This extraordinary footage from the old British Pathé newsreels shows Queen Elizabeth paying tribute to President Kennedy as Jackie O, Caroline, and JKF Jr look on. His memorial sits on land that was gifted to the US by Britain.
In 1965, a year and a half after the assassination of President Kennedy, Britain dedicated a memorial to the late president. Craft from 50 granite steps leading up to a stone slab engraved with a quote from JFK’s inaugural address, the memorial sits on an acre of land that was gifted to the US by the people of Britain.
Designed and carved by Alan Collins, the JFK memorial was dedicated in a special ceremony on May 14, 1965, and Jackie O traveled from the US to attend with Caroline and JFK, Jr. The president’s brother, Robert F. Kennedy, also attended.
As they stood before the memorial for the first time, JFK Jr, then 4, held hands with his mother and Prince Philip.
In Queen Elizabeth’s speech, she noted the symbolism of the memorial’s location - Runnymede, which sits on the banks of the River Temes in Surrey, about 20 miles west of Central London. It is where the Magna Carta was signed in 1215.
In the news clip she can be heard saying:
“Here at Runnymede, 750 years ago, the Magna Carta was signed. Among our earliest statutes, it has rightly been regarded as the cornerstone of those liberties which later became enshrined in our democratic government under the rule of law. This is a part of the heritage which the people of the United States share with us.”
She bequeathed the land below the memorial to the American people and communicated her own people’s admiration for JFK and grief over his death.
“Therefore, it is altogether fitting that this should be the site of Britain’s memorial to the late President John F. Kennedy. This acre of English soil is now bequeathed in perpetuity to the American people in memory of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, who in death my people still mourn, and whom in life they loved and admired.”
Kennedy's visits to England
President Kennedy visited England twice - once in June 1963 to meet with Prime Minister Macmillan, and once in June 1961, to meet with Queen Elizabeth. There are, famously, many rumors about the dinner JFK and Jackie attended at Buckingham Palace, but there was no trace of tension between the royals and the Kennedys on this solemn occasion.
At a later point, Queen Elizabeth also said: “The unprecedented intensity of that wave of grief, mixed with something akin to despair, which swept over our people at the news of President Kennedy’s assassination, was a measure of the extent to which we recognized what he had already accomplished, and of the high hopes that rode with him in a future that was not to be.”
The memorial’s inscription reads:
This acre of English ground was gifted to the United States of America by the people of Britain in memory of John F. Kennedy, President of the United States 1961-63. Died by an assassin’s hand 22 November, 1963.
And includes this famous quote from JFK’s inauguration:
Let every Nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend or oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and success of liberty.
* Originally published in July 2019.