On her 21st birthday it was only five years agoa British Princess faced a microphone in South Africa and in a clear girlish voice made a solemn promise to her father's subjects all over the world. " declare before you all," she said, "that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong."
Millions of British subjects, who felt a quickening reassurance at the sound of these words so simply spoken by the girl who would one day become their Queen, felt a further reassurance in the thought that she was still a girl, and that her promise would not, for many years, be brought to the test. Last week, with fearful suddenness, Britain's Princess entered the life of service she had promised.
With her husband Philip, Princess Elizabeth was once again visiting her father's African realm when the tragic news reached her.
Queen Unaware. "The King is dead; long live the Queen," stated thus traditionally with hardly a pause, is no mere paradox. It encompasses a principle close to the essence of British monarchy; that the realm is never, even for an instant, without a ruler. Britain's new Queen, the sixth woman to rule over England, became sovereign without even knowing it. With Philip, her staff and their game-hunting hosts, she was spending the night in a tree hut in Kenya's Royal Aberdare Game Reserve, watching big game gather at a jungle waterhole. It was one of the rare moments of her projected five-month tour during which Elizabeth could really enjoy herself. As a herd of 30 elephants lumbered into view before sunset, she seized her husband's arm. "Look, Philip, they're pink," she whispered. The elephants, grey by birth, had been rolling in the pinkish dust of the forest. Prince and Princess delightedly snapped pictures.
Too excited to sleep during the rest of the night, Elizabeth kept leaving her cot to watch other nocturnal visitors at the waterhole. In the morning she breakfasted on bacon & eggs, and tossed bananas to baboons below. Just before noon, clad in apricot-colored blouse and brown slacks, Britain's Queen, unaware of her high position, left the hut in high spirits over her "tremendous experience" and vowed to come again soon with her father. "He'd love it," she said.
Back at their cedarlog lodge (a wedding present from the people of Kenya), Elizabeth and Philip bathed, rested, changed their clothes and settled down to discuss plans for pruning out some gum trees which hid their view of snowcapped Mount Kenya.
It was not until early in the afternoon that Philip got the news (by telephone from a local newspaper) that changed their lives. He sent an equerry to call London for confirmation, then gently led his wife down to the river's edge and told her that her father was dead. The Queen returned to the lodge on her husband's arm, shaken but in full command of herself. All that afternoon, she kept busy supervising the myriad arrangements for the long trip home, penning formal regrets to the hosts she would have to disappoint, bidding goodbye and signing photographs for the staffers and attendants she was leaving behind.