UCA archivist writes to queen, receives reply

By Tammy Keith Published March 9, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Nick Hillemann

Jimmy Bryant, director of the University of Central Arkansas Archives, holds a letter from Queen Elizabeth II’s lady-in-waiting, who wrote on behalf of the queen in response to a letter Bryant sent. He wrote the queen to tell her that his father appreciated her service during World War II. He said the queen was in the Auxiliary Territorial Service.

CONWAY — They’re not exactly pen pals, but Jimmy Bryant of Conway wrote to the queen, and he received a reply.

Bryant, director of the University of Central Arkansas Archives, wrote a letter in January to Queen Elizabeth II but said he never expected to get a response.

He said his wife, Jann, thought the letter was junk mail when it arrived Feb. 18.

“Jann was sitting next to me going through the mail, and she flipped me an envelope and said, ‘I think that’s an ad,’” he said.

A couple of things caught his attention, “one being the royal insignia,” he said. “I saw it was ER and, of course, ER means Elizabeth Regina, and that’s Latin for Elizabeth the Queen.”

“I said, ‘That’s no ad.’”

When he opened it, a reply was on beautiful stationery, he said, with the Buckingham Palace insignia.

Bryant said his father, the late Bill Bryant, was a World War II veteran who served in Army Air Force in the Pacific.

“He always respected her because she was the daughter of His Royal Highness King George the VI. She was a princess, and she didn’t have to join the Auxiliary Territorial Service, which is similar to the American Women’s Army Corps, but she did,” Bryant said.

“She was trained as a mechanic. She worked with engines, changed tires. She could work on vehicles and was trained to be a mechanic on all these vehicles and was trained to be a truck driver and drive military vehicles.”

Bryant said his father was impressed that instead of just being content as a princess, she wanted to serve.

“He had talked about that, and I thought, ‘You know, he never really told her.’”

“I, too, respected her military service,” Bryant said.

“After the war, there were still shortages, and material could only be bought through ration coupons. When the queen married in 1947 (she was a princess at that time), she had to use ration coupons to buy the material for her dress. When this became public, many of her countrymen sent ration coupons to her for her to use to buy material. However, she could not use them, since that would not be legal, and they were returned with a kind note,” Bryant said.

Bryant said he knew March is National Women’s History month, and he was thinking about that when he decided to write the queen on Jan. 16.

“I just told her that my dad would often comment about her majesty’s contribution in serving, and he appreciated that, and I wanted her to know he would talk to his friends about it,” Bryant said. “It kind of gave them a boost when they were serving to know she was serving.”

Bryant wrote the letter on his computer and printed it.

“I mailed it and really never expected to hear anything — never really entertained the idea that I’d receive anything,” he said.

The letter he received was from Annabel Whitehead, the queen’s lady-in-waiting.

“She addressed the things I had mentioned in my letter,” he said.

It was dated Feb. 11, and Whitehead wrote:

“The Queen wishes me to write and thank you for your letter, from which Her Majesty was interested to learn about your father’s service during World War II.

“The Queen was touched to hear of your father’s support for her, especially during the dark days of the war all those years ago, and thought it most kind to take the time to write as you did.

“I am to say that your message of good wishes for Her Majesty is very much appreciated, and I am to thank you once again.”

It was signed, “Yours Sincerely, Annabel Whitehead.”

Bryant, who oversees thousands of historical documents in the archives, said he will frame the letter.

“I’m sure I will frame it and put it behind museum glass so sun rays won’t hurt it,” he said.

His father died in 2010 at the age of 87.

“My dad, he’d be ecstatic to know her majesty had made sure he got a letter back.”

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

Niche Publications Senior Writer Tammy Keith can be reached at 501-327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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