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The Queen Mother's visit

to Barotseland

18th-20th May 1960

Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother paid an official visit to Barotseland in May, 1960.  Betty's husband Gervas was Her Majesty the Queen's Resident Commissioner, and therefore the Queen Mother stayed in their official residence, The Residency, in Mongu, the administrative capital.

From Betty's Diary:-

G. is her husband Gervas; Gill is her 23 year-old daughter, N is her 17-year-old son Nigel, C is her 15-year-old son Crispin. Her eldest son Robin was in England.

Monday, 15 February 1960

G. had a Public Meeting at the Court House to tell everybody about the Queen Mother’s proposed visit to Mongu on May 17th – 18th.

He told them all about it, & the outline of the suggested program, & how he proposes to carry it out with Committees for each thing.


Wednesday, 18 May 1960

The day has arrived & I woke up as usual nowadays at about 4 a.m. in a panic at the thought of al there is to do still, & got up & went & finished drawing the seating plans for meals & seating cards & menus (four for each meal) & having completed that I had done all I could & went back to bed.

All morning busy, we intended to dust  prepare all 3 bedrooms by midday, but the wretched telephone-installers came trampling in again & delayed us.  But we got it all done & ornaments out & beds made by lunchtime except for a few things to be put out which we did after a good hour's rest - just before & even after the arrival of her majesty's servants & luggage at 15:30.

Then we went to the Airport, as well-planned and rehearsed, in the fleet of Rover cars, & all our friends were on the roadside to wave & "thumbs up" us on our way.  There was a huge crowd at the Airport - a large enclosure by the new control tower about 6-deep, behind the members of the Kuta, & the airport enclosure packed with Europeans and Africans mixed.

On the dot of 17:35 the Heron appeared & as it landed there was a brave little burst of cheering & she was waving to us, & I was as lobstery as could be & whispered to G, "Oh, Lor! Now I'm going to cry, what does A. do?" - "Send for Tim" was the answer.  However, I managed to stop it & recovered in time.  The plane taxied near us, the door opened, & she stood up in the doorway smiling & waving for all the spectators to wave & cheer & clap as she stepped down the steps.  G. bowed beautifully as he shook hands & introduced himself; & me, & the Paramount Chief, & Moyo, & the Lemons, Bells & Gilgeses; she received a bouquet from Jenny McKay (birthday yesterday) & Moyo's grand-daughter - then across to where the huge African crowd stood behind rails & the Kuta headed by the Ngambela did the Showelela Royal Salute, & many men tried to do it too but couldn't as so hampered by their neighbours.

Then into cars, as practised, & up to the Residency, past the jolly decorations of flags & shields & banners & Barotse mats & masks - G & I in the second car sped up the old road & were at the door to receive her, with Gill & N & C & all the servants to greet her.

We took her out onto the terrace to admire the view, which she did very much & the golden light was lovely though there was not a good sunset in the cloudelss clear sky - after all the lovely sunsets we'd "practised" when Mummy was here.  Some mosquitoes began to bother her (she's VERY susceptible to biting insects) so we brought her in, & they all had drinks before going off to change for dinner.  I felt thoroughly nervous & very conscious of "hashes" - the little sunken bed in the moiddle of the rose-garden paving, a real trap for the unwary, the visible grubby sofa on the verandah, the hydrangeas tucked away to be out of the sun & not brought out again to be admired, the biting insects, the drinks not prepared because we had planned that sh should go straight to her room. 

Then dinner for 14: us, Her Majesty & her staff, & the Lemons, Burgers, Mr. Ashwin & Mrs. Dempster.  I made another hash right at the beginning, said to G, "I'll just go & tell them to bring dinner." & he thought I said it was ready, & flung open the door & led her in & she had to be led abruptly out again.

Then at the end of dinner, they failed to give us fruit at all although it was on the menu; but I don't expect she either noticed or minded.  Otherwise all went well & Mr. Taylor the Footman did the wines & the boys were excellent. H.M sat on G.'s right & had Burger next to her, & chattered away most easily.

After dinner the other ladies each sat next to her during coffee.

G. asked if she would care to attend the dance & she agreed, so we went along about 10 o'clock, & they parted to each side of the floor & she swept down the middle as they curtsied & bowed, & went up on the platform where champagne was provided by efficient Tim. 

She looked lovely in a full white organza dress & she had kindly put on her tiara.  When we were on the platform they played God Save the Queen & then the crowd really let themselves go in a lovely outburst of cheerinbg and clapping.  She had said that she would stay about half-an-hour, but actually stayed an hour.

She asked me, "Does your husband dance?" & I said, "Yes." so she turned to him and asked him if he would dance with her - which he did beautifully (in his dinner jacket, as it was "informal", though Tim was in tails!)

We presented various people & I felt v. stupid & paralyzed not knowing whom to present, as all the Committee & Heads of Departments are to meet her at the GP tomorrow - still, better get some done now, I thought, & also people who won't otherwise meet her, so we did that.  She had a dance with Charlie Bell, too.  Jimmy Turner said when he put on the record for her first dance he suddenly realised what it was called and whipped it off again - it was "The Lady is a Tramp" !

The followed another hash - I thought all our guests would return with us, to the house, but they didn't, so we said goodnight to her alone - & the boys hadn't removed the coffee cups.

There seemed to have been so many hashes that I felt quite Prickly with apprehension for tomorrow.

Thursday, 19 May 1960

Up early to supervise the trays for early morning tea for three, & H.M.'s breakfast in her room (just tea and fresh fruit).

The ladies-in-waiting had breakfast with us, so a small party.

At 9:15 H.M appeared, looking fresh & lovely in a full dress of white with a blue broad sash of the Order of the garter, & her stars on it & miniatures of the Queen & the late King.

We went in the Rovers, along the new road (well-watered to keep down the dust) & there were little groups of people all the way to wave & cheer & clap, & all the way to Limulunga the villagers ran out to the roadside to see & greet the Queen.  I've never seen such interest in passers by & it was very jolly.  Not much dust.

Limulunga, the Paramount Chief, met at entrance & we walked along to the people, & they gave the Royal Salute.  Then through dancing drumming clapping laughing crowds, into the palace, & had tea (rather lengthy) & the Paramount Chief gave presents of carved ivory & wooden animals, and she gave him a photograph of herself.It was all a bit slow because of interpreting, & HM & staff were much amused at the Para. Ch.'s son sitting on the floor as interpraer for his mother!  & he got his hand trodden on.

Then we all processed out & past all the D.C.s in uniform looking so nice, & they joined behind us.

Noise of the crowd terrific as we marched on & into the Kuta, stopped at the Flagstaff for saluting the Flag & the Royal Drums; then the usual playting of the xylophones & drums, & the Ngambela read an address to H.M. quite beautifully written & illustrated in Lusaka.  H.M. replied, very clear & definite.  Then watched dancing & then home by a quarter to 12.

She always drove with her lady-in-waiting only, I suspect to take her shoes off & not talk for a bit.

As we drove along I felt peaceful & unworried, thinking of the Garden Party going on, I hoped successfully, but I felt carefree as there was nothing I could do if it wasn't. 

I looked out of the window while quickly changing, & people were sitting quietly peacefully chatting & eating, & looked very happy & relaxed.

The Queen changed, lovely great pearl jewels, & we went out to the party.  The Queen Committee were on the top terrace (except for Eric Shelton who was too occuped doing Transport to the river to attend anything) & met her first, then the rest of the people were in a long line about 3 deep, & she walked all along, G. introducing her to all he knew, both European & African, & the D.C.s grouping their own people & introducing them.  G. managed wonderfully well, & I stayed with Lady Jean & Gill did Mrs. Mulholland.

About 3/4 of the people met the Queen, she shook hands & had a few words with them, & she spent 10 minutes longer than the time allowed.

There were some seruwe ants about, inefftually attacked by Nigel earlier; & at last the Queen said, "I think there is something biting my toe." & G. feared there might be more, elsewhere, & led her - via the children in a shady corner - & across the lawn in the sight of all, where she waved & called Goodbye, enthusiastically replied to, and I took her to her bedroom & knelt to take off her shoe & there was a great soldier ant gnawing at her poor toe & drawn blood - & she had never shown any sign of it to the people.

It was by then 13:15 & we had lunch quite quickly - just a family lunch for 8 & Nigel sat next to the Queen & chatted away splendidly about all the sport here.

Then an hour's rest & change, before we set off for the jolly part of the programme, the River Ceremony.  We went in the cars to Maramba Harbour, very well banked up with a little landing stage for the Queen's launch - it was Sam Seward's boat, piloted by Bob Merry - & we set off with a great flourish & a roar of the starting engine . . . but it wouldn't go on !  Again & again he started it, & each time it failed to get going, though we managed by the bursts of starting to get about 100 yards down the Canal, followed by several other launches.  Then we called for the mechanics who rushed to the rescue (with N & C on board) & with amazing speed & efficiency removed the offending engine & replaced it with a spare, in  1 minute, 35 seconds. - But, believe it or not, the second engine refused to start too !!

Meanwhile, in front of us was the Police boat across the Canal, its bows in the weeds, and Peter head downwards over its engine de-weeding the propeller !  Behind us the other boats stood at all angles across the Canal & the whole thing was chaotic, & at that moment a plane flew over, hired for an hour by a photographer to photograph the Great Meeting of the Barges - We wonder what photos he got of the Chaos in the Canal!

The Queen was a bit anxious & kept asking if we could get into another boat, but they preferred to battle with the engine.  She looked out front & saw what the Police boat wa doing & said mildly, "The Police seem to be in trouble too" & I said, "Yes - if an Assassin were to choose this moment to come & do his dastardly deed, there's not much THEY could do to stop him" - "No," said the Queen, "but WE could; we could hit him over the head with our parasol !"

Poor Bob Merry, he wrestled & tugged at this wretched engine, then the mechanic boat rushed up again & Alf Lee jumped in & at last managed to start it & came all the way with us.

After that we had no troubles & everything went perfectly & according to plan.  We drove out to the junction, followed by about 6 boats; there we got into the "Queen Mary", & were paddled 10 minutes down the Nukoma, our beautiful paddlers dressed in nothing but sesiba kilts in bright colours.  Then we came alongside the Nalikwanda & got on board with the Para. Ch. & with drums & xylophones going full blast we were paddled down the river by 60 paddlers in their skins & lion-mane head-dresses.  There came a message from the Press boat, may they pass the Nalikwanda & take photos, which was agreed to.  G. invited the Queen to come outside the awning & look back at the great flotilla following behind, & she stood up on the steps in full sunshine & the Para Ch. came & stood beside her, & at that moment the photographers' boat came by - it couldn't have been better done, & quite unplanned.

We landed on the island, a few photographers there & a large crowd of Africans doing the Royal Salute; & we went along to the little grass hut & Adrian Thomas provided us with tea very quickly & efficiently.  The party consisted of the Queen & 2 of her staff, us 2, The Para. Ch., Moyo & Mulena Mukwae & Mbowanjikana, & Ngambela.

The island itself is a dull & un-pretty one, & the only reason for going there was to give a definite aim to the expedition.  We stayed about 20 minutes, then embarked on the launch & set off for home, passed all the moored passengers barges & launches, & followed by the whole fleet, very fine, & she seemed to enjoy it all, & the pretty sunset - though it wasn't a spectacular one.

We got back just after dark - 18:30 instead of 18:00 - & there was still a big crowd of people at the Harbour to welcome her in, both black & white.

We had no guests for dinner, & it went well, & after dinner Gill had a long time with her on the sofa, & she went to bed quite early.

Friday, 20 May 1960

Up early to see to the trays & breakfasts, & after breakfast the flap of luggage & departure, & the Queen emerged looking fresh & cool & lovely in a honey-coloured frock & coat in the same diaphanous material as her other dresses.  We drove to the Airport where a big  crowd waited, & she said her goodbyes charmingly, & the Kuta shwelela-ed again, then she walked really close to the enclosure & called "Goodbye, & Thank you!" & they all called out to her, "Come again!"  & "Thanks for coming to the Dance!" etc., & Peter McKenna started singing "Will ye no' come back again." in his good Scotch voice, & she turned to me with tears in her eyes obviously very touched. Then she went to the top of the steps into her Heron, & turned to wave to us all, then in, & away - the end of a wonderful visit. 

We all felt very gay & carefree, & in the evening the Lemons gave a big party - a sort of "Hooray for the Queen & Goodbye to the Clays" & we took along a case of champagne & all the heeltaps, & Derek Grey had his tape recorder & all the Chairmen of the Committees gave accounts of what happened & there were lots of good stories & jokes & bantering.

After that, G. & Gill & N & C & I got down to Packing, & everything went far more easily & quickly than I expected & good Gill was a Great Help.


The Clay family departed the next day for six-month's leave in England.

On 23rd May, 1960, from Lilongwe in Nyasaland, her next stop on her progress, Her Majesty wrote (on four sides of monographed paper, in her own hand):-


My dear Mrs. Clay,

My mind is full of delightful memories of my visit to Mongu, and I am so deeply grateful to you & Mr. Clay for all your wonderful kindnesses & hospitality.

I shall never forget my first look at that flooded plain, with the sun setting behind it, or the visit to the Paramount Chief, or particularly the trip down the river.

It is rather curious to think that man-power was rather more efficient than horsepower on that occasion !

It really was the highlight of my visit to Rhodesia, and I do want to thank you & Mr. Clay with all my heart for making it all so happy & easy.

Everyone was so kind to my entourage, and I shall always think of those days spent with you, as days of beauty & kindness.

I was so glad to meet your VERY nice children.

With all good wishes,

I am, Yours very sincerely,

Elizabeth R


The Queen Mother also wrote to her daughter, Princess Margaret:-

From:- "Queen Mother: - The Selected Letters of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother"  by William Shawcross


Government House Lusaka

Northern Rhodesia

22 May 1960

My Darling Margaret

After the tremendous bustle and noise and hoorays & beauty of your wedding day [the 6th May, 1960], you suddenly disappeared, and I feel that I haven't seen you since you were about 9 years old! I long to hear a little news of your life in the yacht [the Royal Yacht Britannia for their honeymoon in the Caribbean], & I do hope that it has been a wonderful time for you both. I do think that the wedding was perfect, and I have had such charming and touching letters from so many people, saying how glorious it all was.

I felt that it was a real wedding service, holy & beautiful, and you looked heavenly darling.

I am so longing to see you again, and what I want you to know is, that until you have a country house of your own, I hope that you will always come to Royal Lodge when you want to.

Don't ask me, just say you are coming, and I hope it will be often.

How uncomfortable Government Houses are! Tiny bath towels, no lights to dress by, & board-like sheets! But great kindness, & one mustn't be beastly.

I have had the usual gruelling tour, and so far it has gone happily. It is a wonderful country, & the people love it so much.

I went to Barotseland, which is quite delightful. Everyone falls on their knees when they see one — not grovelling but enormously natural & polite.

No roads, and a vast plain, which every year is inundated by the mighty Zambesi, too beautiful for words, because the water is just going down now, & the tall grass is growing through the water, & this endless vista of shimmer & light is really fascinating.

The old Paramount Chief is a good Ruler, & nobody can approach him except on their knees! I think we might introduce this at Clarence House, it might be an excellent idea!

The only bother about Africa is that one can get malaria and typhoid and smallpox and cholera and bilharzia (nasty) and yellow fever and black fever & I expect pink fever & blue fever & GREY fever (bad) and beige fever (the worst), & huge animals knock on one's door, & great beasts fly in at the window, and all the time at Royal Lodge the garden is quiet & lovely, & the azaleas are out.

Ah well, Livingstone & Rhodes made it alright.

Darling, lots of love to you both, & please write me a small letter saying that you are happy & that all is blissful.

Your very loving



The Queen Mother was much taken with the thought that the paddlers of the Barotse Royal Barge were the senior Indunas - "Like us being rowed by the House of Lords !  Oh, I LIKE the idea !"


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