This edited article about Elizabeth II originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 666 published on 19 October 1974.
“The King has granted to her Royal Highness, the Princess Elizabeth, a commission with the honorary rank of second subaltern in the Auxiliary Territorial Service. Her Royal Highness is at present attending a course at a driving training centre in the south of England.” So ran an official announcement from Buckingham Palace in March 1945. The nineteen-year-old Princess was so enthusiastic about changing wheels, cleaning plugs, and greasing and maintaining vehicles, that Queen Elizabeth, her mother, once remarked ruefully, “Well, last night we had sparking plugs during the whole of dinner!”
Like other Windsors, the Princess wanted to do what she could for her country in time of war. In 1940, she made her first ever broadcast during Children’s Hour. She spoke especially to the children who were separated from their parents, sending them a message of encouragement. Later she registered for pre-service training as a Sea Ranger and it was at her own request that she was commissioned in 1945.
Although Elizabeth was not born to be monarch, she did not have the important role thrust upon her as had been her father’s case. She was only 11 when her uncle abdicated and from that time, she began the training necessary for an heir to the throne.
However, she remained “A most unaffected little girl” and when travelling in her father’s Coronation procession, it was obvious from her beaming smile that she was enjoying herself immensely. Like many other little girls she loved dogs and horses; joined the Girl Guides; was thrilled to be awarded a Life Saving Certificate for swimming; rode on the “Tube,” although this was a rare treat, and took part in a village concert. In fact, the Princess was quite a keen amateur actress and she and her sister, Margaret, took part in the pantomime which was at one time a feature of the Christmas celebrations at Windsor Castle.
From her eighteenth birthday, Elizabeth engaged in an increasing number of public duties. In March 1944, she went on a two-day visit to Wales with the King and Queen (her first civic tour). The Princess, for the most part, remained in the background but occasionally she would chat with girls of her own age. In December 1944, she took her first leading role in an important national event when she launched Britain’s newest battleship, “The Vanguard.”
In 1947, King George VI, Queen Elizabeth and their two daughters made a memorable tour of South Africa and also Rhodesia. Princess Elizabeth celebrated her twenty-first birthday while on this tour and made an historic speech of dedication to the service of the British Commonwealth and Empire in a birthday broadcast from South Africa.
Not long after the family’s return, the King announced the engagement of his elder daughter, Elizabeth, to Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten, R.N. Philip was the son of a Greek Prince and, like Elizabeth, a great-great-grandchild of Queen Victoria. The couple were married in November 1947 at Westminster Abbey. On the occasion of the wedding, the King raised Philip to the style and precedence of His Royal Highness and created him Duke of Edinburgh.
After the bleak austerity of the War and post-war period, the country delighted in the romance and pageantry of a Royal wedding. The route of the procession was lined with people, many of whom despite the November weather, had been in their places all night to be sure of a good view.
The couple made their first home at Windlesham Moor, near Sunningdale and later moved to Clarence House.
On November 15th, 1948, the Royal family and the country had further cause for rejoicing when Prince Charles was born. He was the first grandchild of the King and Queen and Queen Mary’s first great-grandchild. In August 1950, Princess Elizabeth gave birth to a second child, Princess Anne.
In October 1951, Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip made a tour of Canada and paid a brief visit to the United States. Their departure had been postponed for a week due to the grave state of the King’s health but it was decided that the young couple should carry out the trip as planned.
The pair were away for more than a month and their journey across the country was a triumphal progress. The Princess obviously enjoyed herself and was as much at home taking part in a square dance at a private party at Government House, Ottawa, as she was addressing the company in French at a State dinner in Quebec. The Princess and the Duke of Edinburgh visited Niagara Falls, Regina, Vancouver, Edmonton, where the Princess drove the royal train, and Calgary. At Calgary they attended the famous stampede and visited an Indian village.
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Soon after her return, the Princess had to prepare for another Commonwealth tour: she and her husband were to take the King’s place on a long-projected visit to Kenya, Ceylon, Australia and New Zealand.
They left London, once more, on January 31st, 1952. The King and Queen and other members of the Royal family were at London Airport to see them off on the first stage of their journey. The King watched the plane until it was “no more than a speck against the clouds.”
The first stop on the tour was Nairobi, Kenya and after a few days of offical engagements, the Princess and the Duke went to spend a brief holiday in the forest lodge at Nyeri which had been Kenya’s wedding gift to them. On February 5th they went for an overnight stay to the famous Treetops Hotel which is built in a large tree in the forest overlooking a water hole where many animals go to drink. Shortly before Princess Elizabeth’s visit, baboons had broken into the hotel and eaten some of the lampshades!
The next morning Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip returned to Nyeri and it was here that the news of the King’s death reached them.
Queen Elizabeth II left at once for home and arrived back in London to a grave and sympathetic nation.
An early decision of the new Queen, announced in the “London Gazette” in April 1952, was that she and her descendants should bear the name of Windsor.
On 2nd June 1953, the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II took place in London. Representatives of the Commonwealth and foreign states throughout the world attended. Thousands of the Queen’s subjects lined the London streets and millions more Britons watched the ceremony on television, all delighted to be new Elizabethans.
The news, announced that morning, that a successful ascent of Mount Everest had been made by Sir John Hunt’s team added to the nation’s pleasure in the celebrations.
The reign is now twenty-one years old. The Queen and Prince Philip have celebrated their Silver Wedding; they have two more children, Andrew and Edward and their daughter, Anne has recently married. In 1969, the Queen invested Prince Charles as Prince of Wales at Caernarvon. The Queen and her husband have shared times of national disaster and national rejoicing with the people of Britain. But perhaps the most significant feature of this reign has been the way in which protocol has been relaxed and the Royal family have shown that they wish, above all, to be considered as a British family.
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