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Commons Chamber

Volume 495: debated on Monday 11 February 1952

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House Of Commons

Monday, 11th February, 1952

The House met at Two o'Clock


[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Death Of King George Vi

Messages Of Condolence

In addition to the messages of condolence which I read to the House on Friday, I have received the following telegrams from other countries expressing sympathy in the loss we have sustained in the death of His late Majesty:

Mr. Speaker, House of Commons, London

I have to inform you that the Grand National Assembly, echoing the sentiments of the Turkish people, profoundly afflicted by the passing away of His Majesty King George VI, has during its sitting of 8th February, 1952, unanimously decided to convey to the British Parliament the sincere part she is taking in the sorrow of our friend and ally the British people. I should be greatly obliged if you would kindly transmit this message to the British Parliament, and accept my profound sympathies.


President of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey.

To the Speaker, House of Commons, London

Deeply moved by the news of the death of His Majesty King George VI, I beg you to accept, and extend to the Members of the House of Commons, the sincere condolences of the National Council of Switzerland.


President of the National Council.

Speaker of the House of Commons, London

Having heard of the grief occasioned by the death of His Majesty King George VI, I express to you and through you to the honourable Members of the House of Commons the sorrow of the assembly over which I have the honour to preside.


President of the Chamber of Deputies of Argentina.





To the Speaker of the House of Commons, London

The German Federal Diet sincerely shares in the grief of the British people at the passing away of His Majesty King George VI, and expresses to the House of Commons its heartfelt sympathy.


President of the German Federal Diet, Bonn.

To the Speaker of the House of Commons, London, S.W.

The House of Representatives of Berlin opened today's session, in the presence of the Commandant of the British Sector, with a ceremony in memoriam of His Majesty King George VI. I was instructed by the House to express to you, Mr. Speaker, and the Parliament, our deep and sincere sympathy in the great loss the British people have sustained by the death of His Majesty.


President of the House of Representatives of Berlin.

To the House of Commons, London

The news of the decease of His Majesty King George VI has been a cause of deep grief to the National Assembly of Austria. I ask you to accept the heartfelt sympathy of the Austrian National Diet.


President of the National Diet, Austria.


May I now outline to the House the arrangements for this afternoon? At 20 minutes to four, we shall move in procession from this House to Westminster Hall. On arrival there, I would ask Privy Councillors to take up a position on my right, with the rest of the House on either side of me, to await the arrival of the coffin.

After the service and the departure of the Royal Family, I will turn to the right and proceed towards the North Door, followed by Privy Councillors and other Members. I will then turn and lead the House, walking two abreast, past the coffin. I will return through St. Stephen's Hall to the House of Commons, where the Adjournment will be moved.

Westminster Hall will then be closed and the catafalque prepared for the Lying-in-State, after which, at approximately seven o'clock, it will be possible for Members and their wives to view the Lying-in-State, approaching by way of St. Stephen's Hall.

Message From Queen Elizabeth Ii

at the Bar, acquainted the House that he had a Message from Her Majesty the Queen to this House, signed by Her Majesty's own hand. And he presented the same to the House, and it was read out by Mr. SPEAKER as follows, all the Members of the House being uncovered:

"I know that the House of Commons mourns with me the untimely death of my dear Father. In spite of failing health he upheld to the end the ideal to which he pledged himself, of service to his Peoples and the preservation of Constitutional Government. He has set before me an example of selfless dedication which I am resolved, with God's help, faithfully to follow.


Motions For Address And Messages Of Sympathy

I have read with attention the speeches made on the demise of the Crown during the present century, beginning with the end of an epoch on the death of Queen Victoria. Mr. Balfour, Mr. Asquith, and Mr. Baldwin, as Prime Ministers or Leaders of the House, discharged the duty which falls on me today. I was a Member of the House on all those occasions and I shall follow, in what I say, the example of those eminent men.

I have three Motions to propose which, though they will be put separately from the Chair, should be read all at once, and I shall confine what I have to say in support of them, in accordance with precedent, within the compass of a single speech.

First, there is the Address to the Queen. I beg to move:
"That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty to convey to Her Majesty the deep sympathy felt by this House in the great sorrow which she has sustained by the death of the late King, Her Majesty's Father, of Blessed and Glorious Memory;
To assure Her Majesty that His late Majesty's unsparing devotion to the Service of His Peoples and His inspiring example in the time of their greatest peril will always be held in affectionate and grateful remembrance by them;
To express to Her Majesty our loyal devotion to Her Royal Person and our complete conviction that She will, with the Blessing of God, throughout Her Reign work to uphold the liberties and promote the happiness of all Her Peoples."
We shall also resolve as follows:
"That a Message of condolence be sent to the Queen Mother tendering to Her the deep sympathy of this House in Her grief, which is shared by all its Members, and assuring Her of the sincere feelings of affection and respect towards Her Majesty which they will ever hold in their hearts."
Then there is the Motion for a message to Queen Mary:
"That a Message of condolence be sent to Her Majesty Queen Mary tendering to Her the deep sympathy of this House in Her further affliction and assuring Her of the unalterable affection and regard in which Her Majesty is held by all its Members."
All the three Prime Ministers or Leaders of the House whom I have cited reviewed the history of the reign that had ended and paid their tribute to the former occupant of the Throne. The reign of Queen Victoria had lasted over 63 years. It is now nearly 115 years since she assumed the Crown. King Edward VII did not complete the tenth year of his reign; King George V reigned for 25 years. and our late lamented Sovereign for 15.

With the end of the Victorian era we passed into what I feel we must call "the terrible 20th century." Half of it is over and we have survived its fearful convulsions. We stand erect both as an island people and as the centre of a worldwide Commonwealth and Empire, after so much else in other lands has been shattered or fallen to the ground and been replaced by other forces and systems.

When King Edward VII, so long familiar to his generation as Prince of Wales, passed away, both Mr. Asquith and Mr. Balfour dwelt upon his labours for the cause of peace in Europe, and many called him "Edward the Peacemaker." But only four years after his death we were plunged in war by forces utterly beyond our control.

King George V succeeded to a grim inheritance; first, to the fiercest party troubles I have ever seen and taken part in at home, and then to the First World War with its prodigious slaughter. Victory was gained, but the attempt to erect, in the League of Nations, a world instrument which would prevent another hideous conflict, failed. The people of the United States realise today how grievous was the cost to them, in life and treasure, of the isolationism which led them to withdraw from the League of Nations which President Wilson had conceived and which British minds had so largely helped to shape.

The death of King George V, in January, 1936, was followed in less than a year by the abdication, on personal grounds, of King Edward VIII, and the Sovereign whose death we lament today then succeeded his brother. No British monarch in living memory had a harder time. It is true that the party and constitutional quarrels about the House of Lords and Ireland seemed more violent under King George V than those which we have had among ourselves since, but the greatest shocks fell upon our island in the reign of King George VI.

His first three years were clouded by the fears of another world war, and the differences of opinion, and indeed bewilderment, which prevailed about how to avert it. But the war came and never in our long history were we exposed to greater perils of invasion and destruction than in that year when we stood all alone and kept the flag of freedom flying against what seemed, and might easily have proved to be, overwhelming power.

The late King lived through every minute of this struggle with a heart that never quavered and a spirit undaunted; but I, who saw him so often, knew how keenly, with all his full knowledge and understanding of what was happening, he felt personally the ups and downs of this terrific struggle and how he longed to fight in it, arms in hand, himself.

Thus passed six more years of his reign. Victory again crowned our martial struggles, but our island, more than any other country in the world, and for a longer period, had given all that was in it. We had victory with honour and with the respect of the world, victor and vanquished, friend and foe alike.

Alas, we found ourselves in great straits from the exertions which we had made, and then there came, in the midst of the ordeals of the aftermath and of the problems which lay about us, a new menace. The surmounting of one form of mortal peril seemed soon only to be succeeded by the shadow of another. The King felt—as the Leader of the Opposition, who was his first Minister for so long, knows well—the fresh anxieties which thronged up against us and the disappointment that followed absolute triumph without lasting security or peace.

Though deeply smitten by physical afflictions, he never lost his courage or faith that Great Britain, her Commonwealth and Empire, would in the end come through. Nor did he lose hope that another hateful war will be warded off, perhaps to no small extent by the wisdom and experience of the many realms over which he ruled. As I have said, his was the hardest reign of modern times. He felt and shared the sufferings of his peoples as if they were his own. To the end he was sure we should not fail; to the end he hoped and prayed we might reach a period of calm and repose. We salute his memory because we all walked the stony, uphill road with him and he with us.

Let me now speak of his Consort, the Queen Mother, to whom our second Motion is dedicated. The thoughts of all of us go forth to her. It was with her aid that King George was able to surmount his trials. Let no one underrate what they were. To be lifted far above class and party strife or the daily excitements of internal politics, to be restrained within the strict limits of a constitutional Sovereign—in his case most faithfully upheld—and yet to feel that the fate and fortunes of the whole nation and of his realms were centred not only in his office but in his soul, that was the ordeal which he could not have endured without the strong, loving support of his devoted and untiring wife and Consort. To her we accord, on behalf of those we represent, all that human sympathy can bestow.

The third Motion is addressed to Queen Mary, who has now lost another of her sons, one killed on active service, the other worn down in public duty. May she find comfort in the regard and affection which flow to her from all who have watched and admired her through these long years when her example has inspired not only her family, but all the British people.

The House will observe in the Royal Proclamation the importance and significance assigned to the word "Realm." There was a time—and not so long ago—when the word "Dominion" was greatly esteemed. But now, almost instinctively and certainly spontaneously, the many States, nations and races included in the British Commonwealth and Empire have found in the word "Realm" the expression of their sense of unity, combined in most cases with a positive allegiance to the Crown or a proud and respectful association with it. Thus we go forward on our long and anxious journey, moving together in freedom and hope, spread across the oceans and under every sky and climate though we be.

So far I have spoken of the past, but with the new reign we must all feel our contact with the future. A fair and youthful figure, Princess, wife and mother, is the heir to all our traditions and glories, never greater than in her father's days, and to all our perplexities and dangers, never greater in peace-time than now. She is also heir to all our united strength and loyalty. She comes to the Throne at a time when a tormented mankind stands uncertainly poised between world catastrophe and a golden age. That it should be a golden age of art and letters, we can only hope—science and machinery have their other tales to tell—but it is certain that if a true and lasting peace can be achieved, and if the nations will only let each other alone, an immense and undreamed of prosperity with culture and leisure ever more widely spread can come, perhaps even easily and swiftly, to the masses of the people in every land.

Let us hope and pray that the accession to our ancient Throne of Queen Elizabeth II may be the signal for such a brightening salvation of the human scene.

I rise to support, on behalf of all my Friends on this side of the House, the Motions which have been moved in such fitting and eloquent terms by the Prime Minister. I cannot but recall today that it is scarcely more than 16 years since I spoke in support of similar Motions moved by Mr. Baldwin on the occasion of the death of King George V. It is with deep sorrow that we mourn today the death at so early an age of his son.

Father and son alike served Great Britain and the Commonwealth and Empire with unselfish devotion. Both of them had to face the ordeal of war and earned the gratitude of the nation for the steadfast courage with which in times of great peril they led their people to victory. Both of them in their public and private lives set a noble example to the world and showed what true kingship meant in a democracy.

I admired and respected the great qualities of King George V, but I did not know him intimately. I was privileged to serve His Majesty King George VI as a minister for more than 11 years, and for more than six of those years I was his Prime Minister, and hardly a week passed in which I did not spend an hour in his company. I feel, therefore, besides the deep regret which all his subjects have at the passing of a great and good King, a keen sense of personal loss in the death of one to whom I was bound not only by loyalty and respect, but by affection. I received from him at all times the greatest kindness and consideration. The longer I served him, the greater was my respect and admiration.

We offer to Queen Elizabeth, to the Queen Mother, to Queen Mary, and to all the Royal Family our deepest sympathy in their great sorrow. We know that Parliament today is truly representative of the feelings of the nation. If any comfort can come to the bereaved in the knowledge that millions in Britain, in the Commonwealth and Empire and in other lands share their grief, they have it in full measure.

King George VI was not brought up with the prospect of succeeding to the Throne always before him. He had, therefore, the opportunity of leading a freer life than that which is imposed on an Heir Apparent. He was able to mix more widely with the people. He served in the Navy in peace and war, and lived the life of his fellow officers, sharing the same risks and enjoying the same comradeship. He made a happy marriage and, while doing the duties which his birth imposed, took his full part in the games and social activities which this country affords.

He took great interest in social questions, especially in the welfare of industrial workers. He grew to have a wide knowledge of social and industrial problems. He was never happier than when in the camps for boys of all classes which he organised, and when he joined in their games.

Happy in marriage and in his family life, it might well have seemed that his lot was cast in easy and pleasant places. But in circumstances of great difficulty he was called upon to take up the burden of kingship. He responded to that call with that high sense of duty which was, I think, his outstanding characteristic.

It was his fate to reign in times of great tension. He could never look round and see a clear sky. There were always dark clouds of anxiety. The early years of his reign were overshadowed by the increasing danger of war. Then came the years of war during which he shared to the full in the perils and anxieties of his people. When peace came, it did not bring tranquillity. Through it all his courage never failed. He never doubted that we should win through. He was exposed in London to the same dangers as his subjects. His devotion to duty and his ready sympathy with his people were an inspiration to all.

I know how much he desired peace and how great was his solicitude for his people. He felt, I think, at all times a burden of responsibility for their welfare, yet he was always cheerful. He had the happy faculty of setting people at their ease. Without loss of dignity he could converse with all sorts and conditions of people. He was a delightful host and the personal relationship which he established with so many people from all over the world was of great service to this country.

In all his work he had the help and support of the gracious Lady who was an ideal Consort. As Queen and wife and mother she won a firm place in the hearts of the people.

I have spoken of the King's sense of duty. He was a very hard worker. Few people realise how much time and care he gave to public affairs, but visitors from overseas were often astonished at his close familiarity with all kinds of questions. With this close study went a good judgment, and a sure instinct for what was really vital. During his reign there 'were developments in the Commonwealth, some of which entailed the abandonment of outward forms which a lesser man might have felt it difficult to surrender, but he was essentially broadminded and was ready to accept changes that seemed necessary.

His visit to South Africa and the projected visit to Australia and New Zealand which was frustrated by his illness were examples of his keen interest in the Commonwealth. In his own person he was a living and invaluable link to bind together the divers peoples of his realms.

When illness came to him he faced it with the same courage that he showed in war. His one concern was lest he should be prevented from doing his work.

When Mr. Baldwin spoke here 16 years ago, he said very truly that the influence of the Crown was very great and that it was due to the character of the occupant of the Throne. I think he was right. Certainly in these years no two people could have done more to strengthen it than King George and Queen Elizabeth. That Throne is firmly established in the hearts and homes of the people.

Only a few weeks ago we were listening to the King's Christmas broadcast. I am sure that as the years went by people liked more and more to listen to these talks addressed by a King to his own people. They realised that the man who spoke to them was sincere. They could feel in his tones that firm religious faith which was one of the sources of his strength. In King George we have lost a great King, and a very good man.

We turn to offer our loyal service to our young Queen. She comes to the Throne with the goodwill and affection of all her subjects. She takes up a heavy burden, but I am confident that she will sustain it. It is our hope that Her Majesty may live long and happily and that Her reign may be as glorious as that of her great predecessor, Queen Elizabeth I. Let us hope we are witnessing the beginning of a new Elizabethan Age no less renowned than the first. We hope that Her Majesty the Queen and her Consort may live long and prosperously and may see more peaceful days than those which fell to the lot of His late Majesty whose loss we mourn today.

Today, in this House of Parliament, in this country, and throughout the Commonwealth and Empire, we are one people, one family, who together mourn the passing of our King, our leader and our friend. Associated with the sadness of our mourning is a high exalted pride that to us was given such a man as King, as leader and as friend.

With all that has been so well and rightly said by the two right hon. Gentlemen, we humbly express our own full and sincere concurrence. His personality, his character, his courage, both moral and physical, his conscientious, selfless devotion to duty, his modesty, his friendliness and understanding, his warm-hearted kindliness that has made the Royal Family a pattern to all to all these qualities tributes have been rightly paid throughout the world. With full hearts, in deep and solemn gratitude, we avow and confess our debt to him for his work, his care, his kindly thoughtfulness and, above all, for the shining example that he set as a son, as a husband and as a father.

He was the perfect, gentle knight, noble and gracious. Not only did he strengthen the foundations of the Throne, but he added to its stature. Better than any of his predecessors, he wrought and welded those ties which bind us so closely to the Throne—ties of deep respect and of warm affection.

To Their Majesties the Queen, the Queen Mother, and Queen Mary, and to Her Royal Highness Princess Margaret we humbly and sincerely tender our profound sympathy. There is so little that one can say or do that can assuage the pain of parting. Grief is sacred in its privacy. We can only stand in the outer curtilage of the home of mourning. We do so with heavy hearts, conscious of the bitter sorrow which is theirs.

To our Gracious Queen we swear our willing and ready allegiance. We know full well the heavy burden that she has now so courageously undertaken. She has as her own personal possession the loving devotion and affection of all her people. We are as one in our earnest desire for the welfare of herself and her family.

We pray that God, in His infinite mercy, will grant her health and strength. As she, in the words of her own pledge given on 21st April, 1947, dedicated herself to the service of her people, so we in our turn pledge ourselves in solemn dedication to Her Majesty to work for her and to work with her for the accomplishment of the great task—the welfare of all her people. God save our Gracious Queen, God bless our Queen.

Mr. Speaker, in the suddenness of the stroke which has come upon us, the Father of the House is, I understand, not able to be present, and I think it is perhaps not inappropriate that support for these Motions should come from the back benches also, for the King in Britain is a King in Council, and Parliament is the completion of the Sovereignty of the Realm. The task before the Monarch is made infinitely easier by the knowledge, which I am sure the late King possessed and now the Queen possesses, of the support of this House and I believe of Parliament.

We had the experience of seeing through together the blitz, the attack upon London. I remember well the spontaneous revulsion of feeling in the House when it was suggested that it should quit London, and I believe the same feeling was shared by the late King. We saw it through together, and it made a bond of unity which I believe reinforced even the great bonds of unity between the King and his people which existed before.

If I may say one word about his Consort—a countrywoman of some of us—she today has all our sympathies and all our affections. It was an American, and not one of our own people, who wrote of her conduct in the blitz:
"But you put on your shining gown,
Your gayest smile, and stayed in town
When London Bridge was burning down,
My fair lady."
That was a spontaneous tribute, and all the more graceful since it came from others.

Today Parliament as a whole feels itself truly representative of the nation in these Motions which have been so ably moved by the Prime Minister and supported by an ex-Prime Minister and by a party leader. But I do not think support would be complete unless the House of Commons itself added a voice of its own in support of the Motions.

Question put, and agreed to. nemine contradicente.


That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty to convey to Her Majesty the deep sympathy felt by this House in the great sorrow which she has sustained by the death of the late King, Her Majesty's Father, of Blessed and Glorious Memory;
To assure Her Majesty that His late Majesty's unsparing devotion to the Service of His Peoples and His inspiring example in the time of their greatest peril will always be held in affectionate and grateful remembrance by them;
To express to Her Majesty our loyal devotion to Her Royal Person and our complete conviction that She will, with the Blessing of God, throughout Her Reign work to uphold the liberties and promote the happiness of all Her Peoples.

Address to be presented by Privy Councillors or Members of Her Majesty's Household.

Resolved, nemine contradicente:

That a Message of condolence be sent to the Queen Mother tendering to Her the deep sympathy of this House in Her grief, which is shared by all its Members, and assuring Her of the sincere feelings of affection and respect towards Her Majesty which they will ever hold in their hearts.—[The Prime Minister.]

Resolved, nemine contradicente:

That a Message of condolence be sent to Her Majesty Queen Mary tendering to Her the deep sympathy of this House in Her further affliction and assuring Her of the unalterable affection and regard in which Her Majesty is held by all its members.—[The Prime Minister.]

I beg to move,

That Mr. Ralph Assheton, Viscountess Davidson, Mr. Clement Davies, Mr. Walter Elliot, Miss Horsbrugh, Mr. Oliver, Dr. Summerskill and Mr. Woodburn do wait upon Their Majesties the Queen Mother and Queen Mary with the said Messages.

Question put, and agreed to.

Several other Members took and subscribed the Oath or made and subscribed the Affirmation required by law.

Sitting suspended at Seven minutes to Three o'Clock until Twenty Minutes to Four o'Clock.

Then the House proceeded to Westminster Hall in order to attend the Lying-in-State of His late Majesty; and, having returned—


Resolved, "That this House do now adjourn till Tuesday, 19th February."—[ Mr. Buchan-Hepburn.]

Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-three Minutes to Five o'Clock, till Tuesday, 19th February.