In the Queen’s moving and historic broadcast last night (Sunday 5th April 2020) on the national crisis and challenge of the Coronavirus— only the fifth time that she has made such a special address to the nation — Her Majesty recalled the very first such ‘wireless’ address that she made as Princess Elizabeth. This was broadcast eighty years ago in October 1940, when the future Queen was just 14, and in this extract from his 2003 best-seller Monarch, Robert explained the background to that ground-breaking speech — how the original idea came from an American publisher and how the courtiers of the time did not appreciate its historic significance.
Robert was quoted in People on 6 April about the background to their ground breaking speech in 1940.
As the course of World War II grew more serious, the little princesses — as the teenage Elizabeth and her sister, the ten-year-old Margaret Rose, were still known — played a vital role in the public role of the royal “family of families”.
They also made their first broadcast. In 1938, the owner of the New York Herald Tribune, Helen Reid, had been rebuffed when she suggested that the two girls might contribute to the cause of transatlantic solidarity by broadcasting to open National Children’s Week in the United States. The British ambassador had been disdainful of such “attempts to enlist the princesses for stunts,” and George VI’s private secretary, Tommy Lascelles, agreed.
“There is, of course, no question of the princesses broadcasting,” he wrote, “nor is it likely for many years to come.”
Two years later, with the Battle of Britain being fought overhead, Buckingham Palace took another view.
“Thousands of you in this country have had to leave your homes and be separated from your father and mother,” read Princess Elizabeth in her piping voice as she introduced a series of “Children in Wartime” programmes in October 1940. “My sister Margaret Rose and I feel so much for you, as we know from experience what it means to be away from those we love most of all.”
Listening to the broadcast, Jock Colville, the prime minister’s private secretary, expressed himself “embarrassed by the sloppy sentiment” that the princesses were made to express. The ending was particularly contrived and schmaltzy.
“My sister is by my side,” said the princess, “and we are both going to say good night to you. Come on Margaret.”
“Good night,” piped up an even more high-pitched voice. “Good night and good luck to you all.”
But schmaltz and sloppiness got results. In America radio station switchboards were jammed with requests for repeats, and the BBC turned the recording into a best-selling phonograph record.
This is the full text of the speech that Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret made on 13 October 1940:
In wishing you all ‘good evening’ I feel that I am speaking to friends and companions who have shared with my sister and myself many a happy Children’s Hour.
Thousands of you in this country have had to leave your homes and be separated from your fathers and mothers. My sister Margaret Rose and I feel so much for you as we know from experience what it means to be away from those we love most of all.
To you, living in new surroundings, we send a message of true sympathy and at the same time we would like to thank the kind people who have welcomed you to their homes in the country.
All of us children who are still at home think continually of our friends and relations who have gone overseas – who have travelled thousands of miles to find a wartime home and a kindly welcome in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the United States of America.
My sister and I feel we know quite a lot about these countries. Our father and mother have so often talked to us of their visits to different parts of the world. So it is not difficult for us to picture the sort of life you are all leading, and to think of all the new sights you must be seeing, and the adventures you must be having.
But I am sure that you, too, are often thinking of the Old Country. I know you won’t forget us; it is just because we are not forgetting you that I want, on behalf of all the children at home, to send you our love and best wishes – to you and to your kind hosts as well.
Before I finish I can truthfully say to you all that we children at home are full of cheerfulness and courage. We are trying to do all we can to help our gallant sailors, soldiers and airmen, and we are trying, too, to bear our own share of the danger and sadness of war.
We know, every one of us, that in the end all will be well; for God will care for us and give us victory and peace. And when peace comes, remember it will be for us, the children of today, to make the world of tomorrow a better and happier place.
My sister is by my side and we are both going to say goodnight to you.
Come on, Margaret.
Goodnight, and good luck to you all.
This is the full text of the speech that Her Majesty made last night:
I am speaking to you at what I know is an increasingly challenging time. A time of disruption in the life of our country: a disruption that has brought grief to some, financial difficulties to many, and enormous changes to the daily lives of us all.
I want to thank everyone on the NHS front line, as well as care workers and those carrying out essential roles, who selflessly continue their day-to-day duties outside the home in support of us all. I am sure the nation will join me in assuring you that what you do is appreciated and every hour of your hard work brings us closer to a return to more normal times.
I also want to thank those of you who are staying at home, thereby helping to protect the vulnerable and sparing many families the pain already felt by those who have lost loved ones. Together we are tackling this disease, and I want to reassure you that if we remain united and resolute, then we will overcome it.
I hope in the years to come everyone will be able to take pride in how they responded to this challenge. And those who come after us will say the Britons of this generation were as strong as any. That the attributes of self-discipline, of quiet good-humoured resolve and of fellow-feeling still characterise this country. The pride in who we are is not a part of our past, it defines our present and our future.
The moments when the United Kingdom has come together to applaud its care and essential workers will be remembered as an expression of our national spirit; and its symbol will be the rainbows drawn by children.
Across the Commonwealth and around the world, we have seen heart-warming stories of people coming together to help others, be it through delivering food parcels and medicines, checking on neighbours, or converting businesses to help the relief effort.
And though self-isolating may at times be hard, many people of all faiths, and of none, are discovering that it presents an opportunity to slow down, pause and reflect, in prayer or meditation.
It reminds me of the very first broadcast I made, in 1940, helped by my sister. We, as children, spoke from here at Windsor to children who had been evacuated from their homes and sent away for their own safety. Today, once again, many will feel a painful sense of separation from their loved ones. But now, as then, we know, deep down, that it is the right thing to do.
While we have faced challenges before, this one is different. This time we join with all nations across the globe in a common endeavour, using the great advances of science and our instinctive compassion to heal. We will succeed – and that success will belong to every one of us.
We should take comfort that while we may have more still to endure, better days will return: we will be with our friends again; we will be with our families again; we will meet again.
But for now, I send my thanks and warmest good wishes to you all.