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Friday, 1 February, 2002, 13:48 GMT
Remembering the King's death
King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (not the Queen Mother)
King George VI's death was a surprise to many
Celebrations for the Queen's Golden Jubilee are several months off, but the 50th anniversary of her accession to the throne falls next Wednesday. Yet it will not be a day for celebrations.

Plans for marking the Queen's Golden Jubilee are well advanced, with a string of celebrations pencilled in for a special four-day weekend in June.

Do you remember the death of King George VI? Click here to e-mail us your memories.

But the anniversary of the actual date of Her Majesty's accession to the throne falls rather sooner - on Wednesday, 6 February.


The Queen Mother is said to have been sad in 1977 that too little emphasis was put on remembering her late husband's life

Author Andrew Brown
Yet arrangements for what is, without doubt, the most significant day of the jubilee year, are distinctly low key.

Public buildings will raise the Union Flag and the King's Troop Royal Horse Artillery will perform a 41 Gun Royal Salute in Hyde Park at midday. The Tower of London will host another gun salute in the afternoon.

But these ceremonial displays are not unique to 2002 - they can be witnessed any year, on what is officially known as Accession Day.

The Queen's plans for the day are similarly modest - she is expected to attend church in the morning before opening a specialist cancer hospital in Norfolk.

Weather or not

So why are full Jubilee celebrations being held off a further four months?

Queen Elizabeth and the Queen Mother at George VI's funeral
Queen Elizabeth and the Queen Mother at George VI's funeral
After all, the other three monarchs who celebrated a jubilee in the past two centuries - George III in 1810, Queen Victoria in 1887 and 1897, and George V in 1935 - did so either on the day or the day after their accession.

The notorious British weather has a hand in ensuring February would not be a suitable time for street parties, outdoor concerts and great pageantry.

But another reason is that the day, of course, also marks the anniversary of the death of Queen Elizabeth's father, King George VI.

"The accession of Elizabeth II is a difficult day to mark," says Andrew Brown, author of The Royal House of Windsor.

Widowed

"Whereas it's legitimate to feel happiness and pride over 50 years of the present reign, one has to be very careful to remember that for the Queen Mother, the Queen and Princess Margaret, the date also has overtones of unhappiness - especially because King George died at such a tragically young age."

Street party
Celebrating the Silver Jubilee in 1977
The King was 56 when he died of from lung cancer, a tragedy that left the Queen Mother widowed at the relatively young age of 51.

It was also an event that took the country by surprise. It had seemed the King was recovering well from an illness he suffered the previous year and, in December there had even been a day of "national thanksgiving" for this "blessing".

Like the anniversary this year, the King's death fell on a Wednesday. A wave of grief washed over Britain and the Empire.

Apart from brief hourly news bulletins, all radio and TV transmissions were cancelled for 24 hours. When broadcasts resumed, it was for six days of dirges, and sermons.

Restaurants, pubs and hotels were ordered to close on the days of the death and funeral. Shops also had to shut to mark the day of the funeral, and in the interim, they had been instructed to remove "brightly coloured displays".

For many of those old enough to remember the last death of a British monarch, and the ascent of another, next Wednesday will undoubtedly be an occasion to reflect on an extraordinary time in history.


Do you remember the death of King George VI in 1952? Where were you when you heard the news and what are your memories of the day? We will publish a selection of your stories on Wednesday, the actual anniversary. If you have any photographs of you then or now which are e-mailable, you can send them with your comments to newsonline.features@bbc.co.uk

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