The Diamond Jubilee Commonwealth tours continue this week in two countries that Queen Elizabeth II enjoyed visiting as a Princess, before she ascended to the throne in 1952. The Queen’s cousin Prince Richard, Duke of Gloucester, arrived in Malta last Friday and spent the weekend commemorating both the Diamond Jubilee and the 70th anniversary of the awarding of the George Cross to the people of Malta for their bravery under siege by Germany and Italy during the Second World War. Highlights of the visit included Saturday’s Jubilee reception in the Lower Barakka gardens in Malta’s capital, Valetta, and a reenactment of the awarding of the George Cross in Palace Square. The Duke of Gloucester is an architect, and he expressed particular interest in the preservation of historic buildings in Valetta including Our Lady of Victories Church, where he visited the ongoing restoration work.
The Duke of Gloucester returned to London today, just as Princess Anne and her husband, Vice Admiral, Sir Timothy Laurence, left for a three day tour of South Africa from April 16 to 18. Within the royal family, Princess Anne has one of the busiest schedules of public engagements, and her activities in South Africa reflect her commitment to public service. On the first day of her visit, the Princess toured the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, the St John Eye Hospital, a Save the Children Resource Centre, and the Soweto Equestrian Foundation in Johannesburg, ending the day at a reception in Pretoria hosted by the British High Commissioner to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee.
In the coming two days, Princess Anne will continue to follow an intense tour schedule, marking the “100-days to go to the 2012 London Olympic and Paralympic Games” at a local school which forms part of the International Inspirations legacy project, in her role as President of the British Olympic Association. The Princess will also lead a Ceremony of Remembrance and lay a wreath at the graves of Commonwealth soldiers who died in the First and Second World Wars.
The Queen has happy memories of both Malta and South Africa. In 1949, her husband Prince Philip was stationed in Malta after being posted as the First Lieutenant of the destroyer HMS Chequers, the lead ship of the First Destroyer Flotilla in the Mediterranean Fleet. Princess Elizabeth joined him there and was able to live in relative anonymity for a short time as a naval wife. When Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh toured Malta in 2007, the year of their 60th wedding anniversary the Maltese press described their visit as a “second honeymoon” because they had spent some of the happiest times of their marriage on the island. Prince Philip retired from the navy to support the Queen in her duties when she ascended to the throne.
South Africa was the setting of Princess Elizabeth’s first overseas tour, with her parents, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth and younger sister, Princess Margaret, in 1947. In Cape Town, she made her famous twenty-first birthday address in which she promised to devote the whole of her life to the service of her people. Less well known is the portion of the speech where the Princess expressed her commitment to South Africa and the commonwealth as a whole.
Princess Elizabeth stated “As I speak to you today from Cape Town I am six thousand miles from the country where I was born. But I am certainly not six thousand miles from home. Everywhere I have travelled in these lovely lands of South Africa and Rhodesia my parents, my sister and I have been taken to the heart of their people and made to feel that we are just as much at home here as if we had lived among them all our lives. That is the great privilege belonging to our place in the world-wide commonwealth – that there are homes ready to welcome us in every continent of the earth. Before I am much older I hope I shall come to know many of them.” Despite the Princess’s love of South Africa, she would not be able to visit again until the end of apartheid, touring in 1995 as the guest of President Nelson Mandela.
Malta and South Africa are two places that hold many happy memories for Queen Elizabeth II. The Diamond Jubilee tours by the Duke of Gloucester and Princess Anne reflect the Queen’s personal interest in these historic regions of the commonwealth.