Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The King’s (Winnipeg) Speech

As I still delight in the aftermath of Colin Firth winning Best Actor and The King’s Speech winning Best Movie at the Oscar’s, it was with much interest to me when I learned that only 4 months prior to the speech – now infamized by the film – King George addressed the world from Canada. Only this time, he didn’t have his speech coach and encourager, Lionel Logue, with him. The Royals visited Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada in 1939. The speech can be heard here (runs 12:38).

I found this article from the Winnipeg Free Press:

“Eighty years before Colin Firth played a stammering monarch in The King’s Speech, the real King George VI gave a historic speech in Winnipeg.

There wasn’t a hint of a speech impediment from the man who had stuttered since childhood.

On May 24, 1939, the King and Queen Elizabeth arrived in Winnipeg as part of a Canadian tour. In the lurid reporting of the times, a Free Press writer claimed the rain ended and the skies dried as the couple drove down Portage Avenue and onto Memorial Boulevard.

Their Majesties, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, Winnipeg, 1939.

The cross-country royal tour began in Quebec. The couple arrived by train in Winnipeg on the 24th, Empire Day, and were greeted by hundreds of thousands of people.

After all the official meetings and greetings, the King sat at a desk in Government House’s upstairs library. Via radio, he addressed the Commonwealth’s 300,000,000 people.

“Winnipeg, the city from which I am speaking, was no more than a fort and hamlet upon the open prairie when Queen Victoria began to rule,” he began. “Today it is a monument to the faith and energy which have created and upheld the world wide Empire of our time.

“The journey which the Queen and I are making in Canada has been a deeply moving experience and I welcome this opportunity of sharing with my subjects in all parts of the world some of the thought and feeling which it has inspired in me.”

Kings' Speech of May 24, The Winnipeg Evening Tribune May 25, 1939

By the time he gave his Winnipeg speech, the King had been working for years with speech therapist Lionel Logue, played by Geoffrey Rush in the movie. They crafted speeches to avoid words or phrases that would trip the King up. By then he had conquered his difficulty with the letter ‘k’, a problem that had plagued him since childhood and something of an occupational hazard.

The desk from which King George addressed the Commonwealth now holds the guest book at Government House. Many visitors are unaware of the historical significance.

Lt.-Gov. Philip Lee, a huge fan of The King’s Speech, says it’s significant George VI gave his Winnipeg speech such a short time before he addressed the Commonwealth to announce Britain’s entry into war.

“This was a very important speech,” Lee says. He views the movie as a love story, as well as a historical piece.

“The movie was very well done. The King and the Queen were both determined to overcome the circumstances.”

The King closed his Winnipeg address with words for the youth of the Commonwealth:

“I would end with a special word of greeting to those of my listeners who are young. It is true — and I deplore it deeply — that the skies are overcast in more than one quarter at the present time. Do not on that account lose heart.

“Life is a great adventure, and every one of you can be a pioneer, blazing by thought and service a trail to better things. Hold fast to all that is just and of good report in the heritage which your fathers have left to you, but strive also to improve and equalize that heritage for all men and women in the years to come. Remember, too, that the key to all true progress lies in faith, hope and love.”

Four months after his Winnipeg speech, the King once again spoke to the Empire, this time to announce Britain had declared war on Germany. He and Logue had once again carefully crafted the speech.

King George VI and Queen Elizabeth meet the public during their royal visit to Winnipeg in 1939. – WINNIPEG FREE PRESS ARCHIVES

“In this grave hour,” the King began, “perhaps the most fateful in our history, I send to every household of my peoples, both at home and overseas, this message, spoken with the same depth of feeling for each one of you as if I were able to cross your threshold and speak to you myself.”

In calm, measured words he concluded:

“The task will be hard. There may be dark days ahead, and war can no longer be confined to the battlefield, but we can only do the right as we see the right, and reverently commit our cause to God. If one and all we keep resolutely faithful to it, ready for whatever service or sacrifice it may demand, then with God’s help, we shall prevail.

“May He bless and keep us all.”

As with his Winnipeg speech, he did not stammer.

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