That same afternoon, 4,000 miles away in Kenya, Elizabeth and Philip had arrived at Treetops Hotel, built into the branches of a giant mgumu tree. Once night fell they occupied themselves watching elephants and rhinoceros gather at a watering hole beneath the viewing platform. The royal party turned in late with plans to rise at dawn to resume their watch over the wildlife. During those few restful hours, early on the morning of 6 February 1952, King George VI died peacefully in his sleep.
Due to the three-hour time difference Elizabeth and Philip arose to an as yet untroubled day. They fished for trout ion the Sagana Stream and lunched at the Outspan Hotel. News of the king’s death was sent from London to the governor’s residence in Nairobi via a coded message, but the codebook was locked in a safe and the governor, the only man with a key, had left for the coast. Given the remote location, outside communication was virtually non-existent and it wasn’t until a local journalist asked Martin Charteris, the princess’s private secretary, if reports of the king’s death were true, that the royal party learned of George VI’s passing. Elizabeth was among the last to be informed. Once the news was confirmed, preparations for the onward journey were abandoned and attention turned to matters of state. Chartetis was charged with opening and preparing the sealed accession documents, which had been taken on tour as a precaution given the ongoing nature of the king’s illness. Prince Albert had chosen to become King George VI as opposed to King Albert but when posed with the question of what regnal name she would choose, Elizabeth famously replied, ’My own name of course – what else?’ Mourning clothes were transported from Mombasa; telegrams were drafted and sent to her Kenyan hosts as well as those expecting her in Australia and New Zealand, and letters were penned to her mother and sister. When it came time to leave, Elizabeth asked that no pictures be taken. Witnessing her historic departure first-hand, reporters honoured her request.
On the evening of 7 February, Elizabeth arrived home to a nation in mourning. For many Britons her father had restored their faith in the monarchy and the shock over his death was widespread. The next morning, dressed in black, Elizabeth read her Declaration of Sovereignty before the assembled Accession Council at St James’s Palace. The queen’s proclamation rang out across London as Elizabeth and Philip made the solemn journey to Sandringham.
Extracted from Queen Elizabeth II: pocket GIANTS by Victoria Arbiter
Proclamation Announcement of Queen Elizabeth II, February 1952
‘WHEREAS it has pleased Almighty God to call to His Mercy our late Sovereign Lord King George the Sixth of Blessed and Glorious memory, by whose Decease the Crown is solely and rightfully come to the High and Mighty Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary:
WE, therefore, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal of this Realm, being here assisted with these His late Majesty's Privy Council, with representatives of other Members of the Commonwealth, with other Principal Gentlemen of Quality, with the Lord Mayor, Aldermen, and Citizens of London, do now hereby with one voice and Consent of Tongue and Heart publish and proclaim that the High and Mighty Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary is now, by the death of our late Sovereign of happy memory, become Queen Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God Queen of this Realm and of all Her other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith, to whom Her lieges do acknowledge all Faith and constant Obedience with hearty and humble Affection, beseeching God by whom Kings and Queens do reign, to bless the Royal Princess Elizabeth the Second with long and happy Years to reign over us.
Given at St. James's Palace this Sixth Day of February in the year of our Lord one thousand nine hundred and fifty-two.’
The Accession Council completed the formalities for their proclamation on 6 February and it had been issued for publication in a supplement to that day’s London Gazette. The accession proclamation was published in The Times on 7 February, quoting the London Gazette and after the meeting with the Queen at St James’s Palace in the morning of 8 February, the accession proclamation was read to the public by the Garter King at Arms, Sir George Bellew, first at 11 a.m. from the Friary Court balcony, then in Trafalgar Square, in Fleet Street, and at the Royal Exchange.