“London, Feb. 6: King George VI died in his sleep at his country home at Sandringham early today. A Buckingham Palace announcement said early this morning: ‘It was announced from Sandringham at 10.45a.m. today, February 6, 1952, that The King, who retired to rest last night in his usual health, passed peacefully away in his sleep early this morning.’
“With King George’s death, his daughter, Elizabeth, who is flying home from Nairobi, Kenya, immediately became Queen.”
So ran the report in the South China Morning Post on February 7, 1952. It was said to have come as a “stunning surprise to Britons who thought their king was on the way to recovering from a lung operation on September 23 ”.
“News of The King’s death was kept within the Royal Family and the highest Government circles until Queen Elizabeth [...] could be told of her father’s death,” the report continued.
King George VI had reigned for 15 years and one month having succeeded to the throne on the abdication of his brother, Edward VIII, on December 11, 1936, reported the Post. “He did not want to be King. He wanted to be left alone to be a ‘very ordinary person’. He once said so, rather wistfully, to a boy who asked him for his autograph.”
Over the days that followed, the Post reported reaction from around the world.
On February 8, the newspaper noted: “Queen Elizabeth joins the company of 18 reigning sovereigns who remain in the world,” and, on February 10, it reported that a wreath she placed on the coffin of her father bore the message: “To Papa from Lilibet”.
The king laid in state in Westminster Hall from February 12 to 14 while 305,306 people waited in bitter winter weather to file past and pay their last respects.
In Hong Kong, on February 15, the day the king was laid to rest at Windsor, memorial services took place throughout the colony and a two-minute silence at noon was described as “the most widely observed two-minute silence the colony had ever held”.
“In those brief two minutes an almost uncanny hush descended on Hongkong broken only by the patter of the feet of those for whom the solemn occasion had no meaning,” the Post reported. “Throughout the city the roar of the Murray Parade Ground gun at midday was the signal thousands had been waiting for. The Police specially stationed at strategic points stopped all traffic.
“Taking their cue from traffic and the policemen, who had removed their caps, many pedestrians stood where they were, silently at attention.”
“A group of rickshaw and chair coolies whose base is the foot of Wyndham street, were quick to follow. They sensed the spirit of the occasion and every one of them stood beside the shafts of their rickshaws and chairs until the traffic began rolling again.
“In many offices typewriters stopped and business staffs stood for the two minutes in silent, solemn groups. Some offices had radio. They listened to the broadcast commentary from St John’s Cathedral.”