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The Last Hurrah: The 1947 Royal Tour of Southern Africa and the End of Empire

Graham Viney

6 Reviews

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General & world history, British & Irish history, African history, History: earliest times to present day

Young Elizabeth captures in vivid detail perhaps the single-most important formative experience in Queen Elizabeth's life, the 1947 royal tour of southern Africa with her parents King George VI, Queen Elizabeth and Princess Margaret, during which she celebrated her twenty-first birthday.

The year of the royal tour of southern Africa, 1947, marked both the high-water mark of the British Empire and the very moment at which it began to unravel. Graham Viney has written an intimate, revealing portrait of the young princess on tour with her parents and sister, Princess Margaret, hard at work in the national interest, and succeeding triumphantly against all odds. In the words of Rian Malan, South African author of My Traitor's Heart, it is 'a story about a country teetering on the brink of convulsive change and yet almost united, at least for a moment, by love for a king and queen who weren't really ours.'

The year 1947 was a pivotal moment not just in the history of the Union of South Africa, but of the British Empire itself. Later that same year India gained independence and just one year later the Afrikaner Nationalist victory in South Africa would lead inexorably to the Republic of South Africa in 1961 and its departure from the Commonwealth.

The present Queen Elizabeth must have learned a great deal about statecraft from her father, and about duty, tact and hard work from both her parents in the course of this three-month tour, during which the then princess celebrated her twenty-first birthday. It was also the family's first real experience of multiculturalism. Graham Viney's book gives us an intimate and revealing portrait of the royal family, while also superbly capturing a moment in the life of a fractious, recently formed 'nation', before its descent into over four decades of darkness.

The royal family travelled ceaselessly, from February to April, on a specially commissioned, white-and-gold train, meeting thousands of people at every stop along the way. The tour was a show of imperial solidarity and a recognition of South Africa's contribution to the Allied cause during the Second World War, specifically that of South African prime minister Jan Smuts, who had served in both British war cabinets.

Young Elizabeth draws skilfully on many diverse sources, not least the Royal Archive at Windsor, and includes many photographs of the royal family not previously published, such as stills from film footage held by the South African National Film, Video and Sound Archives in Pretoria.

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Praise for The Last Hurrah: The 1947 Royal Tour of Southern Africa and the End of Empire

  • This book has the depth and beauty of an elegy. - Country Life

  • A fascinating but too little noticed book which tells a great deal about [the Queen's] formation. It draws on a single royal trip [the 1947 royal tour of southern Africa] . . . The Last Hurrah, by Graham Viney, vividly tells the full tale. - Daily Telegraph

  • For me, this was the literary surprise of the decade, to be so moved and enlightened by a book about British royals and their 1947 tour of South Africa. In Viney's hands, this . . . turns into an unforgettable excursion into a world peopled by gracious blue bloods, lovely princesses, bowing colonials and great throngs of Boers and Africans, inexplicably cheering the rulers of a kingdom that had subjugated their ancestors. Bathed in the fading glow of empire and buffeted by the coming storm of political struggle, Viney's South Africa is a country most of us will barely recognise, teetering on the brink of tumultuous change and yet almost united, at least for a moment, by love for a king and queen who weren't really ours. This is a very fine book. It deserves readers.

  • Brilliantly conveys the glamour and gruelling nature of a tour that temporarily united a divided nation, but ultimately failed to embed South Africa within 'a Commonwealth of free peoples and many races'. Casting a discerning eye on his royal protagonists and the people they encountered, Viney penetrates beyond the frippery and froth to provide fascinating sidelights on the history of twentieth-century South Africa.

  • Meticulously researched, and inspiringly evoked, Graham Viney relates the story of the 1947 Royal Tour of South Africa, and in so doing captures a defining moment in the history of the South African nation.

  • A superb achievement, graceful, readable, bringing to light the bonds of empire and its end.

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Graham Viney

GRAHAM VINEY was educated at the Diocesan College (Bishops), Cape Town, and Oxford University where he read International Relations. He runs an international design company, and, in addition to numerous papers and articles has written two books, Colonial Houses of South Africa and The Cape of Good Hope, 1806-1872.

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