London Letter

The King Is Still News

The tumult and the shouting dies, but memories of the Royal Visit will linger long in the hearts of all Canadians

KENNETH R. WILSON August 1 1939
London Letter

The King Is Still News

The tumult and the shouting dies, but memories of the Royal Visit will linger long in the hearts of all Canadians

KENNETH R. WILSON August 1 1939

The King Is Still News

The tumult and the shouting dies, but memories of the Royal Visit will linger long in the hearts of all Canadians


Mr. Wilson was the MacLean Publishing Company’s staff representative on the pilot train. He covered the Royal Tour from beginning to end. Giving himself time to look at the journey objectively, he records these impressions.

WHEN KING GEORGE and Queen Elizabeth entered the front door of Buckingham Palace a few weeks ago. the story of their 15,000-mile trip to Canada and the United States might have been at an end.

Newspapers wrote a reluctant “thirty” to the grand tale of the Royal visit.

Painters got to work in Montreal to cover up the gleaming blue and silver of the Royal train. Canadian officialdom breathed a long, well-earned sigh of relief.

But drop in at any town or hamlet—anywhere in fact where half a dozen habitants, farmers, shopgirls, housewives or businessmen are gathered. It won’t be long before the conversation gets around to the Royal visit, or to the King and Queen. Canadians, I find, can’t get enough of it. Far from being surfeited with the millions of words that were written and the reams of pictures which were printed, they are eager and hungry for tales and titbits that will recall to mind the deep emotion and inspiration of those halcyon days in May and June, when Canadians for the first time opened their hearts to their young and noble King and Queen.

Those of us who participated personally in this Royal Tour know full well how much the King and Queen deserve this interest and enthusiasm. It isn’t only the firmness of the King’s handshake and the charm of the Queen’s voice and smile that win our respect and admiration. It’s the scores of little things that go to make up “character.” Take for example the tribute of Rene Lachance, of the Chateau Laurier, charged with “servicing” all hotels on the company system where the King and Queen stayed. As we swayed along in the pilot train baggage car one morning, Rene told me what a fine couple he thought they were —the way they made themselves “at home—like old guests” wherever they went. It is one of Rene’s bellboys who boasts a pair of royal cuff links because he spent an hour or two helping the King splice his movie films at Jasper. At Jasper also, an evening caller at the Royal cottage was almost overcome by having the Queen answer her own doorbell.

Some of these “little” things have big immediate results, some are never heard of except to be woven into happy r.-.emory as they are passed by word of mouth from one raconteur to another. One of the “big” results was the incident at Winnipeg when the Queen asked, and the King ordered, the top of their car to be lowered despite the rain, so that those who had been waiting patiently could see their King and Queen. Those who heard the spontaneous gasps of amazement and delight when Winnipegers saw this young couple driving along in an open car in the rain, will never forget it—neither will Winnipegers.

And for all the hundreds of miles the King and Queen drove in their magnificent plum-colored motor cars, every mile of the way they were propped up on special cushions, so that the crowd would not have to crane their necks too greatly—especially those who stood five, ten or even forty deep along the way. Another revealing “motor” incident was the King’s request that the speed at which the Royal car was travelling through New York be cut in half, so that Manhattan’s millions might not be disappointed by having their visitors rushed through too hastily.

Spontaneity and Unison

OUR ENTHUSIASM for the Royal pair is not the sort that dies easily. I hope historians will find it still alive a generation from now—perhaps much longer. For most Canadians have found in this Royal visit something which they have never experienced before; something they find very good and satisfying; something they hope can be put to work for the national weal.

You may remember that when Earl Baldwin visited Canada last April, he pointed out that appreciation of the

position of the Crown was one of the most difficult features of the British Constitution. He emphasized that though the Crown had been shorn of most of its prerogatives it has never stood for more than it does today. He termed the presence of a monarch in the British scheme of things, the very “copingstone” of our constitution and in itself a guarantee of the stability of our democracy.

“The Crown.” he said, “is in a far stronger position than it was a hundred years ago, and that is mainly due to the wisdom and the character of the monarchs who have in that time occupied the throne . . . The work of the King today calls for great qualities, qualities of character, for it is by character that the present position of the Crown has been built and is sustained ... In my view there never was a time when the Crown meant so much to the people at home, or when they realized the services of the King, and recognized more fully the essential part he plays in the maintenance of our liberties.”

Earl Baldwin was speaking, of course, as an Englishman. He was trying to tell us what Englishmen felt about their King, and how vital a part he played in the life and wellbeing of his nation. To a lot of us. last April, such words carried little real conviction. True, they echoed sentiments which appealed to our Imperialism. But they were sentiments which seemed, none the less, to have little personal meaning as far as Canadians—especially young Canadians —were concerned.

Now all that has changed.

Within the short space of thirty days the role W'hich kingship, plus high character, can play in national life has been realized in full measure. Not since the Great War— perhaps since Confederation—have Canadians reacted with such spontaneity and unison as in their welcome and endorsation of the King and Queen.

I think part of the answer to the extraordinary success of the Royal Tour lies in the fact that after years of drought, discouragement and dissension, Canadians are literally hungry for a rallying point above the noise and conflict of social, political and economic strife. Yet few', if any of us, were optimistic enough to hope that the King and Queen would meet that need so completely.

A week after they were in Canada, the King was eagerly anxious to know what an old friend, now living here, thought of the whole thing. “Tell me,” he said to this friend, “how do you think the trip is going?”

The Canadian replied: “I have never known two persons who measured up so wonderfully to so difficult an assignment.” To which the King—who modestly gives more than half the share of credit to his lovely Queen—replied, “You mean one person.”

Reservations, which were privately or

openly expressed, concerning the King were, as a matter of fact, quite natural ones. Little more than two years have elapsed since the abdication crisis which catapulted George VI, at a few hours notice, onto the throne. Not even the British people themselves were quite sure in their minds concerning the contribution and worth of this younger son with his inferiority complex and his youthful impediment of speech. Most Canadians had never seen a king or queen in their lives: none of us dreamed that our King had as his consort one of the most genuinely attractive women in the world.

French Appreciation

GCARCELY had they landed when ^ things began to happen.

French-Canadian reserve was swept away when they found that their sovereign could (and did) speak French as fluently as English. Letters I have received from friends in recent weeks confirm beyond question that any lack of enthusiasm in Quebec City on that historic May 17 has been more than compensated by the deep and lasting impression which the King and Queen have created. Let me quote from one such letter which tells its own story:

“The impression made upon our people by the visit of Their Majesties is beyond words. I do not know of any event that has made such a re 1, lasting impression. I think our people, not close to an understanding of the history of England, and perhaps being under a misconception, have not possessed a true respect and love for the King and Queen in the same way in which these traits are inbred in the English-speaking people. To us, our King and Queen are the symbol of a great deal of our happiness, leadership and government. This has followed from the fact that for several generations we have had a splendid type of such characters. They have all won the re il love of our people through their high ideals in their home circle and in their official lives. The French Canadians of the Province of Quebec, far away from their mother country, France, and not living under a king and queen, have not been brought up to look upon our sovereigns with the same respect and esteem that the English-speaking people feel. Instead, they revere and look with veneration upon their Pope, their cardinals, their priests and their Church.

“A great part of their lack of feeling was due, in my mind, to their not ever having seen a living king and queen; they were merely legendary in their minds. Today this is all changed. Many hundreds of thousands of our people have not only seen Their Majesties at a distance, but they have heard their voices and been close enough to see them smile and salute them with magnetic and alluring expressions of pleasure at being among them. Both these young people immediately captured our population, and nothing else than their presence could have performed such a miracle. Our people are not accustomed to wild outbursts of enthusiasm as one sees and hears in London when Royalty passes. They are educated to stand quietly and even lower to their knees when a religious procession passes. If it was noticed that our people were not as loud in their acclaim, nor as visibly demonstrative as in other places, this was the reason. But if one lcx)ked into their faces on our crowded streets or parks, one would see everywhere animated, smiling countenances which reflected the real admiration—even reverence — which our people felt at seeing their King and Queen, human beings like themselves and keenly interested in their problems and conditions.

“Today these two charming, gracious people are idolized by all our people who saw or heard them. We know it because we have seen a remarkable interest in Their Majesties among our FrenchCanadian middle and lower classes, who now realize how honored they have been by this visit of Their Majesties, and this is why I say that no event for many years has produced such a wonderful change in our people, and this visit will not soon be forgotten.”

Comparisons are often dangerous, sometimes unfair, but no record of this visit would be complete without generous refer-

ence to that memorable night in front of the hotel at Montreal’s Dominion Square. The thunderous acclaim which greeted the King and Queen when they appeared on the balcony, followed by the singing of “God Save the King” by 50,000 or more French and English citizens who jampacked the floodlit Dominion Square, did many things.

It struck a keynote of high enthusiasm which was maintained throughout the entire tour.

It spiked once and for all the canard that French Canadians, in comparison with their English-speaking cousins, were lacking either in loyalty or affection for their King and Queen.

It gave to the King himself new feeling of self-confidence, which, in itself, was one of the most significant results of the whole trip. The King told a friend of mine that the demonstration that night exceeded anything that had happened during the Coronation.

At Ottawa, the program afforded the nearest approach to the pomp and pageantry which traditionally surrounds a British monarch. No single picture has been more widely publicized than the one taken on the steps of the Parliament Buildings after the King had given Royal assent to certain acts of Parliament. I am glad that picture has been so widely used. It is a happy reminder of the dignity and majesty which surrounds the high office of kingship. It presents a striking and thought-provoking contrast to the informality which was so delightfully abundant throughout most of the tour.

For though our King shaves himself every morning, wears well-worn, heelless red bedroom slippers and lights his own cigarettes. the genuineness of his character is equally reflected in the care and excellence with which he performs his formal and official duties. (It has been amusing at times to see more than one of Canada’s high officials of state wait to have his cigarette lighted by a footman, while the King flicked out his own lighter.)

Perhaps some of us who watched mile after mile of procession wished fervently at times for a little more pageantry. Many times during the tour, I slipped away from an “official” position along the route of march, to peek and peer along the road with men and women, boys and girls, who had stood for hours waiting for a fleeting glimpse of their King and Queen. The happiest memories were undoubtedly those when the Royal car was preceded and followed by scarlet-coated cavalry. An enclosed motor car, no matter how beautifully streamlined, is a funereal sort of thing to accompany a royal equipage. You may think me old-fashioned to suggest perpetuation of customs and costumes that belong to another age, but my convic-

tion is that we will all be the losers if we mechanize and modernize our monarchy too stringently. For most of us life is all too drab. We should save plenty of pomp and pageantry for use whenever a royal occasion such as this comes along.

Western Canada's Welcome

ANOTHER unquestioned high spot in

the Canadian trip was the unpredicted size and enthusiasm of Western Canada’s welcome. I hope that by the time this appears in print, the town of Melville, Saskatchewan, will have set to work to memorialize for all time the fact that on a summer’s evening in June, 1939, some forty or fifty thousand people assembled around the station platform to meet their King and Queen.

Melville is a hard-hit, governmentadministered town of between 3,000 and 4,000 people, thirty miles south of Y’orkton. It is the centre of one of the most cosmopolitan districts in Canada, a focal point for New Canadians—Ukrainians, Germans, Scandinavians, Polish, and

many other nationalities who in three generations have done a magnificent job in fusing their racial and national identity into a strong and virile Canadianism.

Because the Royal train was to stop there that night, these New Canadians, from an area as large ?s the whole province of New Brunswick, swelled the population of the town to that of a substantial city, to pay tribute to the King and Queen of Canada. With a mere handful of mounted police to hold them in check, they gave the Royal visitors a demonstration, not only of the complete and utter loyalty of New Canadians to the Crown, but also of the extraordinary self-discipline and selfcontrol of Canadians.

Time and again, members of the British party have told me that the amazing selfcontrol which Canadians exercised, no matter how large the crowd or how meagre the police force, was to them one of the most arresting features of the trip.

The King and Queen, by the way, found our prairie air stimulating and enjoyable. They liked the freedom of the great open spaces, even though the Queen instinctively realized how lonely life must be on those great, sparsely populated plains. Many a time they asked that the Royal train be stopped so they could get out for a brisk walk along the track. On one occasion the Queen showed her high spirits by taking a short sprint, to the amazement of some of her official party.

And if New Canadians came out in their thousands, then Young Canadians came out in their tens and hundreds of thousands, to cheer Their Majesties. All through the magnificent and carefully laid plans which preceded the Royal visit, emphasis was laid on permitting the maximum number of school children to see the King and Queen. Actually the King and Queen spent more time with the veterans than they did with Young Canada; but if the youngsters noticed this they certainly didn’t show it by any lack of enthusiasm or cheering.

If space permitted, you should be told about the 100.000 French children who trilled their “Vive le Roi” at Montreal and at Quebec’s Plains of Abraham; about the Riverdale Park demonstration, which was quite the high light of the Toronto show despite the reams of publicity given to the Quints; about the four miles of youngsters who packed the grandstands engineered so successfully by the Edmonton committee, to thrill the King and Queen along unbuilt Portage Avenue; about the living Union Jacks at Saskatoon and at Montreal’s Baseball Park; about the kaleidoscopic thousands of boys and girls who massed across Halifax’s Citadel Hill on June 15 to bid our King and Queen good-by in the colorful pageant of the Baronets of Nova Scotia. All these events, and many more, stand out in the memory as high lights of the contribution made to the Royal visit by Young Canada.

But to me the sight of thousands of youngsters from the drought-stricken prairies, making their way into Regina, hours and hours before the King and Queen arrived, is something never to be forgotten. Most of these kiddies had never been to a big city before—had never seen a street car, let alone a king and queen. They came in their sandals and overalls, scores of them clad in the only sort of clothes they had ever known—clothes contributed largely by well-wishing Easterners. To supplement special excursion trains, over 2,000 trucks were commandeered. Many of these trucks were without license plates until special permission to operate them was granted. To raise money for gasoline for the trip, local groups held bazaars and organized concerts. No wonder the soft, life-giving rains which fell so plentifully before and after the Royal visit, and which give promise of the first bumper crop in a decade, are named for all time as Royal Rains.

U. S. Visit

NO STORY of this tour is complete without reference to the United States


Except for the informal gatherings on the western prairies and the idyllic day in their Jasper cottage, I believe the King enjoyed himself as thoroughly in the genial company of his host, President Roosevelt, as anywhere else cn the trip. I saw these two together a score of times during the four-day American visit, and invariably the King was in rare good spirits.

Not only did Mr. Roosevelt prove an admirable host, but the informality of the American program did much to brighten and lighten the heavy round of official dinners, presentations and receptions which would have caused anyone less conscientious than our King to have kicked over the traces long before June 15.

After all, why shouldn’t Kate Smith, who is “tops” in her particular line, be

asked to add her own particular brand of sparkle to an evening dinner at the White House? I wish more opportunity had been made in Canada for the King and Queen to have heard some of our own talented musicians and artists; that a little more dash and “fun” might have been introduced into the Canadian routine. It is certain that the King and Queen—who did everything possible to keep the trip as informal as possible—would have relished it.

And. by the way, the U. S. Congressmen taught us a lesson when they clapped with friendliness and enthusiasm at the reception in the Rotunda of the Capitol. Our own legislative receptions were made unnecessarily awkward and tense by the officially imposed injunction to silence, which most people (unfortunately) observed all too literally.

It was amusing to see the King and Queen occasionally step off their special “island” of Royal carpet, in order to reach for timid hands whose owners were too overcome by the tense atmosphere to give a warm and friendly handshake.

It has been sdd time and again that the Queen “stole the show;” that people, as one U. S. commentator put it, felt like giving “Three cheers for the King and four for the Queen.” My own conviction, which deepened as the days sped by, was admiration at the extraordinary teamwork of this Royal couple. Between them, I really don’t believe they missed a single trick that was within their power to capture.

Despite his natural quietness, the manner in which the King carefully and conscientiously did his part deserves the very highest praise. His eager interest in an unusually wide range of subjects is typified by the remark made to me by the director of the C.C.C. camp at Fort Hunt, Virginia. After the King had been through the camp, I asked this officer what he thought of our King. He blurted out without the slightest hesitation: “Gee,

that guy’s well informed.”

Certainly the King did a grand thing for himself, for the Empire, and for Democracy, when he married our Queen. I noticed in his sitting room on the Royal train that he keeps a beautiful miniature of Elizabeth over the centre of his desk. It was painted in 1923, the year in which they were married. A man of less character might soon be fretful or jealous of the attention which the Queen receives whenever the two appear together. The King seems eagerly anxious for her support and greatly pleased when her charm and radiance are recognized. The Queen has extraordinary intuition, and the priceless attribute (inherited from her mother) of forgetting her own personality in eager enthusiasm and interest for people and things. She seems to know instinctively what to do, when to do it, and how to do it with the utmost charm. Through both these people, the word “character,” which Earl Baldwin so stressed, seems to shine out with rare clarity and strength.

What of the future?

As I watched the lovely Empress of Britain sail majestically out from Halifax, I felt a deep sense of personal responsibility —as a Canadian—that in some way the inspiration and contribution of these two magnificent people be not lost, but be applied as quickly as possible in solution of our own national, social and economic problems.

Just how this is to be done remains a burning and very vital problem, not only for political leadership in Canada, but also for each and every Canadian who has felt in his or her heart the leadership and inspiration given us during those weeks by our King and Queen.

Editor’s note: Many readers have asked for information concerning the broadcasting of the Royal Tour, how it was done and who did it. The whole story will be presented in the next issue of Maclean’s.