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George VI - For Valour

Updated on September 9, 2015
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Laura has had a lifetime interest in history - especially the people and the fashions! She specialises in monarchical history.

King George VI
King George VI
The Coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, with Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret Rose
The Coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, with Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret Rose

1936 - 1952

On the evening of 11th December 1936 after his speech abdicating the throne, the former King Edward, now Duke of Windsor, bid his brother King George VI good-bye, bowing to him, before leaving for exile. It was perhaps the most amicable abdication in British history; it was certainly the first willing one. The late King George V had predicted of Edward, 'After I am dead the boy will ruin himself in twelve months.' For the first time, the Duke of Windsor had lived up to his father's expectations.

When George VI took the throne, there were worries as to whether or not he was suitable for the task - he was shy and everyone knew of his stammer from the past. However, King George was well-equipped for whatever lay before him, as his father (who was so accurate in predicting what would become of his eldest) said, 'Bertie has more guts than the rest of them put together'. The King did not know it then, but in three years he would need to be tough.

Coronation Day was set for the 12th of May 1937. It seemed to be a nerve-wracking day that got off to a bad start. The King was woken at three in the morning, and couldn't eat breakfast. The King left Buckingham Palace for Westminster Abbey in the golden State Coach and arrived at the Abbey at eleven in the morning. He and his wife were crowned as King and Queen.

The Duke of Windsor married Wallis Simpson in the same year, and whilst relations between the brothers were friendly to begin with, they eventually fell apart as the Duke attempted to get Wallis recognised as a Royal Highness - the King's argument was that if Wallis had been unsuitable to be a Queen Consort, then she was unsuitable to hold any royal title.

The Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, who had been instrumental in the Abdication, retired in May 1937 and was replaced by Neville Chamberlain. He would be Prime Minister until 1940, and would form close bonds with the King and Queen.

In July 1938 the King and Queen paid a State visit to France, where they were an unqualified success. At the end of July the King went to Cowes, and from there he and his family went for a cruise in the royal yacht, stopping off in Suffolk briefly for the Duke of York's Camp, before heading to Balmoral for the shooting. The King returned to Buckingham Palace in mid-September, in the midst of a crisis.

Adolf Hitler, the dictator of Germany, had made it quite clear that he intended to invade Czechoslovakia for the Sudetenland. However, Chamberlain was told by Hitler personally that he had no plans to take Czechoslovakia. The Munich Agreement was signed. On the 1st of October Hitler marched into the Sudetenland. In March the following year, Hitler invaded the rest of Czechoslovakia. At the end of March 1939, Prime Minister Chamberlain promised the Polish government assistance if Hitler attacked Poland.

In May that year, the King and Queen visited Canada and the United States. The result of the tour was to prove to be of utmost importance after the outbreak of war, when the King felt that he could rely on President Roosevelt for assistance.

The King showed himself to be friendly during the tour of the USA when he met a news reporter from the Boston Globe. The reporter told the King that he was from Boston, and that they had 'trouble with another George there once.' The King smiled and said, "Oh yes. I think I've heard of it. Something about tea, wasn't it?"

On the 22nd of July, the King and his family went on the 'Victoria & Albert' for a family holiday. They met with Lord Louis Mountbatten, and went to the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth, meeting Lord Mountbatten's nephew, Prince Philip of Greece. It was the first meeting of Prince Philip and Princess Elizabeth.

Early in the morning of the 1st of September, German troops entered Poland. The House of Commons assembled in Parliament the next day, and talked of further negotiations with Germany. An ultimatum was put to Hitler by Britain and France. It received no response. At eleven o'clock on the morning Sunday, the 3rd of September 1939, Britain and France were at war again with Germany.

The King wrote in his diary that day that 'those of us who had been through the Great War never wanted another', and at six that evening the King made the speech of his lifetime, urging his people to stand together.

Chamberlain found himself ousted as Prime Minister in May 1940, and he died later that year. The King wrote of his death, saying that 'I have lost a trusted friend'. Chamberlain's replacement as Prime Minister was Winston Churchill.

The Blitz on London in September 1940 forged a bond between the people and the King. On the 9th of September a bomb fell onto the north side of Buckingham Palace, but it did not explode immediately; instead it exploded in the early hours of the following morning, causing windows on all the floors to shatter.

A few days later on the 13th, the King recorded in his diary that there had been a bomb attack on Buckingham Palace again, and they had discovered two large craters in the courtyard after. He wrote 'We all wondered why we weren't dead', and ended his entry with 'There is no doubt that it was a direct attack on the Palace.' It had been an attack on the King's life, and he knew it.

Life for the Royal Family during World War Two was austere - there were painted lines in bathtubs to show how much, or little, water was allowed, and they followed heating and food restrictions along with the rest of the country. The war in Europe finally ended on the 8th of May 1945 with the surrender of Germany.

The years after the war saw a decline in the King's health, and it was attributed to the strains of the war, combined with his staying up late and smoking heavily. Princess Elizabeth, his eldest daughter, married Prince Philip of Greece, who had become a naturalised British citizen and became Philip Mountbatten. She gave birth to the King's first grandchild, Prince Charles, in 1948.

On the 5th of February 1952, the King was at Sandringham for the shooting season. He went to bed at 10.30 that night, but was still awake at midnight as he was spotted fiddling with a window latch in his room. At 7.30 AM on the 6th, his valet took a cup of tea into the King's bedroom for him.

The King was dead.

His widow, now Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, survived her husband by fifty years. His eldest daughter was now Queen Elizabeth II, and as of the 9th of September 2015, has become the longest-reigning monarch in British history.

Winston Churchill said in February that year that during the previous months 'the King walked with death, as if death were a companion, an acquaintance, whom he recognised and did not fear...' He also left a wreath of flowers at the King's coffin. His handwritten inscription read simply, 'For Valour'.

The Greatest Speech of King George VI


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