“The King Dies,” said the sombre headline splashed across the front page of the Yorkshire Evening Press on Wednesday, February 6, 1952. Beneath, in slightly smaller letters, was the secondary headline: “New Queen to fly home with her consort.”

Princess Elizabeth, now the new Queen Elizabeth II, had been on a visit to Africa with her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh.

The front page from 60 years ago gives a sense of the nation’s shock at the death of the King, who had led the nation through the dark days of the war. George VI had undergone an operation a few months before to resection a lung, yet the nation seemed wholly unprepared for his demise.

“The whole nation and Commonwealth was stunned at 10.45am by the news that the King, who retired to rest last night in his usual health, has passed away peacefully in his sleep early this morning,” the Yorkshire Evening Press reported.

“Princess Elizabeth, who a week ago waved from her aircraft at London airport to her father, standing bareheaded to wish her godspeed on her journey to Africa, is today flying back to England as Queen. Tonight she will be acclaimed sovereign.”

The newspaper’s coverage of the King’s death was extensive, spreading over several pages. It included tributes from around the world, as well as from the House of Commons and from the Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill. “This House will have learned with deep sorrow of the death of His Majesty,” the Prime Minister told assembled MPs. “We cannot at this moment do more than record the spontaneous experience of our grief.”

There were also two pages of reaction from York itself, under the headline: “Incredulity – then deepest sorrow.”

“The news of King George’s death cast a grey blanket of silence and sorrow over York,” the report read. “People in the centre of the city paused and gathered in small groups, speaking to each other almost uncomprehendingly. ‘Surely it cannot be true’ were the words on every tongue.”

The Lord Mayor of York, Alderman JH Kaye, sent a telegram of condolence to the young Queen on behalf of the city. “The citizens of York are stunned at the tragic death of our beloved King – a freeman of the city,” it said. “On their behalf, as Lord Mayor, I offer heartfelt sympathy to you and members of the Royal Family…”

By the following day, the headlines were all about the imminent arrival of the young Queen. “Royal plane nearing home,” proclaimed the front page of the late edition. The story went on to describe how, after travelling for almost 24 hours, the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh were due to arrive at London airport at 4.30pm that day.

The ‘Blunt Speaking’ column by John Blunt in that day’s edition, however, chose to focus not on Elizabeth the new young Queen, but on Elizabeth the grieving daughter.

“I find my thoughts turn today less in the direction of a new Queen than of a bereaved daughter,” the columnist wrote.

“Consider what her state of mind must be. She left her father at an English airport – he waved to her as she entered the plane… that would be a picture she carried of him as she faced the long flight, with perhaps a small dark fear unexpressed at the back of her mind for a convalescent father.

“In a strange and unfamiliar country that fear was realised. Her husband broke the news to her that, thousands of miles away, her father had died. He had died at home, and she was in Africa. Like any daughter, her reaction must have been: “And I was not with him…”

Elsewhere, however, the newspaper was full of plans for the proclamation of the Queen on the following day.

“A traditional ceremony will mark the reading in York tomorrow of the proclamation of the accession of Queen Elizabeth, the newspaper reported.

And so it did. The proclamation was read out at four points in the city centre – on the steps of the mansion House, at the law courts in Clifford Street, in Pavement, and at the south entrance of the Minster.

The principal proclamation was made by the Lord Mayor JH Kaye on the steps of the Mansion House, in front of a large crown in St Helen’s Square.

“As the Big Peter boomed out over York at noon today, Queen Elizabeth the second was proclaimed from the steps of the city’s eighteenth century Mansion House,” the Yorkshire Evening Press reported.

“As the Lord Mayor came to the end of the proclamation, some in the crowd echoed his last words: ‘God Save the Queen’.”