WATCH | Elizabeth became queen in 1952, but her dedication to the throne began 5 years earlier in SA

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  • Queen Elizabeth II died on Thursday, 8 September.
  • Before she suddenly became queen in 1952 upon the death of her father, a then-Princess Elizabeth dedicated her life to the Commonwealth.
  • She was visiting South Africa when she made a "solemn act of dedication" in a radio broadcast from Cape Town.

Following the death of her father, King George VI, then-Princess Elizabeth acceded to the throne on 6 February 1952 before her coronation in June 1953.

Elizabeth was in Kenya enjoying a short break with the Duke of Edinburgh when she heard of her father's death. They were to embark on a tour that included Australia and New Zealand in the king's absence because he'd been too ill to travel.

The couple were staying at the Treetops Lodge with views of elephants at nearby watering holes visible from their cabin high up in the trees when they got the news.

The British hunter Jim Corbett, who was also staying at Treetops at the time, wrote in the visitor's logbook: "For the first time in the history of the world, a young girl climbed into a tree one day a princess, and after having what she described as her most thrilling experience, she climbed down the tree the next day a queen."

Queen Elizabeth, Prince Philip
Princess Elizabeth with the Duke of Edinburgh at Treetops in Kenya in February 1952.

The queen was well aware of the future that awaited her, though. In a previous interview with long-time royal filmmaker Tom Jennings, Channel24 learnt of the queen's closeness to her father – who was also suddenly thrust into a position of power when King Edward abdicated to marry Wallis Simpson, an American divorcée.

He said:

In my opinion, that's where she got it from, this enduring ability to keep going. If you look at the pictures of her with her father when she's a little girl, you can see how much she adored him and he her. And I'm sure as he made his way through, becoming king, the lessons, whether they were overt or covert, the lessons she learnt from her father – she watched and understood what he was going through, and he, George, knew that one day she would become queen. My guess is he handed down a lot of knowledge about who you are as someone with tremendous responsibility.

And so it is no surprise that the queen's unwavering dedication to duty began long before she became queen.

Queen Elizabeth, King George
An informal picture of King George VI relaxing with his daughter Princess Elizabeth during a visit to Natal National Park in South Africa in 1947.

On her 21st birthday, while on a tour of South Africa with her parents and younger sister in 1947, the future queen gave an emphatic speech broadcast on the radio from Cape Town, in which she dedicated her life to the service of the Commonwealth.

"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," she said.

"That is the great privilege belonging to our place in the worldwide 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."

She then made what she called her "solemn act of dedication with a whole Empire listening".

"I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong."

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