The Intimate Life Story of King George V
The closing chapters of an exclusively presented biography that is now “The Book of the Month"
HIS Majesty never forgot the Navy, and again in June, 1917, he visited the Grand Fleet, bestowing decorations at sea to all those who had distinguished themselves in the Battle of Jutland. In July, the King made his fourth visit to the front, and this time Queen Mary went with him. They stayed in France a fortnight, and the enthusiasm of the troops was unbounded. As usual, the time was taken up with visits to hospitals, inspecting troops, and conferring decorations.
The King’s sympathy with his troops, I think, cannot be better illustrated than by the following incident. The remnant of an Army Corps, on the verge of utter collapse after terrible slaughter, was resting in a large courtyard when the King entered. He said nothing, but looked swiftly round, and then clasped each man by the hand, and went out again, too much moved to speak a word.
In August, the King was busy inspecting troops, and receiving General Pershing and his officers who had arrived from America.
In September, the King and Queen went up to Scotland to make a round of munition factories, and also paid a visit to the shipyards at Sunderland. Here the King’s almost uncanny memory for faces showed itself. He saw a one-armed man during the inspection, and immediately went over to him. “Hallo, Sharp,” he exclaimed, “where did you lose your arm?” Sharp was a
former shipmate of the King in H.M.S. Formidable and H.M.S. Inflexible, whom he had not seen for twenty years; he had lost his arm through a gun back-firing.
The King, as always, got on famously with the men and women in the workshops. The young women in khaki overalls interested him greatly, and he afterward remarked to one of his staff: “I never thought I should be so proud of the women of Britain as I am today.”
The King put such new heart into the workers up North that some of the heads of the factories could scarcely believe that they were the same people, who a few days before had been so disheartened. “He was like one of ourselves,” was the remark that could be heard on all sides. “He hasn’t an easy time, but he sticks it, God bless him,” was another saying; and the
Scotch girls were never tired of repeating: “He’s so natural with one.”
The Silver Wedding of the King and Queen was celebrated in July, but their Majesties would not allow any fuss to be made. It was a very quiet occasion, although the King and Queen of the Belgians flew over to England for it and thus achieved the record of being the first monarch to fly to England. There was a Thanksgiving Service at St. Paul’s Cathedral in the morning, and a procession of three thousand women war-workers marched to the Palace and presented an address, to which the King replied: “As the struggle in which we are engaged becoxhes more intense, the need of the assistance of all the women of the country grows greater. I am confident that women and men alike are prepared to make every sacrifice to that end. In the sure hope that your labors may soon have their reward, I wish you God speed.”
It seemed, indeed, as if in the darkest hour of England’s misery the King wanted to show himself even more to his people. There was not a single day in that
black July that some public visit was not undertaken by their Majesties.
On July 24, the King again visited his Grand Fleet, including the United States Battleship division. Admiral Hugh Rodman, the United States admiral, received a good many semi-private visits from King George, whom he greatly admired. Admiral Rodman is himself a great humorist and often diverted the King by his jokes. On one occasion they went down to inspect the engine rooms and fire rooms together. As they came to the latter, the King said: “Admiral, your fire room is as clean as a dining room.” To which the Admiral replied: “Thank you very much, sir; your opinion is very much appreciated.” During one visit the Admiral asked His Majesty if he would consent to*throw a few shovelfuls of coal into the furnaces, as he had done in a British battle cruiser. A new shovel was handed to the King who wielded it with vigor amid the cheers of the stokers.
In July, His Majesty announced to the overseas delegates, who were in England for the Imperial War conference, that he hoped the Prince of Wales would visit the Dominions after the war. It had always been a dream of His Majesty that his son should follow in his footsteps, and work for the Empire by going to see all parts of it. He felt that it was only right that he should let the Dominions know that their magnificent services were not being passed without recognition, and that in the future a fitting ambassador would be sent out to tell them just what their loyalty meant to the Old Country.
The King, in his speech, showed how deeply touched he had been by the splendid response of the Empire to Britain’s call for help. “The magnificent contributions of men, money, and munitions made by all the Overseas Dominions and India, the efforts you have put forth, ever-increasing as the danger grows greater, are a source of pride and comfort to me as they are of wonder to the whole world,” he said. “The Empire is founded on a rock of unity which no storms can shake or overthrow.”
Many investitures were held in the open air at Buckingham Palace during the early autumn in the presence of proud relatives. Usually the men in the queue began by being shy and nervous, but the King always put them at their ease.
yYT LAST the tide began ■**to turn. The great German offensive had failed, and the Allies could push forward. Lille and Ostend were r.eoccupied, and the British Armies stood again before Mons. The Germans asked for an Armistice, and Marshal Foch agreed to this on severe conditions. On November 11, the actual fighting ceased along every front. The war was at last at an end.
It was a moment full of overflowing emotion when the King drove through the City of London, and spoke afterward to his people from the balcony of Buckingham Palace. Everyone was keyed up to the highest pitch, and for a few moments the King stood on the balcony silent, feeling the great sigh of thanksgiving that came from the hearts of his suffering people. When at last he spoke, it was very simply. His heart was too full for words. “With you I rejoice
and thank God for the vic-
tories which the allied arms have won, and brought hostilities to an end, and peace within sight.” Thereafter
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the whole population went almost crazy with delight. Work ceased in offices: crowds perambulated the streets, singing and dancing with joy.
The King’s belief in the fellowship of man was strengthened by the allied victory. In his famous victory speech he said: “Cannot a spirit of reciprocal trust and co-ordination of effort be diffused among all classes?” In this alone His Majesty saw any hope for the future of the world, and although his belief has been shaken, he believes that surely, though slowly, this ideal will materialize. The whole of the Armistice afternoon was spent by His Majesty in dictating messages to all his forces, and it was not until the late evening that he had a moment to realize that, for the first time in four years, his subjects were not being killed somewhere.
The war was over, but for the King there was very little rest. He had now to begin to pull his weight in the mighty process of reconstruction that the end of a great war would entail, for a nation does not recover in a week, a month, or even a year.
Life was never more arduous for King George than during those first post-war years.
'THE day after the Armistice, Buckingham Palace was snowed under with letters. Now that the war was at an end, it seemed as though the whole Empire wished to congratulate the King, and telegrams and cablegrams followed each other in rapid succession.
A very eminent man went to see the King early on November 12, and I had the honor of speaking to him afterward. He is not at all the type of man who ever overpraises anyone, but that morning he said to me quietly: “The King is wonderful: anyone but he would relax a little today. I only went prepared to congratulate him, but what do you think we talked about? Why, the best way to accomplish the immediate release of all our prisoners.”
There was a great Thanksgiving Service at St. Paul’s Cathedral, and I have never seen such reverent crowds as lined the route from Palace to Cathedral. The King and Queen drove to St. Pau2s for the service, and as they came out afterward, Queen Mary did a spontaneous little thing—she put her hand suddenly through her husband’s arm, and they walked to the waiting car like that. The crowd noticed the act of affection, and I think I shall never hear such cheers as followed. Even more than before, London seemed to realize all that their King and Queen had meant to them through the long, dark years which, thank God, were ended at last.
On November 18, their Majesties went to the Alhambra. It was a gracious act intended to show how deeply the King and Queen appreciated the tremendous work which had been done by artists in raising vast sums of money for war funds and charities.
Scotland was not forgotten, and on November 19 His Majesty went up to Edinburgh. As the train sped northward, he recalled his last visit and remarked that he had found it well-nigh impossible to ask continually the people to make greater efforts, when they were already making superhuman efforts. During his few days in Scotland, the King watched the bulk of the German High Seas Fleet steam into the Forth after its surrender. As a naval man none knew better than he how those German seamen must be feeling. As the great ships steamed slowly in, he lowered his eyes for a minute. It was a triumphant moment, but I believe that at that moment the King was not thinking so much of the triumph, but of the sacrifice which brought it about.
The scenes that occurred day after day in this remarkable month seem to be printed on one’s mind as if written with an indelible pencil. For instance, will any of us who were present ever forget the scenes of enthusiasm in Hyde Park, when on the 23rd His Majesty reviewed 15,000 silver badge men? It was a scene of its kind which was unparalleled. The men broke ranks in their endeavor to shake the King’s hand. His Majesty was equal to the occasion, shaking hands with as many as possible, and taking everything in excellent part. The men were at last persuaded to return to their ranks, and were reviewed by His Majesty as arranged. The King, in his message to them, said, “I am glad to have met you today, and to have looked into the faces of those who, for the defense of home and Empire, were ready to give up their all .As your King, I thank you. We all honor and admire you for the ungrudging way in which you have done your duty.”
Christmas in 1918 was anticipated with delight by the Royal Family, as it was looked forward to eagerly by the nation. For the first time, their Majesties were spending it at Buckingham Palace, and President Wilson, who had come to England, was their guest at the Palace. His tumultuous welcome in London was amazing. The Royal Family missed going down to Sandringham, but duties kept the King in London. Ten years were to pass before he was again to spend a Christmas at Buckingham Palace, and then the Christmas was a sad one.
Death of Prince John
'“PHERE was a shadow over Bucking4 ham Palace during the Christmas season of 1918, for little Prince John, the baby of the family, was ill all through December. Prince John was not generally known to the public, for he had always been delicate, and was subject to epileptic fits which grew more frequent as the years went by. He lived most of his short life at Wood Farm, Sandringham, with Mrs. Bell, his nurse from infancy.
Nobody knew how the King and Queen suffered over their little boy. During these war years the child was often very ill, and their Majesties, during many of their smiling, cheery visits to hospitals and camps, sometimes did not know what news they would receive when they returned home. Their own parental anxieties were never allowed to interfere with public duties. How the King and Queen sometimes longed to go down to Wood Farm to see their little boy, instead of remaining in London, can only be imagined.
Prince John died on January 18, 1919, and his funeral at their Majesties’ request was very simple. The coffin was made from oak at Sandringham, and the grave was lined with ivy, studded with poinsettias and shields of Christmas roses. Canon Dalton conducted the service, and the King and Queen cast little bunches of spring flowers into the grave of their “darling little Johnnie.”
In March, the victory procession of the Guards again roused public enthusiasm to fever pitch, especially as the Prince of Wales marched past with the soldiers. His Majesty took the salute, and referred to them afterward as “a Division which knew no defeat.”
The balcony at Buckingham Palace has been on many occasions a scene on which the eyes of multitudes have turned. Many times the King and Queen have stood there, in sad times and in gay, after the weddings of their children, or at reunions with their family. But the most memorable occasion when their Majesties appeared on that balcony was on June 28, 1919, the day on which peace was signed. A vast mass of people extended
from the gates down the Mall as far as the eye could see. Directly their Majesties appeared, there rose a great cry of “Speech!” from thousands of voices. The King spoke clearly, and was heard by a considerable number of people.
It did not matter much what the King said that day, for he and his subjects were one in heart and feeling, and no man thanked God more humbly or more sincerely for the peace which had at last come to the world, than the King. His words were great in their simplicity: “Peace has been signed—so ends the greatest war in history. I join you all in thanking God.”
After saying this in his clear resonant voice, he re-entered the Palace, but the people were not satisfied, and the great crowd waited all day, shouting in imitation of the Westminster Chimes, “We want King George!” In the late afternoon the King again appeared, and leaned over the balcony. “The Queen and I thank you most sincerely,” he said, “for this demonstration of loyalty to us. We are deeply touched by it, and we thank you for your kindness from our hearts.” Still the crowd remained, and at about 11 p.m. His Majesty appeared again, and after saluting repeatedly, waved his hand informally and shouted “Good night!” Then, and then only, the loyal crowd dispersed.
The Two Minutes Silence
Y\ THAT form the first anniversary of V * the Armistice should take was a question very seriously discussed by the King and his Ministers of State. It was His Majesty himself, who thought of the two minutes’ silence, for he understood so well that only in quietness could an act of remembrance be sealed solemnly. Accordingly he sent the following message to his people “ . . . The thoughts of everyone being concentrated on reverent remembrance of the glorious dead I
believe that we shall all interrupt our business and pleasure, whatever it may be, and unite in this simple service of silence and remembrance.” Even greater than expectations was the people’s response to the King’s appeal. The two minutes silence has now become a permanent national act of homage, which very few would like to see abandoned. Each year the King has been present at this impressive service at the Cenotaph in Whitehall.
December saw the home-coming from Canada of the “Ambassador of the Empire,” the name by which the Prince of Wales was beginning to be known. Their Majesties had specially asked that if possible he should return in time for Christmas, for family ties were still very strong, and at this time of the year the Royal Family loved to be together.
A dinner party was given by their Majesties at the Palace in honor of their son’s return. The Prince made an excellent speech, and the King was both pleased and proud. “I think he has broadened out tremendously,” he was heard to say afterward. “I still maintain there is nothing like travelling to broaden one’s mind, and the more David travels, the better I shall be pleased.” Certainly the Prince of Wales has travelled enough even to please his father, and it is most interesting and amusing to hear father and son yarning about their worldwide travels. The King is extremely interested in all modern improvements and ideas that are creeping into the new and old countries. Once His Majesty said to his son, “Your work must be about twice as difficult as mine ever was. You have to know so much more.”
Their Majesties were not to see much of their eldest son, however, for in March, 1920, the Prince of Wales left London on a
promised visit to Australia and New Zealand, not returning until October.
On the second Armistice Day the Cenotaph was unveiled in the presence of His Majesty and large crowds. The King was also the chief mourner at the interment of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey. That impressive incident has been commemorated in a picture which is now placed in the Houses of Parliament.
The First Wedding
TN 1921 the King went to Ireland, and
the Prince to India. It was unfortunate that the latter had to go to India just at that time, for he missed the first wedding of the family, that of Princess Mary to Viscount Lascelles, which took place on February 28, 1922. It was a sad, yet joyous time for the King, for he and his daughter had been friends and companions ever since she was a tiny child. He was sad at the thought that to a great extent the companionship must end, that their rides together in the Row every morning would cease But he was glad because he was entrusting her to a man of upright and sterling character who loved her dearly, and whom she loved with that unswerving, unfaltering love that a woman gives to the man of her choice.
The first wedding! It was a happy, solemn occasion. The tenants of the Royal estates had seats in the Abbey to see “their Princess” married. His Majesty was not the Sovereign but the Father on that day. His pride and joy in his only daughter could be seen when, on the return to Buckingham Palace, he led her and her husband on to the balcony, and then withdrew into the background to let the young couple take the volume of cheers, which were repeated again and again by the crowds massed below. It was as a father, too, that the King dispelled any sadness, when the bridal pair left on their honeymoon, by pelting them vigorously with paper rose leaves made at his special request by wounded soldiers. It was only after they had gone that the King turned with a sigh and said, “How we shall miss her!”
Visit to War Graves
pOR some time he had been wanting to
visit the war graves in France, and in May, 1922, the opportune moment seemed to have arrived. After a State visit to the King of the Belgians, His Majesty started on his pilgrimage—for pilgrimage it was. He asked to be allowed to go simply as a pilgrim, without ceremony and with a small suite. In the khaki uniform of active service he went from one cemetery to another—this quiet, grave, intent man who was the King of Great Britain and the Emperor of India. He was acclaimed warmly by the people of the countryside, and would often stop and speak to men in their own language, admiring their babies, and hearing about their misfortunes in the war.
During the whole tour, His Majesty lived on the train, and was accompanied throughout by the late Field Marshal Lord Haig. I have always thought that these two men had much in common— both had that simple directness of character, both disliked fuss and flattery, and both knew the value of silence. Their journeys between the various cemeteries were often very silent, but they were never uncomfortable, for each man was engrossed with his own thoughts. No better man in the world could have guided His Majesty through the battlefields of France than Earl Haig. Zeebrugge cemetery received the first visit, and His Majesty stood for some time on
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the Mole, near the place where the splendid old Vindictive had been pushed alongside. At Menin Gate the King left a chaplet of palms and bay leaves in memory of the Belgian dead, and was shown the plans for the proposed memorial. The King approved these, but emphasized the need that the names inscribed should be clear for all to read. Even Earl Haig was surprised at the King’s intimate knowledge of the battles which had taken place in France. At Yimy His Majesty spoke of the battle in which the Canadian troops had won the key position, and telegraphed to Lord Byng, the Governor-General of Canada, the following message: “I have just spent the night at Yimy; my thoughts are with you.”
At Notre Dame de Lorette, His Majesty was met by the late Marshal Foch. There was a warm handshake, and the French Marshal’s face was lit up by a smile which was reserved for men he liked, be they kings or beggars. “I have come,” said His Majesty, “to lay a wreath in homage on the tombs of French heroes who have fallen for their country.” At Picquigny Station, the Royal party was met by the Bishop of Amiens. There were no set speeches, but the Bishop reminded King George that the last visit of an English King to Amiens was in 1475, when Edward IV had agreed to a treaty of peace with the French King. His Majesty walked among the graves at Etaples Cemetery with bowed head, occasionally stooping down and reading the name and other details on one of the crosses.
Before he had left England, a West of England woman had sent a bunch of forget-me-nots to the Queen, begging her to lay them on the grave of her dead son at Etaples. The Queen gave the flowers and the message to the King, and he took carefully the little bunch across to France with him, and himself laid them on the grave. At the Cross of Sacrifice, Terlinchun Cemetery, on May 14, the King sent a message to his people all over the world, and these words of his—I cannot call them a speech, they are too real and too sacred—are the greatest he has ever spoken, in the opinion of many people. They show that he is a master of prose, and also as a man with an inspired vision.
Standing with the rows of crosses stretching before him into the distance, he spoke to that mighty concourse of people who are his subjects. It is impossible to quote more than extracts: “Here,” he said, “in their last quarters lie sons of every portion of the Empire I have many times asked myself whether there can be more potent advocates of peace upon earth, through the years to come, than this massed multitude of silent witnesses to the desolation of war I rejoice I was fortunate to
see them in the spring, when the returning pulse of the year tells of unbroken life that goes forward in the face of apparent loss and wreckage; and I fervently pray that both as nations and individuals, we may so order our lives that we may be able to meet their gallant souls, once more, humbly and unashamed. Standing beneath this Cross of Sacrifice, facing the great Stone of Remembrance, and compassed by these sternly simple headstones, we remember and must charge our children to remember that, as our dead were equal in sacrifice, so are they equal in honor, for the greatest and the least of them has proved that sacrifice and honor are no vain things, but truths by which the world lives.”
These magnificent words, sent throughout"* the British Empire, thrilled and heartened countless thousands of people, and gave to a disillusioned and post-war
world a finer courage and a truer grasp of the essentials of living.
In the churchyard at Dersingham, which forms part of the Sandringham estate, is an ancient tombstone on which is inscribed, “Live as you hope to die.” The Vicar of Dersingham, in the course of a harvest festival sermon, in the presence of the Sandringham company of Territorials, said that the King had noticed the inscription. His Majesty paused, and then remarked to one who was with him, “That is a very good motto to have.” In his noble speech after the pilgrimage to the war graves, he sounded far and wide the same great message as the old tombstone bore: “Live as you hope to die.”
Another Love Match
THE opening of the year 1923 will be remembered by the general public chiefly because of the engagement of the Duke of York to Lady Elizabeth BowesLyon, daughter of the Earl and Countess of Strathmore. It was entirely a love match, and the King gave his consent with the utmost willingness.
The Royal assent, which is a formal necessity, was given to the young couple early in February, and on February 12 the King’s formal declaration of the betrothal was made public. It was over 250 years ago since a Prince in direct succession to the British throne had received the King’s consent to marriage with a subject. When King George during the War changed the family name to “Windsor,” he also abolished the rule that members of the Royal House must only marry members of Royal families. Henceforth, they would be allowed to choose their wives and husbands from the families of dukes, marquises, and earls.
The year was full of those domestic happenings that the King loved so well, for, on February 7, a son was born to Princess Mary (Viscountess Lascelles) at Goldsborough Hall. The birth of the first grandchild is always a great event in any family, and the King and Queen did not conceal their delight at the happiness of their beloved daughter. Their Majesties went to Goldsborough for the christening, which was performed by the Archbishop of York on March 28. King George was amused at the baby’s constant and loud crying during the ceremony. It drowned his godparents’ responses; and I believe the King was recalling the christening of his first son, and the loud and naughty cry which the Prince of Wales uttered when Queen Victoria had taken him into her arms to give him to the Archbishop.
The approaching Royal Wedding was engrossing the attention of their Majesties. It took place on April 26, 1923. The Abbey service was attended by their Majesties, who kissed their son and daughter-in-law directly they entered the vestry to sign the register. The family party came out on to the balcony at Buckingham Palace on the return of the bridal pair. The young Duchess was very shy and the Queen put her arm round her and almost drew her out of the French windows. The Duke of York, smiling and handsome, seemed much more concerned about his wife’s cloak than he was of the cheering crowds below. It was an ermine cloak, and the Duke did not think she was wrapped up enough in it. They made the most delightful couple. In the background stood the King, smiling that happy smile of his and thoroughly enjoying the occasion. His ever watchful eye never missed anything, and he went suddenly to the Queen and said, “Betty looks a little tired. Don’t you think they had better come in now?” Again, as with his own daughter, His Majesty pelted the pair with rose leaves on their departure,
and helped to tie the traditional old shoe to the back of the car.
A Visit to Mussolini
ONE of the most interesting visits abroad which, I think, the King and Queen ever paid was their visit to Italy in May, 1923. The meeting was very simple. A strong handshake, a few words, and then a decoration was pinned on Signor Mussolini’s breast by His Majesty. But it was nevertheless a dramatic rencontre— two modern leaders of nations sizing up each other. They were both rather grave, and then His Majesty smiled, and his smile is quite irresistible. Signor Mussolini was reported to have said afterward, “The King of England is two men— one with, and one without, his smile.” .
There was a visit to the Pope, and after the audience His Majesty stopped on the staircase of the Vatican, and with his usual thoughtfulness expressed a wish to speak to Brother Thynne, a member of the congregation of Christian Brothers, who was an Irishman and had charge of the journalists visiting the Vatican. “You have done splendidly,” said the King, shaking the surprised and delighted man by the hand. His Majesty realizes how far a little praise goes, and he is never stinting in that praise when it is deserved.
The King visited the graves of Italian and British soldiers at Montecchio Precalcino, and after his speech laid a chaplet of palms and roses at the foot of the Stone of Remembrance. I had noticed for some time a little group of boys and girls dressed in white, waiting in a corner of the cemetery with bunches of flowers. As the King raised his head from laying the wreath, he saw them, too, and invited them gently to come and lay their flowers at the foot of the Stone of Remembrance. The little bunches soon surrounded the King’s wreath, and many of the children reverently kissed the Stone as they went by. It was a moving scene, and the King was very touched. One little girl, too young to be shy of His Majesty, said confidingly to him in Italian, “My daddy’s name is on this Stone.” The King, putting his hand under her chin, lifted up her little face, and kissed her on the cheek.
When the King and Queen opened Wembley Exhibition in April, 1924, they motored from Windsor to within a short distance of the Exhibition, and then changed into a State carriage. It was an occasion which will go down to history, for the King’s speech was broadcast for the first time. An incident, which I was privileged to witness, occurred while His Majesty was.shaking hands with the four foremen who represented the 5,500 workmen employed in building the Exhibition. It brings vividly before us how close the Empire and the world have been brought to us by modern science. A telegraph boy approached His Majesty with a large envelope containing the message:
“I have this moment opened the British Exhibition. G. R. I.”
The King had dispatch id it one minute twenty seconds previously, and it had passed completely round the world in that time !
In writing of the King as a father and as a statesman, I may have neglected his merits as a sportsman. Everyone knows the excellence of his shooting, for he is the best “shot” the Royal Family has had for a long time.
Duck shooting is a favorite occupation of His Majesty at Sandringham, and he will bring the birds down one after another with never a miss. For some time before his illness, however, he had not been quite so energetic, and when in London restricted his exercise to a morning ride in the Row and an occa-
sional game of lawn tennis. Horses he understands and appreciates, although he has never won the Derby. On the eve of the Derby in 1924, his horse, “Knight of Garter,” was entered by the King, but could not run.
His Majesty and his trainer, Mr. Marsh, completely understand each other, and the King is content to leave Mr. Marsh in control of his horses. He was very disappointed that “Knight of Garter” could not run that year, but it was of his trainer that he thought when he sent the following message to him: “I sincerely thank you, Mr. Marsh, and all Egerton House, for your good wishes on my birthday, which I most appreciate. I am sorry for your sake that ‘Knight of Garter’ cannot run on Wednesday.” The King’s pleasure in racing consists chiefly of racing horses of his own breeding at Sandringham, and Mr. Marsh considers him a better judge of them than King Edward VII.
His Majesty’s interest in, and liking for farming is not very well known generally, but at Sandringham it is no secret that his farms are very closely watched by him. He cultivates three farms there, totalling about 1,000 acres, and he also owns outlying farms which are in the hands of tenant farmers. He breeds Berkshire pigs and Southdown sheep, and keeps good kennels there, often showing dogs at the best shows. Sandringham produce is marketed in the ordinary way, and every farmhand receives a pension at seventy years of age. His Majesty is improving continually the cottages on the estate, and they are the envy of all rural workers.
I am afraid I have drifted from my narrative in giving this glimpse of the King as a sportsman and a farmer, but there are many people, I believe, who when they think of the King, think of a man who always lives in Buckingham Palace and attends to duties of State. The King as a sportsman shows us another side of His Majesty, for sport has always played an important part in his life.
His Majesty’s 1925 Illness
ON FEBRUARY 17, 1925, a bulletin was issued, signed by Sir Stanley Hewitt, Sir M. Wilson Rees, and Lord Dawson of Penn, which said: “His
Majesty is suffering from bronchitis due to influenza.” There was public consternation, for the King was never ill; but, as the Prince of Wales once sagely remarked to me, “Father hardly ever has a cold, but, when he has, it’s a dashed bad one.”
His Majesty insisted that the Queen should attend the concert at the Albert Hall in aid of the Fund for the British Legion, and this public appearance of her Majesty (as usual, calm and smiling), did much to allay public anxiety. Progress continued to be fairly satisfactory, but the bronchitis extended to the basis of both lungs, and a spring cruise in the Mediterranean was advised by his doctors. His Majesty quite frankly did not want to go, but his friends begged him so hard that at last he consented. He and the Queen set off in the Britannia, visiting Naples, Messina, Taormina, Syracuse and Palermo. It was lovely weather, but the King was pining for home. Cowes Bay had more appeal for him than the blue Mediterranean.
He returned to England at the end of April, very fit and brown and, as usual, when he had been away, his first visit in London was to Queen Alexandra. The Queen had held the deep affection of her son, and he and Queen Mary were often to be found at Marlborough HouseQueen Mary and Queen Alexandra sitting together on the sofa, and King George Continued on page 57
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leaning over the back as was his wont, bringing a sparkle of delight into the old lady’s eyes by his jokes. In that drawingroom of Queen Alexandra, the collection of photographs was, I should think, unique. Photographs of King George
could be seen from the day of his christening right up to the latest portrait that had been taken. Queen Alexandra, however, was getting very frail, and in November her strength began to fail slowly. The King and Queen were
staying at York Cottage when they received an urgent message to come to Sandringham without delay. There was a hurried drive and their Majesties and Queen Alexandra’s three daughters, who arrived at Sandringham about the same time, stayed until the end.
As she was dying she murmured the word “George,” and the King, kneelingby her bedside, kissed her tenderly on the forehead. Then she asked for each of her three daughters and kissed them, and then called finally for “May.” Thus, with her son and daughters and her beloved daughter-in-law around her, she passed away on November 20. Her death was a sorrow to everyone, for her kindness and her charm had made her beloved by all.
The funeral service in Westminster Abbey was attended by mourners representing countries all over the world. The coffin was borne to the Abbey on the same gun-carriage as was used at the funerals of Queen Victoria and King Edward VII, and the King and members of the Royal Family followed on foot with bowed heads. At the last rites at Windsor, the King made a special request that his mother’s favorite hymn “Abide with me” should be sung. His Majesty, who knew the words by heart, sang every word clearly; indeed he almost seemed to lead the singing in this hymn, which more than anything else seemed to remind him of his mother. After the ceremony, he thanked all the men of his own company of Grenadiers who had acted as bearers, shaking each man’s hand, and giving them the silver medal of the Royal Victorian Order. On that day the great bell of St. Paul’s Cathedral tolled for the first time since King Edward’s death.
The Coming of “Betty”
1IFE is, fortunately, a mingled web of 4 laughter and tears. On April 21, 1926, a great joy came into the Royal Family with the birth of a daughter to the Duke and Duchess of York. She was named Elizabeth Alexandra Mary, but His Majesty really decided her name, for, when he heard what she was to be called, he said laughingly, “She will soon be Betty; no little girl can keep up the dignity of Elizabeth,” and “Betty” she became. The little granddaughter was a great delight to their Majesties. Princess Mary’s children lived so far away that it was impossible for their grandparents to see them often; but the Duke of York’s little daughter was “on the spot,” as it were, living in Piccadilly, facing the Green Park.
Soon after the birth of Princess Elizabeth, the whole of England was plunged into the anxiety of the General Strike. Everyone knows how brilliantly the nation carried on, and none was prouder of the efforts that were made than His Majesty. “The most difficult thing in the world is to be patient,” he said to a friend during the deadlock, “and patience is the only thing that will help now.” They were days of acute anxiety for His Majesty, for, of course, he could do nothing, and to a man of his character “doing nothing” is the most difficult thing in the world.
Immediately the strike collapsed, His Majesty sent out a message to his people: “The nation has just passed through a period of extreme anxiety . . At such a
moment it is extremely important to bring together all my people to confront the difficult situation which still remains . . . Let us forget whatever elements of bitterness the events of the past few days may have created, only remembering how steady and orderly the country has remained, though severely tested, and forthwith address ourselves to the task of bringing into being a peace which will be lasting, because, forgetting the past, it looks only to the future of the hopefulness of a united people.”
In 1927 their Majesties celebrated the thirty-fourth anniversary of their wedding by motoring to the People’s Palace, Mile End. Here there was an informal guard of honor of men of the British Legion, and the King shook hands with every man. In the middle he stopped for a moment, and stretched his hand, apologizing for the delay, and remarking that his fingers sometimes got a little stiff. “A little stiff!” I wonder if many of us can realize what an agony of stiffness a hand can get, when it has been shaken firmly, and been shaken, hundreds of times. I have seen His Majesty’s hand hanging practically useless by his ide during the war, but he would never make any remark and would go on until the other hand was in the same state.
It was in 1927 that their Majesties inaugurated the charming little custom of sending a telegraphic message of congratulation to every subject attaining his or her 100th birthday. The Royal telegram took early precedence, so that it might be among the first greetings received. The pleasure which this Royal message gave to the centenarian was often touching to witness.
His Majesty can be very outspoken at times, and I shall never forget him at the British Industries Fair in February, 1928. He was looking at a staged battle-scene, formed by British-made toy soldiers—a trade wrested from abroad, by the way. Suddenly he remarked, “That won’t do. Good gracious! Look at those marines leaving the transport in full dress! And fancy the Life Guards going into battle in that get-up !”
The year passed quietly. There were well-deserved holidays at Cowes, Balmoral, and Sandringham. Windsor is not used very much by their Majesties as a residence owing to its enormous cost of running. It requires a staff of 300, at least. Sandringham, with its greater sense of home, has always meant more to the King. On October 30, their Majesties returned to Buckingham Palace, and in great state the King opened the last session of the sixth parliament of his reign on November 6.
November 11 was, as usual, kept by the King and Queen as a day of sacred remembrance. In the morning, the King laid a wreath of Flanders Poppies on the Cenotaph, and in the evening attended with the Queen the great British Legion Service at the Royal Albert Hall. On the next day their Majesties went back to Sandringham, and here it is believed that His Majesty caught the chill which resulted in his serious illness. His Majesty decided to “carry on,” although he was seen to be shivering when he returned home. His Majesty’s homes are delightful, but Windsor has a damp climate; and Sandringham a bleak one; and the cold can be very acute at the latter. The King needs a climate that is both warm and dry, but this seems to be an impossibility in England. Their Majesties returned to London on November 19th, and on the 21st a bulletin was issued, stating that “His Majesty is suffering from a cold with some fever, and is remaining in bed.” (Signed)
Dawson of Penn.
That was the beginning of long weeks of anxiety, which concerned not only our country, but was shared by the whole world. On December 3, the doctors diagnosed congestion of one lung, and the bulletins became more frequent and more alarming. Not many people will forget those anxious days of December when the King lay in his bedroom fighting the hardest fight he has ever fought. Outside Buckingham Palace, crowds of silent men and women waited for the latest news.
I had never realized how greatly the King was loved until his serious illness. When, in the first midnight bulletin issued on December 2, the heart strength of His Majesty was first mentioned, and disquieting rumors were spreading over London, I looked at that vast whitefaced crowd, and wondered whether in the whole world a man had ever been beloved like the King was.
On December 4 a Council of State was set up to act for the King, the appointment being authorized at a Privy Council meeting held at the door of the sick-room. By this time, the Prince of Wales was on his way home from Africa. His rush back to England, expedited by the considerate action of other countries and by splendid work on sea and land, needs a story to itself, for it is an epic of speed and cooperation. He arrived home on December 11 at 10 o’clock in the evening. Victoria Station was bleak and almost deserted. There were crowds behind the barriers, but they were silent and were mostly men. There was no red carpet. A breathless feeling of tension seemed to pervade the whole atmosphere. The Duke of York arrived to meet his brother, passing through the crowds with set face. I saw the Prince as he alighted. He looked tired out, and without saying a word clasped his brother’s hand and walked quickly with him across the platform. The King recognized his son when he went to the bedroom, and the very sight of him seemed to do him a little good for the moment. He even tried to smile, as he murmured that the Prince would have “to take over.”
On December 12, an operation was performed for drainage of the right side of the chest, and then began the weary days of ebb and flow when none of us knew what we might hear next. For the King’s friends it was an almost unendurable time, but it was alleviated by the sympathy of the whole Empire at home and beyond the seas.
In the United States of America the daily newspapers which used to write on “King George,” now wrote of “The King,” as if there were no other King of any interest to their readers. Every bulletin was recorded daily, and read by millions. The total number of words cabled to the United States eclipsed all records. Italians, in their expressive way, showed their sympathy by a “Te Deum” in the church of St. Paul in Rome, and prayers for the King’s health were offered up by thousands of people. The Pope said, “I am praying for King George’s recovery.”
It is almost impossible to write adequately of the Queen during those days. She was everywhere, and ready to do everything. Princess Mary and the Duchess of York were constantly with her; when the Prince of Wales arrived home, he occupied Prince George’s suite in Buckingham Palace, and was thus able to be with the Queen at any time during the day or night.
When the King was very ill, he could not bear Queen Mary to be out of his sight. She was often in his room for hours together, and was the only one who could persuade him to take any food at all during the critical stage of his illness.
Her Majesty’s bedroom was very close to that which the King occupied, and she made it a rule to visit his room once or twice each night to see that he was resting. Often he could obtain no sleep at that time. If he was not restful, she would ask the nurse if she might sit by him, and would often hold his hand until the early hours of the morning.
Her Majesty did not wish to leave her husband’s bedside even to go for a drive, but the Home Secretary said that if she did not make a daily appearance in public, the people would think that the King was worse than was really the case. It was an argument that appealed to her Majesty, although I know she was sometimes so tired and sad that she had not the least idea where she was being driven, only telling the chauffeur the length of time she wished to be absent from the Palace. Letters of sympathy to her Majesty ran into thousands, and she spent much of her leisure time answering these.
Once she said quietly, “I don’t think any of these kind people realize how much they are doing for me by writing like this. I wonder why people are so good to me?”
A little time after the King’s operation, ultra-violet rays were used by Dr. Hewitt and Dr. Woods. His Majesty seemed to be making slow progress when, on December 17, there was another setback. The King, although very weak and suffering great pain, did not forget his people, and remembered to instruct his secretary to send five pounds to the Borough of Poplar children’s Carnival Fund, with a message hoping that the treat on New’ Year’s day for 30,000 children living in the borough would be a success.
His Majesty had every bulletin that was issued read to him, so that he could see that his subjects were being told the truth. “I would not deceive them in any way,” said the King, “for they have never deceived me.” It was only when His Majesty lost consciousness during the time that he was so dangerously ill, that the bulletins were not seen by him. A sad Christmas was spent at Buckingham Palace, but the Queen had the consolation of having all her children round her, for Prince Henry and Prince George managed to arrive home in time from abroad. Princess Elizabeth spent Christmas at Buckingham Palace, and often the King would ask how she was enjoying herself. The little girl was very sad about the King’s illness, and, whenever she was taken to the Palace, the first words were always whether she might see “Grandpa.” His Majesty had always encouraged little visits to his study when Betty had been a guest, and tears were very near at Christmas when her request “to see Grandpa today” had to be refused. The little Princess stands in no awe of her grandfather, and she became very important during his illness, explaining to her mother’s callers that “Grandpa has a bad cold.”
Slowly His Majesty began to get better, and eventually went down to recuperate at Craigwell House, near Bognor. The doctors are delighted with His Majesty’s wonderful recovery, which, they say, is due to a great extent to his own willpower. They have every hope that his Majesty will enjoy years of healthy activity although several months’ rest is still absolutely necessary.
So we raise our glasses thankfully, perhaps a little tremulously, as the voice of the Nation, yea the voice of the Empire, echoes the words that come from our very hearts—“The King, God bless him !”