Royal Pictures from History: the final farewell of a king

Royalty has always been the subject of imagery but some moments stick in the mind and take on an historical resonance all of their own. In this occasional series, Royal Central takes a look at some of the most famous images in royal history, beginning with a poignant picture taken on this day almost seven decades ago.

The Image – King George VI, London Airport, January 31st 1952

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The Story

On a cold day at the end of January 1952, King George VI headed out into the chill of London Airport to bid farewell to his first born daughter, Princess Elizabeth. The heir to the throne and her husband, Prince Philip, were about to embark on a Commonwealth tour which would include stops in Africa, Australia and New Zealand.

They were undertaking the visit on behalf of George VI who had suffered several bouts of ill health in the previous years and had already been treated for lung cancer. It was another appearance for a notoriously happy family which had become the cornerstone of a monarchy that had survived the Abdication and earned huge popular support through World War Two.

George VI was a much loved king and while there were public concerns over his health, this appearance at London Airport was perhaps only to be expected from a man whose devotion to his family was well known.

The Royal Family all got on the plane together to say goodbye to Elizabeth and her husband before the king was joined by his wife, Queen Elizabeth, and younger daughter, Princess Margaret, to watch the plane take off into the grey skies over London. The photo of him waving (seen above) would become an iconic image for the king would never be seen in public again.

On the morning of February 6th 1952, George VI was found dead by his valet. He had passed away in his sleep at some point that night. In hindsight, his determination to stand in the bitter cold to watch the plane depart was seen by some as an indication that he knew he was now very ill indeed and had come to say goodbye for good. Just over a week after that poignant parting, his daughter returned to the airport, now Queen Elizabeth II.

The Legacy

No one knows the exact moment the reign of George VI ended and that of Elizabeth II began. But what is left for the history books is the last poignant image of a king bidding farewell to a soon to be queen and a final parting between a father and his beloved daughter.

About author

Lydia is a writer, blogger and journalist. She's worked in the media for over twenty years as a broadcast reporter, producer and editor as well as feature and online writer. As well as royals and royal history, she's a news junkie and podcaster.