Old `royal firm' off to see new S Africa

When the Queen last visited South Africa in 1947 she went by battleship with her parents, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth.

That was still a respectable way for heads of state to travel.

At 44,500 tons, HMS Vanguard was the biggest warship to be built in Britain - larger (just) than the largest aircraft-carrier.

Battleships were designed for command in war and minimal modifications were necessary to make Vanguard fit to carry a king, a queen and the heiress presumptive to the throne.

Today, the Royal Navy has no battleships and the present Vanguard is a Trident submarine.

Tomorrow, the Queen will fly to South Africa on a chartered Boeing 767.

In 1947, there were few commercial aircraft. The British Overseas Airways Corporation had just introduced the Constellation, but these sleek, propeller- driven aircraft could not make South Africa in a single bound.

If the royal party had travelled by air, there is a good chance it would have gone by flying-boat, stopping at harbours and lakes for several nights on the route.

Vanguard left Portsmouth on 1 February 1947 and arrived in Cape Town 16 days later.

It was the first time Queen Elizabeth - now the Queen Mother - had left Britain in nearly eight years and the first time the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret had been abroad.

When the "royal firm" left Britain, the country was in the grip of the worst winter of the century.

George VI intended to thank South Africa for its part in the war. But he worried about conditions at home, saying he thought he should have stayed.

The press agitated for his return, feeling that the Commonwealth countries did not deserve so much attention.

When the ship passed the Canary Islands, spirits lifted. But it was on the voyage that astute royal-watchers first noticed there was something wrong with King George VI.

He had cramp in his leg and was losing weight. During the visit he was constantly worried by the heat and driven to outbursts of temper.

When the royals visited South Africa in 1947, the party in power was led by Field Marshal Jan Smuts, who had been their guest at Windsor during the war.

On 17 February the whole family was up early, scanning the coastline of South Africa as Vanguard steamed towards Table Mountain. During their visit they travelled mostly by train, although they flew to the Northern Transvaal and to Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe.

The party's mood plunged after an incident described recently by Group Capt Peter Townsend, Equerry on the tour to King George VI.

In Benoni, an African broke from the crowd and reached the running-board of the royal open car.

The Queen, fearing for the safety of the young princesses, hit him several times with a parasol before police dragged him away and knocked him senseless. Only later did it emerge that he had been trying to press a 10-shilling note into Princess Elizabeth's hand as a birthday gift.

Vanguard left Cape Town on 24 April 1947. After his return, the King referred to the magnitude of South Africa's task. "Adjusting from day- to-day the progress of a white population of well over 2 million with that of a far greater number of other peoples, very different in race and background ... There is no easy formula for the wise discharge of this formidable task."

The formula chosen, from May 1948, was apartheid.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before