Princess Elizabeth: The future Queen’s first visit to Northern Ireland

Remembering Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. In July 1945, 18-year-old Princess Elizabeth Windsor first visited Northern Ireland landing at Long Kesh Airfield.

On 8th September 2022, the world learned of the death of Queen Elizabeth II, the longest serving monarch of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth realms. She reigned for 70 years, remaining a popular figurehead and a much-loved leader of the nation.

There are many stories of Her Majesty’s time during the Second World War. As a teenager, she visited survivors of the Blitz in London’s east end, and served as a Second Subaltern in the Auxiliary Territorial Service. A lesser known tale from the time is that of her first visit to Northern Ireland where she arrived on 17th July 1945.

The war in Europe was over although many in Ulster had family and friends still serving in the Pacific. Princess Elizabeth, on her first visit to Northern Ireland, accompanied their Majesties on the Ulster stage of the Victory Tour. Crowds gathered all along processional routes, flags and buntings flew from buildings, and the mood was jubilant.

First flight of the future Queen

Long Kesh Airfield, Co. Down

At 1639hrs on 17th July 1945, a pair of Douglas Dakota planes of R.A.F. Transport Command touched down at Long Kesh Airfield, Co. Down. Overhead swooped an escort of two squadrons of Mustang fighters piloted by Poles, and Warwick Aircraft of the Air Sea Rescue Service. On board the Dakotas were the King and Queen, accompanied by Princess Elizabeth. This marked the first occasion a sovereign arrived in Northern Ireland by air and was the first flight for the teenage heir to the throne. It was an exciting time for the prices who spent some time with her father the King in the pilot’s cabin. Newspaper reports suggest she was “thrilled and delighted” by her first aerial experience – a flight of 2 hours and 1 minute from R.A.F. Northolt, Middlesex, England.

Upon arrival at Long Kesh, His Grace the Governor, the Duke of Abercorn received the royal party. Alongside the Governor was the Marquess of Londonderry (His Majesty’s Lieutenant for Co. Down), and Colonel G.J. Brownlow (High Sheriff of Co. Down).

A crowd of civilian spectators fell into a hush as the doors of one Dakota opened. Moments later, the King stepped down from the plane in his Royal Air Force uniform to a rousing cheer. The Queen followed wearing a two-piece suit of dove-grey and a matching hat with a royal blue bow. The applause and cheering continued as Princess Elizabeth stepped onto the Long Kesh aerodrome in the khaki uniform of the A.T.S.

The band of No. 1136 (Belfast Central) Squadron of the Air Training Corps struck up the national anthem. A Royal Air Force guard of honour gave the royal salute as the royal standard raised over the aerodrome station. His Majesty inspected the guard of honour before the royal visitors met with the gathered dignitaries.

  • Sir Basil Brooke (Prime Minister of Northern Ireland)
  • Mr. Edmond Warnock K.C. (Minister of Home Affairs)
  • Air Commodore A.R. Churchman (Air Officer Commanding Northern Ireland)
  • Rear Admiral R.H.L. Bevan (Flag Officer in Charge Northern Ireland)
  • Captain the Earl of Kilmorey
  • Major General G.C. Bucknall (General Officer Commanding Northern Ireland)
  • Major General Paret (Belgian Army in Northern Ireland)
  • Lieutenant Colonel Ralph A. McGinn (United States Forces in Northern Ireland)
  • Major Davies (Deputy Inspector General Royal Ulster Constabulary)
  • Mr. Robert Gransden (Secretary of the Cabinet)
  • Squadron Officer Conan Doyle (W.A.A.F. Station Officer)
  • Commander Oscar Henderson (Private Secretary to the Governor)
  • Captain C.A.R. Shillington
  • Captain H. de C. Martelli

The royal party included:

  • Countess Spencer (Lady of the Bedcamber to the Queen)
  • Sir Eric Mieville (Assistant Private Secretary to the King)
  • Captain Sir Harold Campbell R.N. (Groom of the Robes)
  • Wing Commander Peter Townsend R.A.F.

The Princess, combining regal dignity and informal friendliness most happily, showed much of the Queen’s animation and she smiled delightedly as she caught sight of the Queen standing with her hand raised to shade her eyes as she looked up at a six-foot-three Belgian officer who was presented. The Princess’ eyes were raised in admiration as the escorting Mustangs roared overhead in close formation as they departed for Aldergrove.

Lambeg drummers beat a welcome to the Royals

Government House, Hillsborough, Co. Down

The royal visitors spent the rest of the day on 17th July 1945 at Government House in Hillsborough, Co. Down. On the short journey from the Long Kesh airfield, crowds lined the roads to welcome the guests. After dining with the Governor and the Duchess of Abercorn, the thundering of Lambeg drums shattered the silence of the Northern Irish village. The royal visitors and hosts walked to the courtyard to meet with the drummers, listen to the music, and speak to those involved. They spent around 15 minutes in conversation before retiring for the evening in advance of a busy two-day visit.

The Victory Tour Begins

On 18th July 1945, the King, Queen, and Princess Elizabeth undertook a full day of engagements in Belfast. This marked the official beginning of the Victory Tour in Northern Ireland. At every stop, crowds gathered amidst scenes of jubilant celebration. Although the royal party arrived a day early by plane, they began the day at Musgrave Channel as planned when the intention was to travel by sea. Through scattered showers, military personnel and civilians gathered to take part in the historic day.

Newspaper reports at the time spoke particularly fondly of Princess Elizabeth during the visit.

The Princess won all hearts. She seemed to be tireless and to enjoy every minute of the tour. In addition to accompanying the King and Queen to the main functions of the day, she attended an informal reception of members of the Women’s Services at Queen’s University and inspected youth organisations at Lisburn.

Musgrave Channel, Belfast

At Musgrave Channel, thousands of shipyard workers of Messrs. Harland and Wolff Ltd. assembled. They waved flat caps and gave hearty cheers from precarious positions on cranes, gantries, and vessels under construction. The noise reached a crescendo as the royal party climbed from their car. A guard of honour from the Royal Navy gave the royal salute as the band of the Royal Ulster Constabulary played the national anthem.

His Majesty sported the uniform of an Admiral of the Fleet while the Queen wore a two-piece moonlight blue suit. Princess Elizabeth opted for civilian dress for the day’s engagements in a shade of dove grey.

Accompanied by His Grace the Governor and the Duchess of Abercorn, the royal party met with:

  • Mr. Edmond Warnock (Minister for Home Affairs)
  • Sir Thomas Dixon (His Majesty’s Lieutenant for Belfast)
  • Sir Crawford McCullagh (Lord Mayor of Belfast)
  • Councillor R.B. Alexander (High Sheriff of Belfast)
  • Mr. John Dunlop (Town Clerk)
  • Mr. E.R.H. May D.S.O. (Lord Mayor’s Secretary)

The Harbour Board presented:

  • Sir Ernest Herdman (Chairman)
  • Sir Milne Barbour
  • Mr. J. McCaughey
  • Mr. Berkley
  • Mr. James Alexander (Assistant General Manager and Secretary)

Representatives of Messrs. Harland and Wolff Ltd. included:

  • Sir Frederick Rebbeck (Managing Director)
  • Mr. J. Morrison O.B.E.
  • Mr. A. Blair
  • Mr. V. Spark
  • Mr. W. Strachan
  • Captain A.T. Marshall (Secretary)

Over the next few days, we will bring you more updates on this historic visit, looking back at the first visit to Northern Ireland of a young woman who would one-day be Queen.

British Pathé Footage

'Royal Visit To Ulster (1945)': On 18th-19th July 1945, their Majesties the King and Queen, and Princess Elizabeth visited Northern Ireland as part of a United Kingdom-wide "Victory Tour".

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