The Crown has become the mysterious linkindeed, I may say, the magic link which unites our loosely bound but strongly interwoven Commonwealth of nations, states and races.
:Sir Winston Churchill
Seventeen years have passed since Churchill grimly thundered his refusal to "preside over the liquidation of the British Empire," but today the British Empire is only a few steps from a liquidation as complete as that of Rome, Spain and the Habsburgs. Taking Empire's place is that once implausible, peculiarly individualistic association of free peoples known as the Commonwealth of Nations. As Britain's Prime Minister Harold Macmillan puts it: "Since the war, Communist Russia has absorbed at least 100 million people into her block contrary to the wishes of the inhabitants of the countries concerned. Since the war, Britainimperialist Britain, if you likehas given freedom and nationhood to at least 500 million people."
Thus it is not the death groans of Empire but the birth cries of Commonwealth that are heard round the world. They were heard a few weeks ago when Singapore, once proud bastion of Empire, became an autonomous state. They will be heard again in a year or two when Nigeria and Rhodesia, Britain's largest African possessions, assume full freedom. The process is continuous; the Commonwealth has many potential members. And if the 19th century sun never set on the Empire, the 20th century's satellites have a Commonwealth country always in view.
The Commonwealth over which Elizabeth II presides is bigger, richer and more populous than that fabulous Empire welded together by the strong-willed ministers of her great-great-grandmother. Victoria. Born of a snug union of Britain and Dominions of European stock, it now has hundreds of millions of brown, black and yellow men. It covers one quarter of the earth's land mass, contains one-fourth of the world's people, and carries on within its confines one-third of the world's trade.
Its biggest member is Canada, which was also the pacesetter in the step-by-step process of converting colonies into nations. Last week, in the most characteristic ruling gesture she can make, Elizabeth II, accompanied by her consort and a retinue of 31 ladies, maids and retainers, began an exhaustive, exhausting Canadian tour to show herself as the Commonwealth's cohesive symbol not only to the leaders but especially to the plain people of Canada.
She began auspiciously enough with her storybook arrival last week at St. John's, Nfld., when menacing fog banks, which had clung for days to the airport, rolled back in time for the Queen's Comet to land. While a 21-gun salute boomed away, the Queen and Prince Philip were greeted by Governor General Vincent Massey and Prime Minister John Diefenbaker. In St. John's, the royal couple bore out advance notices that their visit would be comfortably informal by mingling with the crowd and chatting briefly with ordinary citizens.