Fact of the day: 15th February

On this day in 1952 King George VI was buried at St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle.

George VI’s reign saw the acceleration of the dissolution of the British Empire. The Statute of Westminster 1931, had already acknowledged the evolution of the Dominions into separate sovereign states. The process of transformation from an empire to a voluntary association of independent states, known as the Commonwealth, gathered pace after the Second World War, especially during the ministry of Clement Attlee.  British India became the two independent dominions of India and Pakistan in 1947. George relinquished the title of Emperor of India, and became King of India and King of Pakistan instead. In 1950 he ceased to be King of India when it became a republic within the Commonwealth of Nations, but he remained King of Pakistan until his death and India recognised his new title of Head of the Commonwealth. Other countries left the Commonwealth, such as Burma in January 1948, Palestine (divided between Israel and the Arab states) in May 1948 and the Republic of Ireland in 1949.

In 1947, the King and his family toured Southern Africa. The Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa, Jan Smuts, was facing an election and hoped to make political capital out of the visit. George was appalled, however, when instructed by the South African government to shake hands only with whites, and referred to his South African bodyguards as “the Gestapo”. Despite the tour, Smuts lost the election the following year, and the new government instituted a strict policy of racial segregation.

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On 31 January 1952, despite advice from those close to him, the King went to London Airport to see off Princess Elizabeth, who was going on her tour of Australia via Kenya. On the morning of 6 February, George VI was discovered dead in bed at Sandringham House in Norfolk. He had died from a coronary thrombosis in his sleep at the age of 56. His daughter Elizabeth flew back to Britain from Kenya as Queen Elizabeth II.

From 9 February for two days his coffin rested in St. Mary Magdalene Church, Sandringham, before lying in state at Westminster Hall from 11 February.[94] His funeral took place at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, on the 15th. He was interred initially in the Royal Vault until he was transferred to the King George VI Memorial Chapel inside St. George’s on 26 March 1969. In 2002, fifty years after his death, the remains of his widow, Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, and the ashes of his younger daughter Princess Margaret, who both died that year, were interred in the chapel alongside him.

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