Monday, 22 July, 2024
25December 1939

King George VI marks first Christmas of war with speech to nation

The King of the United Kingdom, George VI, gave his regular Christmas speech on this day. As this was the first Christmas speech given during wartime, his words contained much about the ongoing struggle.

Since the start of the war, the majority of action was seen by the Royal Navy. The King made a point of thanking the sailors and officers aboard the nation’s warships, along with those aboard all other Allied ships.

We look with pride and thankfulness on the never-failing courage and devotion of the Royal Navy, upon which throughout the last four months has burst the storm of ruthless and unceasing war.

And when I speak of our Navy today I mean all the men of our Empire who go down to the sea in ships, the Mercantile Marine, the minesweepers, the trawlers, and drifters, from the senior officers to the last boy who has joined up. To everyone in this great Fleet I send a message of gratitude and greeting from myself as from all my peoples.

King George VI, 25th December 1939.

The King said the RAF was “in co-operation with the Navy … our sure shield of defence”.

The first four months of the war were seen as a ‘Phoney War’ as anticipation of immediate fighting was replaced with inaction. The King, aware that fighting would soon occur, spoke of the British Army and other Allied troops.

They are waiting, and waiting is a trial of nerve and discipline. But I know that when the moment comes for action they will prove themselves worthy of the highest traditions of their great Service.

King George VI, 25th December 1939.

As the King neared the end of his speech, he spoke of the uncertainty of what the new year would bring.

A new year is at hand. We cannot tell what it will bring. If it brings peace how thankful we shall all be. If it brings continued struggle, we shall remain undaunted.

King George VI, 25th December 1939.

He closed his speech with a quote from the poem God Knows, by Minnie Louise Haskins:

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 to you better than light and safer than a known way.”

King George VI, 25th December 1939.

The King would ultimately end up giving six Christmas speeches during the war.

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