Royal Tour of the Commonwealth 1953-54

Y3091E/179 The Queen receiving a bouquet of flowers from a Fijian princess, Suva, © Royal Commonwealth Society

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee offers an excellent opportunity to celebrate her devoted service as Head of the Commonwealth, as reflected in the Royal Commonwealth Society Collections at Cambridge University Library. In fact, this began well before her reign, for as Princess Elizabeth she had embarked upon a major Commonwealth tour in 1952, on behalf of her father King George VI, who was too ill to undertake it.  Princess Elizabeth was in Kenya when she received news of her father’s death on 6 February 1952 and returned to Britain. 

Within five months of her coronation in June 1953, however, she set out upon the most ambitious Royal Tour yet seen, flying to Bermuda and, thence to Jamaica, boarding S.S. ‘Gothic’ which was to be her base for the remainder of the tour. After visits to Fiji and Tonga, ‘Gothic’ reached New Zealand on 23 December for a stay of over a month. February and March were spent in Australia and the return journey included Ceylon, Aden, Uganda, and Malta, where the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh were reunited with their two children and whence they sailed via Gibraltar to London on the new Royal Yacht ‘Britannia’. 

Y3011E/49 Camel troop parading for the Queen and Prince Philip, Aden

The Royal Commonwealth Society and its local branches were closely involved in the organisation of the Royal Tour, and its library preserves a fascinating collection of photographs, invitations, programmes and other souvenir items documenting its many events. To view on-line catalogues of the archives please see: 

http://janus.lib.cam.ac.uk/db/node.xsp?id=EAD%2FGBR%2F0115%2FY3011EEE 

http://janus.lib.cam.ac.uk/db/node.xsp?id=EAD%2FGBR%2F0115%2FRCMS%20320

8 comments

  • I was on board HMS Sheffield which escorted SS Gothic half way across the Pacific from Jamaica where we handed over escort duties to a RNZN Cruiser. I had recently been in the Royal Navy detatchment which marched through London at the Queen’s coronation, before that I was on board HMS Liverpool in the Mediterranean where the Princess Elizabeth visited frequently to be with Prince Philip and she always came aboard Liverpool for Church services with her sister Princess Margaret.

  • Tony worsfold

    Can I suggest a DVD of this important tour be made which has never been equalled. Including film footage. Regards Tony worsfold

  • John (Tony) Molyneux

    In 1952 the ‘Gothic’ was in Tilbury Docks preparing for a voyage to Australia to bring, the then Princess Elizabeth, back following her world tour, curtailed due the depth of George VI. The vessel was rescheduled to return to Cammell Laird in Birkenhead to have the Royal accommodation returned to its original state. My father was agent for Shaw Savill Line and sailed back on her to Liverpool with my mother and myself.

  • Greetings
    Do any of you have photos of the flags that were on the SS Gothic when the royals toured the Pacific? In particular the flag that was flown in the front of the ship. I believe it was called the United tribes flag

    • Hi Kyla,
      There may be some delay due to COVID restrictions at the library, but I will have a look and let you know if there are any photos showing the flags on ‘Gothic’. It might be worth asking the Royal Archives too, https://www.royal.uk/archives
      John

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