The life of Queen Elizabeth II: Six days after saying goodbye to his daughter, frail King passes away

·2-min read
Elizabeth II returning to Clarence House with the Duke of Edinburgh from London Airport (PA)
Elizabeth II returning to Clarence House with the Duke of Edinburgh from London Airport (PA)

At 10 Downing Street on February 6 1952, Winston Churchill had been informed of the King’s death.

When his staff tried to console him, saying he would get on well with the new Queen, Churchill replied that she was “only a child”.

Widowed Queen Elizabeth set out her thoughts in a letter to Queen Mary. “I know that you loved Bertie dearly, and he was my whole life, and one can only be deeply thankful for the utterly happy years we had. I cannot bear to think of Lilibet, so young to bear such a burden.”

Finally, at lunchtime, the editor of the East African Standard managed to contact Elizabeth’s private secretary, Martin Charteris, by telephone to ask if reports of the King’s death were true.

A stunned Charteris contacted Sagana Lodge, where he spoke directly to Prince Philip.

Philip steeled himself to break the news to her. He invited her for a walk in the gardens; and at 2.45pm Elizabeth finally learned that she was now Queen.

Winston Churchill meets Queen Elizabeth on her arrival at London after the death of her father; (Keystone)
Winston Churchill meets Queen Elizabeth on her arrival at London after the death of her father; (Keystone)

Her stoicism and sense of duty to the people of her country carried her through.

She discussed practicalities, such as how they were to get back home, and organised letters of apology for cancelling the royal tour. She was composed, a master of her fate.

After the long flight she was met at the airport on the afternoon of February 7 by Churchill, together with Clement Atlee, now leader of the Labour Opposition, and Anthony Eden, the Foreign Secretary.

When the aircraft door opened, her uncle the Duke of Gloucester was followed by the late king’s private secretary Sir Alan “Tommy” Lascelles up the steps and inside.

Within minutes the new sovereign was ready.

She descended the steps alone, her husband waiting at the top as she carried out her first duty as Queen. The new Queen did not go straight to Sandringham to comfort her mother and view her father’s body.

The ceremonial functions connected with the accession meant she was needed in the capital.

On the morning of February 8, Elizabeth presided over her first Privy Council meeting. She got through it without faltering, despite having to mention her father several times.

Now her lifetime of duty and public service would begin in earnest.