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Thomas William Edward Coke, 5th Earl of Leicester of Holkham; Sardar Shah Wali Khan; Mohammad Daud Khan; Frederick Herbert Willasey-Wilsey

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Thomas William Edward Coke, 5th Earl of Leicester of Holkham; Sardar Shah Wali Khan; Mohammad Daud Khan; Frederick Herbert Willasey-Wilsey

by Navana Vandyk
whole-plate film negative, 5 June 1953
Given by Bassano & Vandyk Studios, 1974
Photographs Collection
NPG x130722

Sittersback to top

Artistback to top

  • Navana Vandyk (active 1948-1953), Photographer. Artist or producer associated with 1405 portraits.

Events of 1953back to top

Current affairs

A combination of low pressure in the North Sea, hurricane force winds, and high tides result in the Great Flood of 1953. With no warning system many were trapped in their homes as 20-foot waves crashed on the coast; hundreds were killed at sea and on the east coast.
John Hunt's British Expedition conquers Everest. News of the achievement reached Britain on the day of Elizabeth's coronation.

Art and science

Frances Crick and James Watson discover the double helix structure of DNA. Uncovering DNA's chemical make-up revolutionised our understanding of the building blocks of life.
Ian Fleming publishes his first James Bond novel, Casino Royal.
Chad Varah founds 'The Samaritans' helpline.


Joseph Stalin dies four days after suffering a stroke. It has been suggested that Stalin was assassinated, as he was denied medical assistance for over a day after he was found; many suspect that he was poisoned. On his death Georgy Malenkov became leader of the Soviet Union.

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Tim Willasey-Wilsey

26 July 2017, 17:28

This photograph of the Afghan delegation to the 1953 Coronation tells a story of Afghan history spanning almost a century; a period littered with instability, rivalry, murder and occasional courage. Monarchs rarely attend the coronations of other monarchs. So when Queen Elizabeth II was crowned on the 2nd June 1953 the only other monarch to attend was the Queen of Tonga. She endeared herself to the crowds by leaving down the hood of her carriage and braving the pouring rain on the way to Westminster Abbey.

King Zahir Shah of Afghanistan was represented by his uncle, Sardar Shah Wali Khan (who appears in the photograph second from left). He was a good choice as he was a rare anglophile in an Afghanistan where Germany had been generally preferred to Britain, Turkey and Russia with their colonial ambitions. Indeed Sardar Wali had been Ambassador in London twice (1929-31 and 1950-53) and had sent his second son Abdul Wali to Sandhurst and later on attachment to the Brigade of Guards. He also owned a Rolls Royce which he drove around Europe with some panache.

Born in 1888 in British India he was a Field Marshal in the Afghan army and famous both for successes in the Third Afghan War in 1919 (known to the Afghans as the War of Independence) against the British and as “the Victor of Kabul” when, in 1929, he defeated the forces of Bacha Saqqao, (the son of a Tajik water carrier, who briefly ruled as King Habibullah Kalakani). He then helped install his own brother Nadir Shah as King. When Nadir Shah was assassinated in 1933 Sardar Wali was one of three uncles who placed the 19 year-old Zahir Shah on the throne. Later he served as acting Defence Minister and as acting Prime Minister. Sardar Wali was forced into exile in Rome by the 1973 coup where he would die, a somewhat embittered man, in 1977.

The coup leader was Sardar Wali’s companion at the Coronation, the King’s cousin and close friend Mohammed Daud Khan (also in the photograph, second from right). Like the King, Daud had been educated in France and was far happier speaking French than English. He too had served in the Afghan army but, whereas Zahir Shah was gentle and rather passive, Daud was energetic and ambitious; a committed moderniser in a hurry. Two months after the London Coronation Zahir Shah appointed Daud Prime Minister, a position he held for 10 years. A year after being appointed Prime Minister for a second time he mounted a coup in 1973 against the King who was out of the country and transformed Afghanistan into a Republic with himself as President. The royal family took up exile in Rome. In 1978 Daud was in turn deposed by the communists in a Soviet-backed coup during which he was arrested and ‘executed’ along with his family.

The third figure in the photographs is Thomas Coke, 5th Earl of Leicester, on the far left. He was a soldier and royal courtier, an Extra Equerry to Queen Elizabeth and to her father King George VI. He had previously been Equerry to the latter when Duke of York. His eldest daughter was a Maid of Honour to the Queen at the Coronation. He died in 1976.

Colonel Freddie Willasey-Wilsey, my grandfather, on the far right, was born in 1898 and had served with the 8th Gurkha Rifles during the First World War in Mesopotamia and Palestine (where he won the Military Cross). He spent the remainder of his military career in India, at times stationed on the Afghan border at Quetta and Chaman. He understood Afghan politics and Pashtun culture. He spoke “Hindustani” (modern Urdu and Hindi) and would have had some understanding of Dari and Pashto. When the Gurkha Rifles were divided between the British and Indian armies in 1947 the 8th were assigned to India and he was suddenly unemployed, aged 49, on a small pension and living at Henley-on-Thames. He readily agreed to be Liaison officer to the Afghan delegation for the Queen’s Coronation.

There is a post-script to this story. After the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001 I made numerous visits to Afghanistan as a Director at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and called on the former King Zahir Shah at the Arg Palace. Following the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington he had returned to Kabul from his long exile in Rome in the role of “Father of the Nation”. By then in his late 80s, he spoke fondly of the Queen and of his State Visit to London in 1971. He explained how Daud had been murdered in the palace close to where we were sitting and told me about the hidden safe in the palace where a large quantity of old Afghan bank-notes had remained undiscovered by Daud, the Soviets, the Mujahidin and the Taliban since he was deposed in 1973.

I also met Sardar Wali’s second son General Abdul Wali, who was married to Zahir Shah’s daughter Bilqis. He had been arrested and tortured by Daud following the coup in 1973. In 1975 he was acquitted of all charges and decided to join the King in Rome. There he remained until 2002. In the weeks after 9/11 he played an important role in rallying the tribal commanders against the Taliban before returning to Kabul with the King in 2002. He enjoyed reciting to me his own nostalgic poetry about the Afghanistan of his youth and the apple orchards which had once flourished at Charasiab on the outskirts of the city. He also told me that he had marched at the 1953 Coronation with the Grenadier Guards, the only case, he claimed, of a foreign officer taking part in a ceremonial occasion with the regiment.

In 2007 King Zahir Shah died in Kabul, aged 93, and was buried in the royal mausoleum. A year later General Abdul Wali died in New Delhi before being buried alongside his cousin and father-in-law. Although both men had extensive families their deaths probably signal the end of the Afghan monarchy.

Afghanistan by Louis Dupree. London: OUP, 1973.
The Barakzai dynasty. By Christopher Buyers. The Royal Ark website.
Embassy of Afghanistan in London website.
My memoirs by Sardar Shah Wali Khan. Lahore, 1970.
Author’s interview with Sir Nicholas Barrington (who served Kabul 1959-61) 17th July 2017
Author’s discussions with King Zahir Shah and General Wali between 2002 and 2005.
Found. The Lost Rolls of Kabul. Christina Lamb. Sunday Times 10th June 2007
In the court of the King of Tonga by Paul Theroux. New York Times. 7th June 1992.
The London Gazette Supplement 17th November 1953
Major Thomas William Edward Coke, 5th Earl of Leicester of Holkham. The

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