16 December 2009

King George VI’s Christmas speech, 1939

When war had been declared on Germany and hence the British Empire faced another world war, King George VI made a Christmas broadcast which became famous. I have always suspected that it was his wife, later the Queen Mother, who put him up to this, and this is confirmed by something found via Google, which claims that his wife drew his attention to this poem*, which he quoted. It places the whole thing in an open-ended context which is clearly very un-modern.

I said to the man who stood at the Gate of the Year,

'Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.'

And he replied,

'Go out into the darkness, and put your hand into the Hand of God.

That shall be better than light, and safer than a known way.'

According to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation,

The tradition of a royal Christmas Day broadcast began in 1932 with King George V, who spoke from a studio at the royal residence Sandringham. The message reached about 20 million people by radio.

The message began: 'I speak now from my home and from my heart to you all; to men and women so cut off by the snows, the desert, or the sea, that only voices out of the air can reach them.'

The war was certainly the Queen Mother's great project in life, although she was very angry with the Duke of Windsor for abdicating and causing her husband's early death by forcing him to become king. The war over, her husband dead and her daughter safely installed as Queen, she found herself with no purpose in life and it is scarcely surprising that she took to gin and horse-racing.

* by Minnie Louise Haskins; the complete poem can be read here

’We appeal for £1m as initial funding for a social science department in our unrecognised and unsupported independent university. This would enable it to publish analyses of the unexamined assumptions underlying current discussion of cultural and psychological issues. Such analyses could include an examination of what leads to the anachronistic tone of the quotation discussed above.’ Charles McCreery, DPhil