Pair sang for Queen

Sam Greenaway and Roger Dormer. INLM2212-137gc
Sam Greenaway and Roger Dormer. INLM2212-137gc
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NEARLY sixty years ago Lurgan residents Sam Greenaway and Roger Dormer were hand-picked to sing for the Queen.

To celebrate the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, Sam and Roger, both members of the same choir in Armagh, were chosen perform at the official ceremony at Westminster Abbey.

Having grown up as friends in Armagh, both men eventually settled in Lurgan.

The ‘MAIL’ caught up with the pair this week to find out more about their experiences at the Queen’s Coronation and find out what they’ll be doing to mark her Jubilee.

Sam, now 72, said: “Dormer and me were chosen from St Patrick’s (Protestant) Cathedral Choir to sing for the Queen’s Coronation. We were part of a choir of 400 from all over the Commonwealth.”

Sam and Roger were picked by Sir William Neil McKie, an Australian organist, conductor, and composer, who was organist and master of the choristers at Westminster Abbey from 1941 to 1963.

Sam commented: “He (Sir William McKie) came to Armagh to do the auditions. We were whittled down from 32 to 16 to eight to four and then down to three. When it got to the final three Dormer’s dad said to my dad, ‘One of our sons is going to get in but not both’. The reason being the third boy in the final three was the son of the organ player.

“In the end both Dormer and me got in and the organist’s son didn’t. Years later some members of the choir were caught eating sweets and I got the blame and got suspended from the choir. I think the organist was still annoyed that his son didn’t get to sing for the Queen.”

Having been hand picked by the master of choristers at Westminster Abbey, Sam and Roger were flown to Addington Palace in Croydon three weeks before the Queen’s Coronation on June 2, 1953, in preparation for the one-day coronation ceremony at Westminster Abbey.

70-year-old Roger said: “We had off time and work time and we were shown various parts of London by various dignitaries.

“A lot of our time was taken up by practices, vocal training and rehearsals.

“Addington Palace was a wonderful place. I’ve been trying to find it again since then, but haven’t been able to.”

Sam said: “I must have been about 12 or 13. It was great to get off school for three weeks, that’s what appealed to me.”

“It was some experience. We were very well looked after.”

Roger continued: “On the day of the Coronation we were woke up at 4am and given a bag of salt tablets and some glucose.”

Sam explained: “They wouldn’t give us anything to eat. They said it would affect our voices.

Richard, who it’s understood was the youngest participant in the choir at the age of 11, said: “I remember being enthralled by the music but the length of the ceremony meant it was very boring for children like ourselves.”

Sam commented: “It was a very long ceremony and when it was over we were starving.

“We needn’t have worried about food because when we got to the cloisters at Westminster Abbey a banquet was waiting for us. They had big tables lined out like Richard The Lionheart would have had with roast pig and the like.

“Dormer and me went straight for the cream buns, it just shows the priorities of teenage boys.”

Sam continued: “I have a few mementos from the day including the order of service signed by Sir William McKie and a Coronation mug.

“I’m not big into that sort of thing, but my mother-in-law and my mother consider them to be family treasures.”

Sam spent another few years in Armagh as part of the choir before the sweet-eating incident prompted a move.

He said: “I left the choir and we moved to England. I lived in Antrim for a bit when I came back and then moved to Lurgan.”

Sam added. “The funny thing is Dormer and me were both from Armagh but now we both live in Lurgan.”

Sam worked as a car repair man from the back of his house on the Avenue Road, where he lived with his wife Francis.

The couple had been married 35 years when Francis passed away seven years ago. Sam is now retired and still lives on the Avenue Road very close to his old property.

He has two children - Sam Jnr who lives in Turkey and Denise who lives in Banbridge.

Roger and his wife Barbara live in Kingsway Grove. They have three children - Michelle who has set up home in Magheralin, Richard who lives in Belfast and Paul, who has made Germany his new home.

Their son Richard is a renowned playwright and actor, who starred as Alex Higgins in the stage production of ‘Hurricane’ and plays the lead role in the Terry Hooley biopic, ‘Good Vibrations’, which premiers this Thursday.

Of his plans for the Jubilee, Roger said: “We’re trying to get our heads round Richard’s premiere so we haven’t really given the Jubilee that much attention. We’ve nothing special planned. We’ll probably be going to Donegal.”

When asked whether he would be singing on the Jubilee Sam said: “Definitely not. I’m too old for it now. I’d need a good few brandies in me to get me up to sing.

“I’ll probably watch some of it on the telly. If I had my way I’d be in the Isle of Man on the Jubilee weekend watching the TT.”