February 6 is a day tinged with sadness for the Queen

How the news was reported. Picture: Archant library

How the news was reported. Picture: Archant library - Credit: Archant

For Elizabeth II, February 6 denotes not only the beginning of her reign but a great sadness at the death of her beloved 'Papa'.

King's funeral cortege at Wolferton Station, Sandringham. Picture: Archant library

King's funeral cortege at Wolferton Station, Sandringham. Picture: Archant library - Credit: Archant

King George VI, who was suffering from lung cancer, died in his sleep at Sandringham, near King's Lynn, in 1952.

The Queen normally spends the joint anniversary of her accession to the throne and her father's death in private at her Norfolk retreat, staying out of the public eye.

This year, February 6 will officially signify the monarch's Sapphire Jubilee – 65 years to the day that she became sovereign.

When her father died, Princess Elizabeth was thousands of miles away in Kenya, watching big game in the Treetops Hotel with the Duke of Edinburgh, unaware of the duty that had fallen upon her shoulders.

King George's body lies in Sandringham Church. Pixcture: Archant Library

King George's body lies in Sandringham Church. Pixcture: Archant Library - Credit: Archant


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They were resting after returning to the Sagana Lodge, which had been given to them as a wedding present by the people of Kenya, when the message was given to Philip by his equerry and friend, Mike Parker.

The duke looked as if half the world had been dropped on him, his aide once said.

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Philip broke the sad news to his wife while they were alone. Princess Elizabeth, now Queen, was ready to fulfil her duty.

Close to her father as a child, Elizabeth was said to be similar to him in character and, according to royal author Sarah Bradford, they shared a 'dedicated professionalism'.

King, Queen and princesses at Sandringham.

King, Queen and princesses at Sandringham. - Credit: Archant

Lord Charteris, her then-private secretary, remembered seeing her seated at her desk in the lodge, appearing 'very composed, absolute master of her fate'.

Asked what name she wished to use as Queen, she is said to have replied simply: 'My own name, of course.'

The remainder of the Commonwealth tour was immediately cancelled and swift arrangements were made for their return home.

After a long plane journey, the young Queen – a slim, pale figure, dressed in mourning black – made her way down the steps, ahead of the Duke of Edinburgh, and set foot on British soil on February 7 for the first time as sovereign. Prime Minister Winston Churchill greeted her on the runway at London Airport.

Elizabeth had left as a princess and returned as a Queen at the age of just 25.

Crowds gathered in the streets to solemnly watch the new monarch being driven past in a black Rolls-Royce.

She travelled to Sandringham, where her father's body lay in the tiny church.

On February 8, Elizabeth II was formally proclaimed Queen in St James's Palace, at a meeting of the Accession Council to which all members of the Privy Council were summoned.

Three days later, Norfolk people turned out in their thousands to pay their respects, lining the lanes from Sandringham to Wolferton Station, as George VI began his final journey.

Tributes poured in from around the world as a nation mourned a much-loved son of Norfolk.

In her first Christmas speech that December, from her study at Sandringham, Elizabeth II pledged to dedicate herself to her country and Commonwealth.

'My father and my grandfather before him worked all their lives to unite our people ever more closely and to maintain ideals which were so near to their hearts,' she said. 'I shall strive to carry on their work.'

On June 2, 1953, a gold coach swept her through the rain to Westminster Abbey for her coronation. After the pomp and ceremony, the Queen appeared on the balcony at Buckingham Palace with her family.

'Throughout my life and with all my heart I shall strive to be worthy of your trust,' she pledged.

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