King George VI and Queen Elizabeth visit Northern Ireland

Between 24th June 1942 and 26th June 1942, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth visited Northern Ireland inspecting British and American military personnel.

On 24th June 1942, the cruiser HMS Phoebe docked in Belfast. On board were King George VI and Queen Elizabeth on a 3-day visit to Ulster. Plans for the royal visit were top secret, however, once the people of Northern Ireland heard the King and Queen were in town, crowds lined the streets.

On Wednesday 24th June 1942, the royal couple arrived on board HMS Phoebe. Along the docks, stood a guard comprised of 30th Battalion Royal Ulster Rifles and band. A cheer from workers in the shipyard signaled the approach of the cruiser and soon people appeared on roofs, walls, and other vantage points. HMS Phoebe bore the Union Jack, the Royal Standard, and the flag of Trinity House, all signifying the presence of King George VI, Admiral of the Fleet.

The ship’s company stood on deck. King George VI stood on the quarter-deck and the Queen waved and smiled wearing an all-lavender outfit. As HMS Phoebe pulled in to dock, the crowd sang ‘For He’s A Jolly Good Fellow’. The band struck up the national anthem before the Duke of Abercorn presented their Majesties to gathered dignitaries.

Home Secretary Herbert Morrison accompanied their Majesties on the visit. He commended the crowds who turned out spontaneously for the unplanned visit.

If anyone thinks there is anything shaky in the patriotism or the enthusiasm or the loyalty to the King and Queen of Northern Ireland, I think that blows it up.

Presentation at Musgrave Channel

Among the dignitaries by the quayside on Musgrave Channel Road, Belfast was:

Last Name First Name(s) Position Organisation
Andrews John M Prime Minister Northern Ireland Government
Dixon Sir Thomas HML for Belfast Northern Ireland Government
Bates Sir Dawson Minister for Home Affairs Northern Ireland Government
Black Alderman GR Lord Mayor of Belfast Belfast Corporation
Henderson Alderman Thomas High Sheriff of Belfast Belfast Corporation
Gransden Mr R Secretary to the Cabinet Northern Ireland Government
Henderson Commander Oscar Governor's Private Secretary
McKinstry Mr. JF Acting Town Clerk Belfast Corporation
Franklyn Lieutenant General HE Commanding British Troops in Northern Ireland British Army
King Rear Admiral RM Flag Officer Royal Navy
Cole-Hamilton Air Vice Marshal JB Air Officer Commanding Northern Ireland Royal Air Force
Hartle Major General RP Commanding USANIF United States Army

The King and Queen inspected Harland and Wolff and Short and Harland factories before driving to Stormont Castle, Belfast.

As the King and Queen arrived at the East Belfast site, rows of American troops lined Massey Avenue to form a guard of honour. The royals enjoyed lunch there with Prime Minister and Mrs. Andrews.

At one of the Queen’s Island factories, workers cheered and sang a rousing rendition of ‘God Save The King’. Such was the enthusiasm of the crowds, keen to welcome the Royals, that the King and Queen missed a boat they were due to take. Morrison requisitioned a car and the journey around the country continued.

The King and Queen have both thoroughly enjoyed their visit, and they have been deeply affected by the warmth of the welcome they have had.

Royal Visit to Stormont in 1942

LIFE Magazine Photo: United States Army troops line Massey Avenue, Belfast as a convoy of vehicles carrying King George VI and Queen Elizabeth approaches Stormont Parliament Buildings. Photo taken by David E. Scherman on 24th June 1942.

Lunch at Stormont

After lunch, King George VI presented the Police Medal to the widow of Constable Murphy. The officer was shot dead by armed men in the city on Easter Sunday. AT 1415hrs, they visited the Houses of Parliament before driving through crowded streets to Queen’s Island. There, they inspected naval personnel and had tea in the naval canteen. At Pollock Dock, they inspected members of the Civil Defence before a visit to Ulster Gift Fund Headquarters.

The Royals spent the night with the Duke and Duchess of Abercorn at Government House, now Hillsborough Castle in Co. Down.

25th June 1942

On 25th June 1942, the royals travelled through Co. Down, inspecting US Army troops, dining with the doughboys, and riding in Jeeps. The event drew huge interest from the media. Members of the local press and war correspondents gathered at the Great Northern Hotel, Rostrevor, Co. Down.

Back Row: 1. Unknown, 2. Unknown, 3. Unknown, 4. Unknown, 5. Unknown, 6. Relman “Pat” Morin (Associated Press), 7. Unknown, 8. Unknown, 9. Unknown, 10. Unknown, 11. Unknown, 12. Unknown, 13. Wes Gallagher (Associated Press), 14. Harrison B Roberts (Associated Press). Front Row: 1. GK Hodenfield (Stars and Stripes), 2. Helen Kirkpatrick (Chicago Daily Tribune), 3. Lieutenant Colonel Theodore Arter (US Army NIBS PR Officer), 4. Parry Williams (War Department).

US War Correspondents in Rostrevor, Co. Down

LIFE Magazine Photo: American military officers, war correspondents, and local members of the press await the royal visit at the Great Northern Hotel, Rostrevor, Co. Down. Photo taken by David E Scherman on 25th June 1942.

1st Armored Division Display at Ballykinler

Vehicles of 1st Armored Division

LIFE Magazine Photo: King George VI accompanied by Major General Russel P Hartle and General Leroy P Collins inspects M3 Stuart and Lee Tanks and half-tracks of 1st Armored Division at Abercorn Barracks, Ballykinler, Co. Down. Photo taken by David E Scherman on 25th June 1942.

After the visit, King George VI sent his compliments to Major General Hartle:

I should be grateful if you could convey to all members of USANIF who participated in today’s demonstrations and operations my hearty congratulations on the impressive efficiency with which they were carried out.

Hartle issued a reply to His Majesty:

The troops of my command appreciated your recognition of their efforts this day, and wish me re-emphasise the pleasure and moral uplist the visit of yourself and that of her Majesty the Queen gave them. They join with me in my sincere thanks for your interest in and contribution to our welfare, and in my prayers that God may bless you both.

26th June 1942

The royals departed from Larne, Co. Antrim on 26th June 1942 on board the destroyer HMS Bicester. Queen Elizabeth bade the Duke and Duchess of Abercorn farewell before standing next to King George VI on the bridge and waving goodbye. Bagpipes played ‘Will Ye No Come Back Again’ as crowds cheered “God bless your Majesties”.

On their way to the port, they passed through the town where almost every house displayed flags and bunting. They then inspected the Royal Naval guard of honour, a unit of WRNS, and men of the United States Marines and Ulster Home Guard.

The King and Queen on board HMS Bicester

Imperial War Museum Photo: A 10097 (Part of the Admiralty Official Collection). His Majesty King George VI and Queen Elizabeth engaged in conversation after inspecting troops in Larne, Co. Antrim. They are on the bridge of the destroyer HMS Bicester. Photo taken by Lieutenant HW Tomlin on 26th June 1942.