Afghan King and Queen visit the UK – archive, 1928

and of Afghanistan arrived in England yesterday. They were escorted into Dover by destroyers and aeroplanes, and met by the Prince of Wales. In London King George and Queen Mary were waiting for them, and drove with them to Buckingham Palace through cheering crowds.

Later in the day the royal visitors drove to the Cenotaph, where they placed a wreath, and then to Westminster Abbey, where another one was placed on the Unknown Warrior’s grave. In the evening they received addresses of welcome from the London County and Westminster City Councils at St James’s Palace, and at night a state banquet was given in their honour at Buckingham Palace.

London’s reception

From our London Staff
King Amanullah of and Queen Souriya stepped out of the train at Victoria this afternoon and were greeted by the King and Queen of England. The platform bad been converted into the rough semblance of a royal scene on the stage, with scarlet carpets and hangings and high banks of daffodils and lilies. Into this set scene stepped a personage worthy to play a spectacular part and to come down to the footlights with an air of operatic majesty.

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The King of Afghanistan wore a helmet which was a sort of cross between a shako and a busby with a tall white plume. He had on a long greenish-grey cape which came down to his heels, and in the opening one saw a sky-blue tunic thickly encrusted with gold braid and glittering decorations, and scarlet trousers.

The lady, in a heavy coat of Siberian fur and a golden-coloured hat which suggested Paris, was the Queen whose beauty has inspired with worshipful adjectives the journalists of the Continent. This time the newspapers have not overdone it. Queen Souriya, the Syrian from Damascus, is indeed a beautiful woman. She is dark-haired, with a complexion like that of a Southern Italian. The moment of introduction was a little difficult – this abrupt and silent entry into the circle of dignitaries, with the King and Queen and their family waiting in their midst. The Afghans, however, carried it off with successful simplicity, and the two Kings greeted one another in the only language open to them – a hearty hand-shake. The Afghan Queen looked a little timorous, as well she might, for although she has had some experience of Western formality and the clamour of crowds, it is not long since she was living in a very narrow world. Queen Mary’s friendly welcome eased the tension, and very soon the visitors had been made at home in the family party and goodwill was being expressed all round in the universal language of looks and gestures.

King George V and King Amanullah Khan take the guard of honour, London, 1928. Photograph: ullstein bild via Getty Images


Anxious as was the crowd from the street to catch a glimpse of our romantic guests, there was little chance of their doing so in the station. The stand put up for the professional sightseers from Fleet Street blocked out the view, and people had to be content with admiring the special train, with its cosy red lights and beflowered windows.

On the red carpet the notabilities were ranged in formal exactitude. Mr. Baldwin was not easy to recognise in his cocked hat and a cape, buttoned tight against the cold, over the uniform Prime Ministers wear on state occasions. Sir Austen Chamberlain was there with the Home Secretary and Lord Birkenhead, and during the time of waiting the King and the Ministers were talking together. Among the military chiefs one noted Air Marshal Trenchard, to whom the King expressed his sorrow over the tragedy in Southampton Water. The red-carpeted enclosure was gay with uniforms, and plumes were shaking in the cold wind. Everything was quiet and decorous in the station, especially after the King, wearing Field Marshal’s uniform, had arrived with the Duke and Duchess of York and Prince Henry.

After the train had come in the picture became more animated. The suite of King Amanullah, some dozen Ministers and court officials dressed is highly decorative uniforms rather like that worn by our Hussar officers, made a great impression. They were for the most part dark-skinned, handsome men, and, like the King and Queen, suggested to English eyes visitors from Italy or the South of France. The introductions prescribed by an inflexible routine followed, King George taking King Amanullah to shake hands with the Ministers and the other dignitaries, and Queen Souriya was seen diffidently introducing Queen Mary to the dignified Afghans. One wondered very much what impression had been made by this first impact with official England upon the minds of those strange people from a land that is almost legendary in its remoteness from our familiar world.


When they reached the station yard outside they found the threshold of London so thoroughly disguised that its homely features hardly appeared. They came out under a roof of innumerable flags of all the known and unknown nations, and there opposite was a tall hedge of Guardsmen wearing the busbies that are said to have astonished the lady whom London has dubbed “the shy Queen.” With a fine swirl of his long cloak King Amanullah followed King George up and down the ranks saluting incessantly, while the Guards’ band played the Afghan royal salute, a piece of music which seems to be in three sections, and suggests to English ears “Scots Wha Hee” played in fox-trot rhythm. The Afghan King was completely self-possessed, and his regular olive face with black moustache was marked by a sort of noncommittal dignity. The brilliant state coaches dashed up with the outriders in their wigs; and as the two Kings took their seats on the scarlet cushions they apparently managed to find some means of exchanging a joke. The two Queens went by side by side, Queen Mary all silvery in dress and hair, self-possessed and stately, and Queen Souriya young and handsome and dark, bowing rather timidly to the cheers.

The welcome of the crowd was particularly hearty, and though the approaches to Victoria are ill-designed for a mass of sightseers, there was no inch of space and no window when there were not people waiting to greet the Afghan Majesties on their strange progress from complete isolation in their high mountain country down into the swirl of Western civilisation.

The two kings were accompanied in the first open carriage by the Prince of Wales and the Duke of York. Queen Souriya and Queen Mary, in the second carriage, were accompanied by the Duchess of York and Prince Henry. The arrival of the procession at Buckingham Palace was cheered by a great crowd gathered around the Victoria Memorial.

The King of Afghanistan, Amanullah Khan aboard the PLA yacht at Westminster Pier, London, March 1928. Photograph: Fox Photos/Getty Images


The ladies of the royal party entered the Palace, while the King conducted King Amanullah to the doorway at the side of the quadrangle. There they were joined by the Prince of Wales, the Duke of York, and members of the staff of King Amanullah and stood watching the Royal Horse Guards as they rode by. The Foot Guards followed, saluting the royal party as they passed. King Amanullah returned the salute. In a few moments the two kings walked to the grand entrance, where there was a company of King’s Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard in their Tudor uniforms of scarlet and gold and armed with pikes. This guard was also mounted on the stairway leading to the Bow Boom, where the King and Queen welcomed their guests.

The King and Queen of Afghanistan were then conducted to the Belgian suite of seven rooms which they will occupy during their three days visit to Buckingham Palace. The great crowd waited outside the Palace for twenty minutes in the hope of seeing the royal party on the balcony, but the time was so short that it was not found possible for them to appear.

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Source : theguardian[dot]com