Windsor.

After initially insisting she was well, the Palace eventually admitted she was suffering from 'mild flu'. Days later she was back at work, looking as cheerful as ever, but increasingly carrying a folded umbrella to lean on.

In early July the Queen Mother was seen in public for the first time using a walking stick when she presented new colours to the King's Regiment at Hounslow, West London.

Aides said she had a slightly swollen ankle, but she showed little sign of discomfort as she stayed on her feet for more than 20 minutes and carried out a lengthy troop inspection. Royal watchers also noticed the extent to which her eyesight was failing - her brief speech was written in letters more than an inch high.

Days later, a cataract was removed from her left eye.

Expectant crowds turned up as usual outside Clarence House to celebrate the Queen Mother's 93rd birthday on August 4 and she did not disappoint them.

It was well known that the Queen Mother's hip had been causing her considerable pain because of osteo-arthritis, but that did little to stop her carrying out a raft of public duties.

In May 1995, the Queen Mother received rapturous applause when she appeared with her daughters before a massive audience attending a concert staged in Hyde Park, to mark the 50th anniversary of VE Day celebrations. The Queen Mother delighted crowds who gathered outside Clarence House in August in honour of her 95th birthday and two weeks later attended a Drumhead Service at Wick, Caithness, as part of the VJ Day anniversary events.

It was three months later at the annual Field of Remembrance service outside St Margaret's Church, Westminster, that the Queen Mother made her next public appearance.

The previous year she had missed the service for the first time since the Second World War because of a leg injury. But in 1995 the Queen Mother was determined to attend despite being in considerable discomfort and pain, she leaned heavily on two walking sticks as she chatted with veterans.

She also used a golf buggy, which became known as the Queen Mum mobile, to get around when she became tired.

Later the Queen Mother missed the annual Remembrance Day service at the Cenotaph, as she had done in 1994 and before that only in 1959 when she was unwell.

Just hours earlier she had attended an engagement at the Ritz but was then admitted into hospital for surgery to replace her right hip.

At the age of 95, the Queen Mother became one of the oldest people in the world to undergo a major hip operation. The one-and-half hour operation on her right hip was carried out by Mr Roger Vickers at King Edward VII Hospital on November 16, 1995, but news of the operation was kept secret until more than three hours after the surgery was completed.

She left hospital on December 4, 1995, 18 days after surgery was carried out and was able to walk unaided.

It was after this operation that she began to scale down her work commitments.

Again illness prevented her attending the Cenotaph for the Remembrance Day service in November, 1996, but she attended the following year.

Three months earlier members of the Royal Family including Princes William and Harry, their father, the Queen, Princess Margaret and the Princess Royal joined her and a 2,000-strong crowd outside Clarence House to celebrate her 97th birthday on August 4, 1997.

It was to be little more than a month before the royals appeared together in public again - this time on September 6 for the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, at Westminster Abbey.

But despite the tremendous sense of grief which engulfed the nation, the Queen Mother led the country forward and was the first royal to resume public duties two days after the Princess's burial.

She took a 200-mile round trip by helicopter from her residence at Birkhall, Royal Deeside, to Fort George, near Inverness. There the Queen Mother spent several hours with officers and men of the Black Watch to mark the diamond jubilee of her appointment as Colonel-in-Chief of the oldest Highland infantry regiment. Then in January, 1998, she suffered another setback when she fell at Sandringham stud while viewing thoroughbred horses and fractured her left hip.

Again it was Mr Vickers who was called on to replace this one.

In September 1999 concern rose when she failed to attend the traditional Braemar Games.

But despite looking slightly pale, the 99-year-old Queen Mother joined the Queen and Prince Philip along with Prime Minister Tony Blair and his wife Cherie for a traditional morning service at Crathie Kirk.

In November, the Queen Mother was forced to miss the Remembrance Day service once more due to a chill.

However, on July 9, 2000, she paid tribute to the courage of Battle of Britain heroes and told them: 'I remember so well the courage and skill of the Few who defended our country from invasion in 1940 and the sacrifice they made.'

Two days later the Queen Mother celebrated her forthcoming 100th birthday at a national service of thanksgiving.

And on July 19 she defied terrorist bombers to enjoy a spectacular pageant for her 100th birthday.

Despite widespread disruption across the capital after an earlier bomb alert in west London, the pageant went ahead as planned with the Queen Mother entertained by a cast of 7,000 on Horse Guards.

But less than two weeks after the centenary celebrations, the Queen Mother was shocked by the death of Reginald Wilcock - Deputy Steward and Page of Presence in her household - who had served her a cup of tea on the morning of her 100th birthday.

In November, her favourite entertainer Russ Conway died after losing his battle with cancer. But she was in fine spirits as she joined the rest of the Royal Family for their Christmas and New Year celebrations at Sandringham, although there were concerns over Princess Margaret's health.

The Queen Mother continued her royal duties but in June the 100-year-old royal missed the annual Order of the Garter ceremony and St George's service at Windsor Castle. Fears for her health were raised once more.

This was the first time since 1995 the Queen Mother had been absent from the historic event, but her aides said she was in good health and pacing herself for her 101st birthday. During the same week she had also attended the Trooping of the Colour and intended to be at Royal Ascot.

A few days before her celebrations, the Queen Mother underwent an emergency blood transfusion at King Edward VII Hospital after she was diagnosed as suffering from anaemia.

Characteristically optimistic, she was determined to leave the private hospital in time for her traditional birthday celebrations outside Clarence House.

True to her word, Britain's oldest Royal delighted thousands of well-wishers who had gathered outside her London residence as she defied the rigours of her age and told the crowd 'I'm feeling much better.'

While the Queen Mother looked a picture of health, fears over the health of 70-year-old Princess Margaret resurfaced. She looked frail as she was pushed in on a wheel chair, with her arm in a sling and wearing dark glasses. But in September, the Queen Mother underwent more medical tests at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary and less than 24 hours later, she was forced to miss the Highland Games on doctors' orders.

Buckingham Palace was then driven to issue a statement denying there was any cause for concern over the Queen Mother's health after it had received a number of inquiries.

The statement said she was at Birkhall, on the Balmoral Estate in Scotland, where she was enjoying her holiday.

In November, the Queen Mother carried out her last official public engagement - the recommissioning of the aircraft carrier Ark Royal.

The Queen Mother was quite frail at the time of her visit but was 'absolutely certain' she was not going to use a buggy, said Captain David Snelson.

'She came down from the flight deck where she landed by helicopter on one of the aircraft lifts into the hangar,' he said.

'She showed remarkable resilience and was determined to walk through the length of the hangar and also stood through much of the ceremony and made a short speech as well which was a great inspiration to us all.'

The Queen Mother spent Christmas with most of the Royal Family at Sandringham, but suffered a bad cough and chest infection. For the first time in living memory, she was to ill to attend services at the estate church.

Seven weeks ago, the Queen mother was forced to face the most appalling experience any parent could face: burying a child. She was convalescing at Sandringham when she was informed of the death of her own daughter, Princess Margaret.

She was flown to Windsor by helicopter, and, summoning up her last reserves of strength, insisted on attending Margaret's funeral on February 14. Because of her increasing frailty, she was confined to a wheelchair, which she is said to have hated - and was transported to the door of St George's chapel by people-carrier with blacked-out windows.

A sign she was becoming increasingly weak was her failure to attend the Cheltenham Festival race meeting in early March for the first time in living memory, also missing her customary visit to a nearby primary school.

The Queen Mother had spent most of the last month at the Royal Lodge at Windsor, in bed, virtually blind and only able to recognise her staff by voice.

She fought to the last, telling staff: 'If only I could get more strength.'


The Queen Mother suffered with the nation at the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, but she was the first to return to her public engagements (top). The Queen Mother shares a smile with Princess Diana at the Trooping of the Colour in June 1990 (inset right). The Queen mother often visited those less fortunate than herself, as on this occasion at the Crippled Children's Hospital in Exeter (right). Her youngest fans proved her need was not forgotten on a visit to see her after her first hip operation (above) Clockwise from top, the Queen Mother enjoyed good health for many years which allowed her to continue to persue her favourite pastime - fishing; Major Parker-Bowles accompanies the Queen Mother at Sandown Park; Her Royal Highness waves to the crowds as she leaves Clarence House on her 95th birthday; holding one of the many gifts she received from well-wishers on her 90th birthday
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Apr 1, 2002
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