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Vessels, Voyages and Visitors: HMS Vanguard and the Royal Tour of South Africa [1947]

Easton, Kai (2015) Vessels, Voyages and Visitors: HMS Vanguard and the Royal Tour of South Africa [1947]. In: Royals on Tour: The Politics and Pageantry of Royal Visits, 11-12 June 2015, University of Sydney. (Unpublished)

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Abstract

Vessels, Voyages and Visitors: HMS Vanguard and the Royal Tour of South Africa [1947] The Royal Archives at Windsor hold the official diary of the Royal Tour of South Africa in 1947. Written by King George VI’s Press Secretary, Captain Sir Lewis Ritchie RN (formerly known as ‘Ricci’, before he anglicised his name, and better known by many readers as the author of sea stories by the pseudonym, Bartameus), the official diary records the three-month journey by King George VI and his family on their first trip to South Africa in 1947, from their departure in London to their arrival at Portsmouth for the 6,000-mile journey to Cape Town harbour on the HMS Vanguard. It is post-war, a time of austerity and snow in London. The King is, of course, travelling with a host of others besides his own family: an entourage, as well as commanders and crew, being a necessity for any royal travel at sea. Aside from his Press Secretary, there is also the seasoned BBC war correspondent Frank Gillard, whose voice is captured on British Pathé and BBC videos of newsreels from the time, all now archived online. We do not easily have access to the full documentary that was shown on the BBC in the historically momentous month of June 1947 (for this is when Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip announce their engagement; it is only weeks before Partition; and it is a year before the Nationalist Party come into power in South Africa), but we do have clips – both those chosen by the editors for viewing at the time, and now a select archival collection of cuts, of unused footage. Some clips are thus narrated, some are silent, and there are certainly significant gaps. The commentary too is not always geographically accurate. With the extraordinary South African press coverage in archive collections such as the Royal Commonwealth Society and the Collections at the Royal Archives, to what extent are these filmic accounts representative of the physical journeys involved – on both sides – of the royal tour (on this point I am following Hilary Sapire who has described the ‘epic’ journeys over mountains and veld by so many Africans loyal to the monarchy and determined to actually see them). However, though the royal family travel for some three months, what we see is mostly embarkations and arrivals, crowds waving, princesses playing on deck. On land, key sites on the itinerary organised by the King’s South African hosts, pilgrimages to Rhodes’s grave in the Matopos; later, en route back to England, Napoleon’s burial place on the island of St Helena. But what other travels - by vessels and visitors – occur alongside the procession of the royal family itself? After the royal family’s departure from Cape Town in February, five days after their arrival, the HMS Vanguard at first entertains locally, and then, as we learn from the Naval Review of 1947, it begins its cruise, following the route of the royal family to the extent that it can, on the coast – visiting Saldanha, East London, Port Elizabeth and Durban. As the Review notes, the itinerary of the ship includes ‘various pre-arranged points of vantage, such as Mossel Bay, Knysna, Port Alfred and Hermanus, in order that as many people as possible might have an opportunity of seeing the ship’, before it returns to Cape Town to collect the royal family for the homeward journey back to Portsmouth. In other words, the HMS Vanguard symbolises at sea the royal family who are now traversing the interior, travelling through the country on the White Train, a spectacle for the native inhabitants who come to view them. Then, thrillingly, in their respective aircraft, the King and Queen are given a chance to survey from above, flying further afield into Rhodesia and Botswana. Exploring the ways in which the images and textual archives in the Royal Collection may or may not collaborate or coincide with the parallel story of the HMS Vanguard on its royal tour, this visual essay connects the individual and intersecting histories that we discover when we look beyond the centrality of the main procession of the royal tours, to the various travellers on the voyage with them.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Items (Paper)
Additional Information: Conference organisers: Cindy McCreery and Robert Aldrich, Dept of History, University of Sydney
Keywords: Royal Tour to South Africa 1947, HMS Vanguard, Captain [Sir] Lewis Ritchie, British Pathe, White Train, Cape Town, Naval Review
SOAS Departments & Centres: Departments and Subunits > School of Arts > Centre for English Studies
Legacy Departments > Faculty of Languages and Cultures > Department of the Languages and Cultures of Africa
Depositing User: Kai Easton
Date Deposited: 03 Dec 2015 09:48
URI: http://eprints.soas.ac.uk/id/eprint/21417

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