by Graham Viney
The Last Hurrah describes in vivid detail a pivotal moment not just in the history of South Africa, that far-flung imperial outpost, but of the British Empire itself. The year 1947 marked the high-water mark of the British Empire in Africa, but also the very moment at which it began to unravel, ahead of the Afrikaner Nationalist victory in South Africa in 1948, which led inexorably to the Republic of South Africa in 1961 and its departure from the Commonwealth.
Graham Viney’s book not only superbly captures a moment in the life of a fractious, recently formed ‘nation’, before its descent into nearly five decades of darkness, but also gives us an intimate and revealing portrait of the royal family – King George VI, Queen Elizabeth and the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret – hard at work in support of the national interest. It seems clear that the present Queen Elizabeth must have learned a great deal from her father, but perhaps particularly her mother, about duty and statecraft in the course of this three-month tour, during which the then princess celebrated her twenty-first birthday.