The future George VI, christened Albert, was born on 14 December 1895. He was the second child of the Duke and Duchess of York (later King George V and Queen Mary). He was a shy child and at the age of eight he developed a stammer that became one of the biggest problems of his life.
He joined the Royal Naval Air Service and he qualified as a pilot. In 1919 he took a degree at Trinity College in Cambridge and he became the president of the Boys’ Welfare Association for those working in industry. He visited mines and factories. In those years Prince Albert set up the Industrial Welfare Society, under whose auspices he visited factories and workshops because he wanted to see the true employment situation for himself. In 1921 when he became Duke of York he inaugurated the Duke of York’s camps, as an attempt to break down class barriers and when the public schoolboys spent time camping with children of the same age, the Prince also took part in the camp activities. This idea received a lot of publicity and contributed to create an image of caring royalty. In 1923 he married Lady Elizabeth Bowes- Lyon, a commoner, and this gesture was considered a modenization of the monarchy although she was the daughter of fourteenth Earl of Strathmore. During the First World War they helped to nurse soldiers in Glamis. One of his brothers was killed and three were wounded during the war. In 1926 she gave birth to Elizabeth, the future Queen Elizabeth II, and in 1930 to Margaret Rose. The couple took trips to East Africa and Sudan in 1924 and New Zealand and Australia in 1927, where they opened the new Parliament in Canberra which had become the capital of the Commonwealth in Australia. In London they did not have official engagements.
He became king when his brother Edward VIII abdicated in 1936.
The coronation ceremony was scheduled to take place on the same day as it had originally been arranged for Edward VII. He chose the name as King in honour of his father and he became George VI. In 13 June 1938 the King and the Queen were sent as ambassadors to France, and in May and June 1939 to Canada and America. In France the royal couple were a great success. All the newspapers, also the communist one L’Humanité, spoke very highly of them. The Dowager Duchess said: “Now I felt proud of my nation, the French were mad about the King and Queen. Winston Churchill was like a schoolboy he was so delighted.”
In Canada after the Royal State visit the Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King he said referred to how the royal couple impressed him: “Now if war did break out with Germany there could be no risk of Canada staying neutral.” When they arrived in the USA Mrs Roosevelt wrote about the King’s memory: “ I was so impressed with the King’s knowledge that I asked him later how he knew what work every person in the U.S. Government did. He told me that before he came, he had made a study of the names and occupations of everyone in the Government, that the material had been procured for him, and was part of his preparation for this trip to Washington.” When they went to New York, The New York World Telegram wrote: “We like them- and we hope they us.”
When the King came back to London, he made a mistake by inviting the British PM Neville
Chamberlain and his wife on to the balcony of Buckingham Palace with the crowds to greet the Royal Family and it was a sign of a royal approval of the Munich Agreement that the PM had signed the week before. The Munich Agreement was the act that permitted the Germany to annex a part of Czechoslovakia. The dismemberment of Czechoslovakia six months later in March 1939 showed the King what a big mistake he made. When the Second World War broke out in September 1939 the Royal couple decided to stay in London with the people and during the war the King made a series of broadcasts to the radio with millions of listeners. His most famous broadcast was at
Christmas 1939: “ 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.” May that Almighty Hand guide and uphold us all.” This broadcast had a great effect to the British people.
When in 1940 the King was forced to send for Winston Churchill as prime minister, he was upset because he preferred Lord Halifax; and after their first meeting in Buckingham Palace Churchill wrote in his diary: “His Majesty received me most graciously and bade me sit down. He looked at me searchingly and quizzically for some moments, and then said, “I suppose you don’t know why I have sent for you?” Adopting this mood, I replied,: “Sir, I simply couldn’t imagine why.” He laughed and said: “I want to ask you to form a government.” I said I would certainly do so.” In one year the King changed his mind and he appreciated Winston Churchill’s political qualities.
On 13 September 1940 German planes did an air raid and two bombs hit Buckingham Palace and the explosion was near the room of the King. Queen Elizabeth commented that she was glad it had happened, as now she could “look the East End in the face”. The couple made regular visits to the 14 parts of England devastated by bombing and they gave comfort to people. The King instituted two awards: the George Cross and the George Medal for the civilian gallantry that he personally designed. He gave the medal also to the Isle of Malta, because of their help against Germany.
In 1943 the King visited Field Marshal Montgomery’s Eight Army in North Africa, under the name of General Lyon to support the troops and the following year he went to Italy to visit Field Marshal Alexander’s army. Then days after D-Day he went to Normandy to visit the soldiers in the hospital, to see the beach where the landing took place. In 1945 the crowds would celebrate spontaneously in front of Buckingham Palace the VE (Victory over Europe) and VJ (Victory over Japan) Days. In the same years, before the end of the war, he had a big sorrow: in 1945 his brother the Duke of Kent died in a mysterious plane crash.
When in 1945 the Labour Party won the election Attlee became PM he granted the independence of India and Burma and the King lost the title of King-Emperor and his cousin Lord Mountbatten, who was the Viceroy of British Indian Empire, was sent back to UK.
He was extremely pessimistic about the future of the Monarchy and in 1949 when he heard that the Sackville-Wests gave Knole Park, their big house, to the National Trust he said: “Everything is going nowadays, before long, I shall have to go myself.”
He had a lot of health problem and he died on 6 February 1952. He is remembered as a Monarch who had put the duty before everything, like his father.