BRITISH HIGH COMMISSIONER IN TONGA: When I saw the news early on the morning of 8 September, of the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, my first reactions were, of course, shock and sadness. When someone has been so much of a public figure, in your own country and around the world, it is hard to imagine the world without them. And I think it is fair to say that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II was among the best known international figures, and among the most respected. That has been evidenced by the outpouring of tributes from around the world, from leaders and from individuals, including a Message from HIs Majesty King Tupou VI.
Many countries have marked Queen Elizabeth’s passing by illuminating buildings in red, white and blue, or with images of The Queen. Others have dimmed their lights - the lights on the Eiffel Tower in France were switched off in a very symbolic gesture. And many international institutions, devoted to peace and to progress, and recognising in the values of Queen Elizabeth a kindred spirit, half-masted their flags including at the United Nations in New York. His Majesty King Tupou very graciously commanded that His Royal Standard fly at half-mast over the Palace, and flags in Tonga flew at half-mast on the day of the State Funeral itself.
Queen Elizabeth was also the Head of the Commonwealth, a values-led community of nations with links to the UK, which of course includes the Kingdom of Tonga. She became the driving force behind the Commonwealth as it emerged after World War II and always kept a special place for the Commonwealth in Her work. We saw that in Her travel, with The Queen visiting Tonga, for example, three times during Her reign. His Majesty King Charles III will now take on the role as Head of the Commonwealth role, and I hope at some point will be able to visit Tonga too.
As well as Commonwealth links, the UK and Tonga have strong bilateral links through their Royal Families. This included an early visit by the late Queen Elizabeth on her Coronation Tour in 1953, to thank HM Queen Salote III (at that time the only other female Monarch in the Commonwealth) for joining Her on that rainy Coronation Day. The pleasure with which the UK public greeted Queen Sālote at the coronation because she rode back to the palace in pouring rain in an open carriage features in every programme about the coronation. That first Royal tour by Queen Elizabeth also included meeting the tortoise (Tuʻi Malila) that Captain Cook presented to the Tongan Royal Family in 1777
We were honoured by the presence of several members of the Royal Family of Tonga at a Service of Commemoration at St Paul’s Anglican Church in Nuku’alofa on 14 September. Her Majesty Queen Nanasipau’u, Their Royal Highnesses The Crown Prince and Princess, and The Princess Royal and Lord Tuita, as well as the Acting Prime Minister the Hon Samiu Vaipulu and members of the Cabinet and other dignitaries joined the congregation in a moving service commemorating the life of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth. Crown Prince Tupouto'a 'Ulukalala read from the Book of Lamentations, and the Hon Dr Viliami Latu, on behalf of the Cabinet, read Psalm 23, ‘The Lord is my Shepherd’, and I read from the Book of Revelations.
We also remembered The Queen as the Head of the Church of England. The Queen’s faith was strong, and a foundation of her life of service and duty. When she spoke in Cape Town on her 21st birthday about dedicating her whole life, ‘whether it be long or short’, to the service of her country and the Commonwealth, she said she would need help from both people, and from God: ‘But I shall not have strength to carry out this resolution alone unless you join in it with me, as I now invite you to do: I know that your support will be unfailingly given. God help me to make good my vow, and God bless all of you who are willing to share in it’.
Through her long reign, Queen Elizabeth became a part of our lives. How many lives did she touch without realising? Every day since her sad passing, Tongan friends here have told me stories of meeting Queen Elizabeth or seeing her on visits to Tonga or New Zealand or Australia, and I have been struck again how much of a family we are in the Commonwealth, with so much shared history and so much in common.
I think it is especially fitting that His Majesty King Tupou VI travelled to London to attend the State Funeral of Queen Elizabeth. It was of course His Majesty’s grandmother, Her late Majesty Queen Salote III, who attended Queen Elizabeth’s coronation that rainy day in 1953. So I was moved to hear Queen Salote’s Great-grandson, His Royal Highness do a reading at our Commemoration Service, here in Tonga. It is sad times like this that bear witness to the enduring and lasting strength of the friendship and ties between the United Kingdom and Tonga.