IT WAS a homecoming to remember as the people of Southampton filled the streets to welcome home their king and queen.

The town, as it was on June 22, 1939, was the “envy of the country” being the first place in the kingdom to welcome home the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth from their visit to Canada, a trip hailed at the time as being “the greatest royal journey of modern times.”

Both the council and local people were determined it was going to be a grand occasion to be remembered as the royal family made their way from the liner, Empress of Britain, into the town centre.

Colossal crowds packed the roads and pavements, with 3,000 people at the dockside alone where a band played Land of Hope and Glory.

Every house, shop and office along the route from the docks, via the Civic Centre to the railway station, was decorated with colourful shields, bunting and flags.

“Terraces in many of the poorer streets where also beflagged for the great occasion,” reported the Daily Echo at the time.

“Visitors from all parts of the country have been pouring into Southampton; there was not a vacant hotel or boarding house in the town. Many of those too late to secure accommodation spent the night in their cars, parked on the Common and other open spaces.

“Southampton doubled its population and, with thousands of workers freed for a few hours from their offices, shops and factories, the streets overflowed with welcoming crowds.”

The king and queen had been away from Great Britain for six weeks, travelling 15,000 miles before returning via Southampton.

The Daily Echo at the time hailed the trip as being “the greatest imperial journey in the history of the British Empire”.

As the liner made its way up Southampton Water, passing an armada of small vessels, the crowds got their first glimpses of the royal couple together with Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret Rose, who had joined the king and queen as the ship entered the Solent.

“The Docks and Marine Band played Elgar’s Land of Hope and Glory as the docking formalities were carried,” reported the Daily Echo.

“As their majesties appeared at the head of the gangway, preparatory to coming ashore, the band struck up the national anthem, in the singing of which the whole assembly heartily joined.

“The very first instant they stepped on the gangway a mighty cheer began. It grew in volume with every step they took until docklands greeting could be heard right across the lower end of the town.

“The king and queen were obviously delighted with the warmth of the welcome accorded them.

“Lining the way to the dock gate were 500 men of the Merchant Navy, including 200 Lascars in their colourful native costumes and headgear.”

The feeling of celebration was almost tangible, as people came together for the momentous occasion, all eager to catch a glimpse of royalty and join in the festivities.

“The atmosphere became tense with the excitement of the waiting thousands. The cheering arose to a crescendo as the king and queen approached the densely packed pavements at the junction of Latimer Street and Canute Road.

“Southampton Airport employees were given a quarter of an hour off to see the royal train go by.

“Nearly 1,000 workmen, grimy from their toil at the benches, lined the railings where the railway passes the airport boundary, and gave the king and queen a resounding cheer as the train went by.

“Two hours before their majesties were due to leave the docks, there was an unbroken line of people at the kerbside on both sides of the road throughout the royal route.

“Many and varied were the objects used as seats by patriots who took up early positions. They ranged from kitchen tables to strawberry baskets of doubtful strength.

“An outfitter in the line of route cleared out the gents’ matty suitings from one of his display windows, which has an elevated floor, and arranged neat rows of chairs, from which friends saw the procession as if they were in a cinema.

“An empty Southern Railway dray, drawn by a dapple-grey mare which cantered down Bernard Street at a merry pace, was wildly cheered. So were the police officers when they marched by shortly before one o’clock to take up their positions.

“There was a short stop at the Civic Centre for presentation. ‘Welcome to Southampton’ announced a banner above the floral archway at the entrance to the forecourt.

“When they left to join the royal train at the central station, the king and queen saw that the reverse side of the banner read: ‘Southampton thanks you!’"