VE Day 1945 King George VI Speech
On VE Day 8th May 1945, the King , Queen Elizabeth II’s father, George VI, made a memorable speech against the odds given his well documented difficulties about making public speeches. His words were quoted and read today in commemoration of VE Day in 2015 in Westminster Abbey.
In the King’s original reading there is a measured and slow deliberation that is detectable but makes his words even more poignant. George had not been born to be King and had risen against the odds to the heavy burden and demand of taking up the mantle, discarded by his brother. He ascended to the throne following the Abdication of King Edward VIII in 1936.
We have experienced a tense General Election 2015 this week as well, there has been a lot of national division during the proceedings but on Friday 8th May, the UK rose to the occasion. The UK turned its best side to the world as it commemorated the Veteran’s and as the speeches at the Abbey said perhaps the ending of the most terrible world war and evil that Hitler and the rise of the Nazi’s in Germany could have inflicted upon the world. On reflection proportionally or otherwise, perhaps our parliamentary democracy is not quite as bad as we its greatest critics, ourselves, might have otherwise believed.
Acts of selfless sacrifice, loyalty and ‘pulling together’ showed us that perhaps despite the fractionalism of politics and recent days, as decent human beings we at least all share the prize of our freedom so hard-won by the few left to tell us about these times and the many that paid such an ultimate price. The Hashtag of #VEDay70 on Twitter alone shows that we can rise to noble aspirations still again, when the need calls.
This important event, perhaps the last where so many Veteran’s will gather, as many are now approaching often 90+ brought us all back to our senses. The studied look of the Queen and Prince Phillip as they listened to the reading of the Queen’s father’s speech was notable and filled with all the recollections some of us may have of the words, events, deeds, sounds and songs of a period remembered by at least 3 generations of our own families.
The King’s Speech made famous by the film of the same name, seemed to echo back through time as the actor and past director of the National Theatre, Simon Russell Beale read the words of the Queen’s late father.
For me the King’s Speech, seemed to encapsulate what so many families will have been feeling and remembering over these few days, not the bitter division of the election but the coming together to honour the very best in each of us, part of our genetic inheritance passed down from a generation that had it tougher than most of us could ever imagine. This was a time to reflect and put our differences aside.
Fortunately most of us were able to do so and honour the memory of what so many great and ordinary souls gave so that we might be here to vote so freely as we have. The mindless defacing of the new WW2 memorial to the Women who gave their all, had fortunately been erased before the veteran’s parade. The mindless scrawl diffused and eradicated so that by the time of the Veteran’s march and salute it was long gone.
The King’s Speech, a reluctant King who stepped into the Breach will be my memory of this weekend.
The King’s speech read this weekend by Simon Russell Beale seemed to encapsulate a lot about what it cost every family somewhere along he long timeline of 6 years of war. The King’s speech was about a life spent doing something you might have preferred not to do, that was not your natural area of talent or expertise but doing it as damned well as you can because it is important to others, if not to yourself. A great lesson for me certainly in the memories of yet another important event in our history of rememberance.
The Last Post rang out across the Abbey, a sombre prelude to clanging bells of jubilation remembering peace and victory of that wonderful day, 70 years ago this week. Alongside the partying, there were many that were mindful of the importance and significance of this monumental event in British history, perhaps the history of humanity itself.
On the actual day of 8th May some 25,000 members of the public attended short Thanksgiving services in the Abbey, so they may have partied as well but many took the time to reflect and thank their maker. It wasn’t all hedonism.
My own mother and her cousin were in the Mall that day, they stayed all night joining in with the crowd, now I know that crowd included Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret, what a moment that must have been for them all.
My Mum was just 14, she was with her cousin Peggie who was in the Army and who’s own Canadian fiance had been killed during he war. Their Uncle was still a Japanese POW the war was not over for them either, even those that came back felt guilty because they had survived whilst others would not. But if you think we are suffering from austerity now consider just how long it would take for rationing to end and recovery to take grip. This war was far from over in terms of impact, some of the horrors and suffering were only just beginning to emerge in Europe from the camps as Germany surrendered. But this one day and night must have been a euphoric sigh of mental relief, a temporary lid taken-off all that pent-up national anxiety. How lucky we are if we just take time to realise it.
Listen to the King’s and Winston’s Speeches, not just on the wireless, but listen to the crowd outside the Ministry of Health as well. It is worth taking the time listening to the original speeches and announcements. When you have a quiet moment, maybe on your own just play them, if you can, close your eyes and listen. These are moments I had heard about, passed on all my life but this year, was the first time that I have really started to listen and I wish I had done it before and when I could have shared that understanding, briefly glimpsed with my parents and my family some more.
Too late for regrets, not too late for the Union and to see Europe as much more important than petty boundaries or budgets
But its too late for those regrets, its all about what we do now that counts, that we don’t moan on the sidelines, only do things for ourselves and don’t let the light go out on a Union so hard fought for and kept together and a peace across Europe that cost us two world wars, not one.
For many years I failed to even realise why my parent’s generation were so fiercely patriotic but since D-Day70, throughout the WW1 Commemorations, the Poppies at the Tower of London and now with VEDay70 and Magna Carta to follow in the summer I am beginning to get a sense of why it mattered then and still matters now.
The speech was made by Radio on 8th May 1945.
The transcript of the speech is set out below:
Broadcast, VE (Victory in Europe) Day, 8 May 1945
Today we give thanks to Almighty God for a great deliverance. Speaking from
our Empire’s oldest capital city, war-battered but never for one moment
daunted or dismayed – speaking from London, I ask you to join with me in that
act of thanksgiving.
Germany, the enemy who drove all Europe into war, has been finally
overcome. In the Far East we have yet to deal with the Japanese, a
determined and cruel foe. To this we shall turn with the utmost resolve and
with all our resources. But at this hour, when the dreadful shadow of war has
passed from our hearths and homes in these islands, we may at last make
one pause for thanksgiving and then turn our thoughts to the tasks all over the
world which peace in Europe brings with it.
Let us remember those who will not come back, their constancy and courage
in battle, their sacrifice and endurance in the face of a merciless enemy: let us
remember the men in all the Services and the women in all the Services who
have laid down their lives. We have come to the end of our tribulation, and
they are not with us at the moment of our rejoicing.
Then let us salute in proud gratitude the great host of the living who have
brought us to victory. I cannot praise them to the measure of each one’s
service, for in a total war the efforts of all rise to the same noble height and all
are devoted to the common purpose. Armed or unarmed, men and women,
you have fought, striven, and endured to your utmost. No one knows that
better than I do; and as your King I thank with a full heart those who bore
arms so valiantly on land and sea, or in the air; and all civilians who,
shouldering their many burdens, have carried them unflinchingly without
With those memories in our minds, let us think what it was that has upheld us
through nearly six years of suffering and peril. The knowledge that everything
was at stake: our freedom, our independence, our very existence as a people;
but the knowledge also that in defending ourselves we were defending the
liberties of the whole world; that our cause was the cause not of this nation
only, not of this Empire and Commonwealth only, but of every land where
freedom is cherished and law and liberty go hand in hand. In the darkest
hours we knew that the enslaved and isolated peoples of Europe looked to us;
their hopes were our hopes; their confidence confirmed our faith. We knew
that, if we failed, the last remaining barrier against a world-wide tyranny would
have fallen in ruins. But we did not fail. We kept our faith with ourselves and
with one another; we kept faith and unity with our great allies. That faith and
unity have carried us to victory through dangers which at times seemed
So let us resolve to bring to the tasks which lie ahead the same high
confidence in our mission. Much hard work awaits us, both in the restoration
of our own country after the ravages of war and in helping to restore peace
and sanity to a shattered world.
This comes upon us at a time when we have all given of our best. For five
long years and more, heart and brain, nerve and muscle have been directed
upon the overthrow of Nazi tyranny. Now we turn, fortified by success, to deal
with our last remaining foe. The Queen and I know the ordeals which you
have endured throughout the Commonwealth and Empire. We are proud to
have shared some of these ordeals with you, and we know also that together
we shall all face the future with stern resolve and prove that our reserves of
will-power and vitality are inexhaustible.
There is great comfort in the thought that the years of darkness and danger in
which the children of our country have grown up are over and, please God, for
ever. We shall have failed, and the blood of our dearest will have flowed in
vain, if the victory which they died to win does not lead to a lasting peace,
founded on justice and established in good will. To that, then, let us turn our
thoughts on this day of just triumph and proud sorrow; and then take up our
work again, resolved as a people to do nothing unworthy of those who died for
us and to make the world such a world as they would have desired, for their
children and for ours.
This is the task to which now honour binds us. In the hour of danger we
humbly committed our cause into the Hand of God, and He has been our
Strength and Shield. Let us thank him for His mercies, and in this hour of
Victory commit ourselves and our new task to the guidance of that same
More to Explore
There is much we should further study and ponder before we retreat again behind petty borders and quarrels over parochial concerns between Scotland, England, Wales Ireland and Europe. I personally hope it is not too late for us to do so. We all know that it was selfless sacrifice, noble acts and selfless actions that helped us win our freedom. I hope its not too late still for us to remember this, as we move forward, post the general election of 2015. Let’s be optimistic, it is never too late to learn and we can always improve on what has gone before, can’t we?
Ultimately we get the society and politician’s we deserve, if we don’t exercise our freedom, get involved and have a say then of course we have to live with the consequences. This last General Election has been perhaps the most galvanising of a generation but it will only be as good as the way we the ordinary members of society bother to get involved, have our say and hold one another to account, not just the political class.
At this moment of profound National reflection, it seems appropriate that we learn from our history. It seems that at a time when we have honoured and recognised acts of ultimate selfless sacrifice, its time we all took a lead from that potential and gave something back to our national life, not acting as if we are passive bystanders, it just all happens to.
The highlight of this election was when the audience took all sides to task, late in proceedings on a televised debate with some of the leaders on BBC Questiontime, at that point it felt to me that people were finally not going to just sit back but challenge and participate.
But back to the King’s Speech, whether you are a monarchist or a republican, surely we can all learn a little from the sacrifice his speech reflects and the price our families paid across the nation and the world in WW2. Personally I hope we do.
More to explore about VE Day 2015 70th Commemoration anniversary;
- Original 8th May 1945 Short Thanksgiving for Victory Order of Service from Westminster Abbey. some 25,000 people attended short thanksgiving services at the Abbey on 8th May 1945.
- Cenotaph Ceremony VE Day 2015 8th May Order of Service
- Winston Churchill Timeline with Winston’s speeches.
- Major events WW2 more to explore