We at Imperial War Museums are deeply saddened to hear of the death of Her Majesty The Queen and would like to express our condolences to all her family.

During her life, the world changed dramatically as a result of conflict.

From her childhood and her wartime service to her role as monarch, IWM holds film and photographic records that help tell the story of her extraordinary life.

We share them here, alongside extracts from her public remarks.

Early years

© IWM MGH 5164

Please note: This video has no sound.

This colour footage shows a young Princess Elizabeth playing with her sister Princess Margaret in their garden in London and was filmed by their neighbour, filmmaker Rosie Newman.

In December 1936, their world changed with the abdication of their uncle, King Edward VIII.

Their father became King George VI – and Princess Elizabeth became heir to the throne.

War comes

© IWM WPN 125

“The King with his subjects has enormously stepped-up production. The King and the Queen and the Princesses take a trip around the estate to see how the crops are coming along. There's a great deal for them to see. 14,033 acres are being farmed and that's quite a stretch but to economise in petrol the Royal Family ride out to the fields with true wartime austerity.

[Music]

The Ministry of Agriculture and the County War Agricultural Committee have helped with advice. 70 to 80 bushels of wheat is the yield per acre and a very fine one at that, the King is obviously delighted. To many, the interest of this picture is as much in the intimate glimpses of the Royal parents and their children as in Sandringham’s contribution to the food problem. One of the combined harvesters, the Princesses enjoy a ride on one of the gigantic machines which have revolutionised work in the fields. Farm workers are perhaps slightly overwhelmed, but the younger generation is not at all embarrassed. So that's what's happening in this royal corner of England, nearly 1500 acres are being farmed, all suitable grass in Sandringham Park has been given over to the plough, many acres of marshland have been ditched and drained to put the royal farming on a wartime basis.”

[Music]

Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret spent most of the Second World War at Windsor Castle, where they kept an allotment as part of the Dig for Victory campaign. In October 1940, 14-year-old Princess Elizabeth broadcast to the children of the Commonwealth on the radio programme Children's Hour, urging them to have courage.

‘We are trying to do all we can to help our gallant sailors, soldiers and airmen, and we are trying, too, to bear our own share of the danger and sadness of war.

‘And when peace comes, remember it will be for us, the children of today, to make the world of tomorrow a better and happier place.’

Princess Elizabeth carried out her first public engagements during the Second World War. The first ship she launched was HMS Vanguard at Clydebank on 30 November 1944. She was appointed Colonel of the Grenadier Guards in 1942.

This footage shows the Royal family on their Sandringham estate in 1943. Princess Elizabeth is seen taking a ride on a combine harvester, cycling with her father and walking with her parents and sister.

Duty

Princess Elizabeth, a 2nd Subaltern in the ATS, wearing overalls and standing in front of an L-plated truck.
Princess Elizabeth, a 2nd Subaltern in the ATS, wearing overalls and standing in front of an L-plated truck. © IWM (TR 2835)

At the age of 18, Princess Elizabeth joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS). She was the first female member of the Royal family to serve in the armed forces. In the ATS, she trained as a driver and mechanic with the rank of Second Subaltern. Five months later she was promoted to Junior Commander, the equivalent of Captain.

In 2003, opening the Women and War exhibition at IWM London, she remembered her own service and the changes she had seen in the roles women played in the armed forces.

From my experience as a Second Subaltern in the ATS I began to understand the esprit de corps that flourishes in the face of adversity and forges friendships which last a lifetime.’

‘Throughout my reign I have watched with admiration how women in the three services and many related organisations have taken on wider responsibilities and ever more demanding roles on land, on sea and in the air.’

D-Day

HRH Princess Elizabeth watching parachutists dropping during a visit to airborne forces in England in the run-up to D-Day.
HRH Princess Elizabeth watching parachutists dropping during a visit to airborne forces in England in the run-up to D-Day. © IWM (H 38619)

As the armed forces prepared for D-Day, the invasion of Normandy, in 1944, Princess Elizabeth and her parents visited troops training for the D-Day landings – in this image, she is photographed watching parachutists while on a visit to airborne forces in England.

Throughout her reign, she attended numerous commemorative events for Operation ‘Overlord’ (the Normandy invasion) and talked of how watching veterans of D-Day at a commemorative event in France roused her own memories of that time.

‘As Prince Philip and I stood watching the British veterans march past on the beach at Arromanches, my own memories of 1944 were stirred - of how it was to wait anxiously for news of friends and relations engaged in that massive and hazardous operation; of the subsequent ebb and flow of the battles in France and then in Germany itself; and of the gradual realisation that the war really was at least coming to an end.’

VE Day

HM King George VI and Queen Elizabeth with Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret joined by the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, London on VE Day.
© IWM MH 21835
HM King George VI and Queen Elizabeth with Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret joined by the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, London on VE Day.

After Germany surrendered, celebrations broke out across the United Kingdom and a national holiday was declared for 8 May – VE (Victory in Europe) Day.

Princess Elizabeth appeared on the balcony of Buckingham Palace with her family and they were joined at one point by Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

The King and Queen appeared eight times and, as they were waving to the crowds for the last time that evening, their daughters were secretly mingling with the jubilant crowds below them.

The young princesses had been allowed to leave the palace and take part – anonymously – in the party-like atmosphere.

Princess Elizabeth later recalled, 'We stood outside and shouted, ‘We want the King’… I think it was one of the most memorable nights of my life.'

A new chapter

Naval members of the Coronation Procession march past the gates of Buckingham Palace. Police and Guardsmen line the route as specatators look on. Visible at the very top of the photograph are a few spectators on the roof of the Palace, probably members of the royal household staff.
Naval members of the Coronation Procession march past the gates of Buckingham Palace, 1952 © CT 1954

After the death of her father in 1952, Princess Elizabeth became Queen Elizabeth II. The Second World War had been over for seven years but a different kind of conflict was emerging.

‘Even the end of the hostilities did not bring the true peace for which so many had fought and died. What became known as the 'Cold War' sustained an atmosphere of suspicion, anxiety and fear for many years,’ she told the nation in 1991.

In 1994, she visited Russia with the Duke of Edinburgh on the first ever state visit to Russia by a British monarch and the visit included events to honour Russian people who died during the Second World War.

‘To see British and Russian veterans standing together, in memory of the sacrifices of their comrades-in-arms, was a moving experience,’ she said.

Looking back

Her Majesty The Queen smiles, whilst wearing a hat
(IWM_2005_015-126)

Winston Churchill was Prime Minister again when the Queen took the throne and, as she opened the Churchill Museum at Churchill War Rooms in 2005, she remembered the hope and inspiration he had provided during the dark days of the Second World War.

‘During those wartime years Churchill's determination and example gave us all the hope, the courage and the confidence to "tread safely into the unknown".’

‘It was the unique quality of his leadership that so inspired the British nation and free peoples throughout the world, as well as those suffering under Nazi occupation. That quality continues to inspire us today and should forever do so.’

A world changed

Her Majesty the Queen smiles, wearing a light coloured hat
Her Majesty the Queen at IWM London (IWM 2003_50_0172)

Throughout her reign, the Queen highlighted the importance of remembering the sacrifice of those who fought in Britain’s wars. Each year in November, the Queen led the commemoration of British and Commonwealth service personnel who have died in conflict since 1914 at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, which was first unveiled by her grandfather King George V in 1920.

In 2005, marking the 60th anniversary of the end of the Second World War, she said: ‘An act of remembrance is an act of honour - to those who sacrificed all, who bore the sufferings of war, who had the wisdom to build the peace.’

Find out more

Princess Elizabeth in ATS thumbnail
Second World War

Why Queen Elizabeth signed up in the Second World War

In this video, see newly-discovered footage of the Princess in the ATS, as curator Kate Clements explains why Queen Elizabeth joined the ATS. 

A truck of revellers passing through the Strand, London, 8 May 1945.
VE Day

10 Photos Of VE Day Celebrations

On 7 May 1945 the formal act of military surrender was signed by Germany, ending the war in Europe. The next day celebrations broke out all over the world to mark Victory in Europe or VE Day. In Britain, Churchill marked the occasion by declaring 8 May a public holiday.