Today marks the 71st anniversary of Queen Elizabeth becoming monarch. Only a few days earlier, her father, King George VI had seen her and Prince Philip off at the airport on a Commonwealth tour that was to begin in Kenya but would also include Australia. They were filling in for Elisabeth’s father who had recently undergone surgery for lung cancer.
When they arrived in Kenya the Royal couple embarked on a safari. Princess Elizabeth, had a wonderful day, seeing and filming with her handheld movie camera rhinos, warthogs, baboons and a herd of elephants, pink from rolling in the dust. They were staying at the Treetops Hotel, a game-viewing lodge. Their three-bed cabin was reached by a rickety ladder and built into the branches of an ancient fig tree, overlooking a waterhole and salt lick.
The King had dinner at the family home Sandringham and those present said there were no signs of distress other than his somewhat haggard appearance after his recent surgery. He went to bed and was found deceased by a servant on the morning of February 6 1952. Prince Philip first received the news from London and told the now Queen. They immediately flew back to London. When the plane landed a black dress was brough aboard to allow the 25 -year-old Queen to make her first public appearance in that role in mourning clothes.
There is a Canadian angle to the story. The aircraft that took the royal couple to and from Kenya was a Canadair Northstar built in Toronto. It was a Douglas DC-4, but retrofitted with Rolls Royce engines, enabling it to fly about 100 mph faster than a regular DC4. The British bought 22 of the aircraft and renamed them Argonauts.
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