The Tide Turns


On 6 June 1944 the Allies finally returned to mainland Europe

By the summer of 1943, after two years of unremitting bad news, the war was beginning to go the Allies’ way. The battle for North Africa had ended in triumph. Then, on 10 July, the British Eighth Army, under General Bernard Montgomery, and the US Seventh Army, under General George Patton, began their combined assault on Sicily, which was to serve as the springboard for an invasion of the Italian mainland. A fortnight later Mussolini was deposed, and on 3 September the government of Pietro Badoglio agreed to unconditional surrender; the following month, Italy declared war on Germany.

There were other causes for celebration elsewhere: the much-feared Tirpitz, the largest battleship ever built in Europe, was badly damaged in September 1943 by a daring raid by British midget submarines while she was at anchor. Then, on Boxing Day, the battle cruiser Scharnhorst was sunk off Norway’s North Cape. The battle of the Atlantic had effectively been won by the Allies. There was good news from the Far East, too: the Japanese advances were being stemmed, and the British and Americans were preparing to fight back.

Yet the war still had some time to run. The Germans were putting up fierce resistance both in Italy and on the Russian front, while the Japanese were a long way from being defeated. Churchill, overoptimistically, told the King he thought the Germans might well be beaten before the end of 1944, but feared it might take until 1946 to secure victory in the Far East.

The King was keen to take advantage of the improving situation to visit his victorious armies in the field and congratulate them on their achievements. He had made such a trip before, in December 1939, when he visited the British Expeditionary Force in France, but the situation had deteriorated so badly in the meantime that there had been no thought of a repetition. In June 1943, however – travelling incognito as ‘General Lyon’ for security reasons – he set off on a far more ambitious two-week trip to North Africa, during which he inspected British and American forces in Algeria and Libya. On his way back, he also made a brief visit to the ‘island fortress’ of Malta whose highly strategic position in the Mediterranean had earned it a battering from the Germans. Everywhere he went, he received a predictably enthusiastic reception.

Logue, by contrast, was living the ebb and flow of the Allied forces’ fortunes vicariously through the experiences of his sons. Laurie had been first to be called up, in 1940, and was serving in the Royal Army Services Corps. Thanks to the experience of the catering industry he had acquired while working at Lyons, he was put in the branch of the corps responsible for transporting food. He was sent to Africa, where he served in the ‘Gideon Force’ under the eccentric Colonel Orde Wingate, which in May 1941 helped drive the Italians out of Ethiopia and restored Haile Selassie to the throne. In February 1942 he was promoted to second lieutenant and, a month later, was mentioned in dispatches. By June, he had made lieutenant.

Next to be called up was Tony. After just a year of medicine at Leeds University, he joined the Scots Guards in 1941 and, following a spell at Sandhurst, went to North Africa. Valentine, meanwhile, was pursuing his medical career on the home front: after a spell in general surgery, dealing with the victims of the Blitz, he switched in 1941 to the demanding and rapidly developing field of neuro-surgery. He was sent first to a hospital in St Albans, where he specialized in head injuries, and then on to Edinburgh.

Logue, himself, now aged in his sixties, was too old to serve in the forces, but he did work three nights a week as an air-raid warden. His health was beginning to suffer: in August 1943 he went into hospital to have an operation on a stomach ulcer. The King, who was having his traditional summer break at Balmoral, was kept informed of Logue’s progress by Mieville, who also arranged for him to spend some time by the sea to convalesce. On 23 October Logue wrote to the King: ‘I rejoice to say that I am quite recovered, and I am looking forward to attending on you on your return. It has been a long three months. As it is the first ulcer I have ever had, I did not take to it too kindly, but I thank the Good Lord that everything has been a great success.’

The war brought financial as well as medical problems: the young men who made up the overwhelming bulk of Logue’s patients had, like his own sons, been called up into the armed forces. The constant aerial bombardment during the Blitz also dissuaded others from making the trip to London for a consultation. For that reason, a gift of £500 that the King sent him in January 1941 – ‘a personal present from His Majesty in recognition of the very valuable personal services you have rendered’ – was especially welcome.

‘That you with all your great responsibility and worry should thank me and help me so naturally has overwhelmed me,’ a grateful Logue wrote back. ‘My humble service has always been at your disposal, and it has been the great privilege of my life to serve you . . . Your kindly thoughtfulness has touched me many times, and my sincere and heartfelt wish is that I may be spared to serve you for many years.’

One-off gifts, however welcome, were not enough to solve the Logues’ financial problems. Their big house on Sydenham Hill was also turning into something of a burden. ‘Beechgrove has been terribly hard to keep going, as there is no labour,’ Logue complained in a letter to Myrtle’s younger brother Rupert in June 1942. ‘Myrtle has no servants at all, and we cannot even get a man to help cut the lawns, so a house with 25 rooms, and 5 bathrooms these times is a bit of an incubus, and as I am not allowed to use the motor mower but have to use the heavy old “push” one, I would not like to say how big the corns on my hands [are].’ So they got a sheep to keep the lawn down instead.

Logue’s work with the King did not bring just financial rewards: on the eve of the coronation he had been made a member of the Royal Victorian Order; in the Birthday Honours List of June 1943 he was promoted to the rank of commander. The investiture was held on 4 July the following year. He was also honoured to be appointed as the British Society of Speech Therapists’ representative on the board of the British Medical Association – although, as he wrote to Rupert, ‘I only wish these things had come 20 years ago, when one could enjoy them so much more. I am 62 and find I cannot do the things I once could.’

There were expressions of gratitude, too, from some of the patients, letters from whom are included among Logue’s papers. A fifty-three-year-old civil servant named C. B. Archer, from Wimbledon, south-west London, wrote on 30 November 1943 to thank Logue for completely curing him of the stammer from which he had been suffering since the age of eight, apparently through teaching him to breathe abdominally. ‘It was a lucky day for me a little over six months ago when I first got into touch with you,’ Archer wrote. ‘I think only a stammerer can really appreciate what a different world I live in now. It is as if a load has been lifted from my mind.’ The man’s letter, running to five hand-written pages, gave an insight into the blight that the stammer had cast over his professional as well as his private life.

‘My stammering has been a terrific drawback to me in the civil service,’ he continued. ‘Otherwise I should probably have been an assistant secretary by now. All promotions are as a result of interviews by a Promotion Board and you imagine what a sorry show l made in front of them.’

The following month, Logue received an especially effusive letter from a Tom Mallin, in Sutton Coldfield, Birmingham, noting how both his mother and his friends had noticed the difference since he had started consulting Logue. ‘My friends all say I have “changed” – yes – but for the better,’ Mallin wrote. ‘Now I begin to realise that the voice can be so beautiful, satisfying and expressive, it is a wonder I haven’t tumbled to it before . . . Sir, how can I ever thank you for making me happy?’ He was due to go to an interview a couple of weeks later, ‘and I will remember everything you have taught me. I will be sure of impressing them’.87

The war, in the meantime, was moving towards another of its decisive turning points. On Thursday 1 June 1944, at 9.30 p.m., Logue received a call from Lascelles, who had been promoted to the King’s private secretary after the rather abrasive Hardinge had been effectively forced out in July 1943. ‘My master wants to know if you can come to Windsor tomorrow, Friday, for lunch,’ he asked. Logue was happy to oblige.

Logue took the 12.44 train. Lascelles, whom he met in the equerries’ room, was in a very serious mood. ‘Sorry I cannot tell you much about the broadcast,’ he said. ‘It is, as a matter of fact, a call to prayer, and takes about five minutes, and strange as it may seem, I cannot tell you when it is, as you have probably guessed that it is to be given on the night of D-Day, at nine o’clock.’

Logue went off to have lunch with the equerries, the ladies-in-waiting and the captain of the guard, and afterwards, the King sent for him. He was in his study with the blinds drawn down – but the room was still extremely hot. He looked tired and weary and told Logue he wasn’t sleeping very well. But when they went through the speech, Logue was charmed by it. He timed it: five and a half minutes precisely.

Lascelles had not had to explain what he meant by D-Day. The military terminology for the day chosen for the Allied assault on Europe had long since passed into common parlance. But when – and where – that assault would take place remained a closely guarded secret. The element of surprise was essential if the Allies were to succeed, and they had gone to extraordinary and ingenious lengths to feed disinformation to the Germans.

It had been seventeen months earlier, at the Casablanca Conference in January 1943, that Roosevelt and Churchill had agreed on a full-scale invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe using a combination of British and American forces. Churchill, who was keen to avoid a repetition of the costly frontal assaults of the First World War, had proposed invading the Balkans, with the aim of linking up with Soviet forces and then possibly bringing in Turkey on the side of the Allies. The Americans preferred an invasion of Western Europe, however – and their view prevailed. The decision was confirmed at the Quebec conference of August 1943. The operation was named Operation Overlord, and by that winter the choice of landing point had been narrowed down to either the Pas-de-Calais area or Normandy. On Christmas Eve, General Eisenhower was appointed Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force (SCAEF).

Plans for the operation were outlined by Eisenhower and his commanders at a meeting held on 15 May in a classroom of St Paul’s School – the unusual venue was chosen apparently because General Montgomery, commander of the 21st Army Group, to which all of the invasion ground forces belonged, had been educated there. In the days that followed, more and more forces were concentrated in southern England; the invasion was imminent.

D-Day was initially tentatively set for 5 June, but the weather that weekend was poor: it was cold and wet and there was a gale blowing from the west and high seas, all of which would make it impossible to launch landing craft from larger ships at sea. Low cloud, meanwhile, would prevent Allied aircraft from finding their targets. The operation required a day close to full moon; one was due on that Monday. Delaying for nearly a month and sending the troops back to their embarkation camps would be a huge and difficult operation and so, advised by his chief meteorologist of a brief clear improvement in the weather the next day, Eisenhower took the momentous decision of going for 6 June.

Hours later, Operation Neptune – the name given to the first, assault phase of Operation Overlord – began: shortly after midnight, 24,000 British, American, Canadian and Free French airborne troops landed. Then, starting at 6.30 a.m. British Double Summer Time, the first Allied infantry and armoured divisions embarked along a fifty-mile stretch of the Normandy coast. By the end of the day, more than 165,000 troops had come ashore; over 5,000 ships were involved. It was the largest amphibious invasion of all time.

That evening at six o’clock, Logue arrived, as arranged, at the Palace; he was shown in to see the King fifteen minutes later. The speech was scheduled for nine o’clock and the atmosphere was tense. But there were also some comic moments: just as Logue was taking the King through his voice exercises, they caught sight out of the window of a procession of five people in the garden of Buckingham Palace, among them a policeman. As they watched, the woman put a net over her head, which made Logue think they were trying to coax a swarm of bees into a box. ‘The King got quite excited, and wanted to go out and give them a hand,’ observed Logue. ‘It only wanted me to say yes, and he would have opened the window and gone on to the lawn – but it wouldn’t do to have the King chance being stung by a bee just before a broadcast, so curious as I was I had to pretend that I was not interested.’

After trying the speech through once, they went downstairs to the air-raid shelter. Logue was fascinated by it. ‘What a beautiful place,’ he wrote. ‘It would do me as a residence – full of peculiar furniture and the latest ideas for heating and light.’ Wood of the BBC was also there.

They ran through the text; it went well: the speech ran to five and a half minutes, and they needed to make just two alterations. The only problem was the loud ticking of a clock, coming from the King’s bedroom, which had to be silenced for fear of it spoiling the broadcast.

After they had finished, they returned to the King’s room – and he went immediately back to the windows to see what had become of the bees. The people had all gone, leaving behind a small box. As Logue was sitting making small changes to the speech, the Queen came in, and to his amusement, the King ‘explained like a schoolboy, what had happened about the bees, even going down on his knees to explain the detail of the capture’. The Queen also became excited, and said, ‘Oh Bertie, I wish I had been here.’

That evening, as Britons gathered around their radios, the King spoke:

Four years ago our nation and Empire stood alone against an overwhelming enemy with our backs to the wall, tested as never before in our history, and we survived that test. The spirit of the people, resolute and dedicated, burned like a bright flame, surely, from those unseen fires which nothing can quench.

Once more the supreme test has to be faced. This time the challenge is not to fight to survive, but to fight to win the final victory for the good cause. Once again, what is demanded from us all is something more than courage, more than endurance.

The King went on to call for a ‘revival of the spirit, a new unconquerable reserve’ and to ‘renew that crusading impulse on which we entered the war and met its darkest hour’. He concluded with a quote from verse 11 of Psalm 29: ‘The Lord will give strength unto his people; the Lord will bless his people with peace.’

The speech perfectly fitted the national mood. While the front pages of the newspapers the following morning carried graphic accounts of the landings, the leader writers reacted with pride at what was seen as a chance for Britain finally to reverse the indignity it had suffered four years earlier at Dunkirk. The King received a number of letters of gratitude that touched him deeply – none more than the one sent by his mother, Queen Mary. ‘I am glad you liked my broadcast,’ he wrote in reply. ‘It was a great opportunity to call everybody to prayer. I have wanted to do it for a long time.’88

Operation Overlord proved a success. The battle for Normandy continued for more than two months. On 21 August, after a battle that raged for more than a week, the so-called ‘Falaise Pocket’ was closed, trapping 50,000 German troops inside. Days later, Paris was liberated – the German garrison occupying the city surrendered on 25 August – and by the thirtieth the last German troops had retreated across the River Seine. Brussels was liberated by British forces on 3 September. By October, German forces had been almost completely driven from France and Belgium and from the southern portion of the Netherlands.

The Allies were also moving forward in Italy, with their aim the capture of Rome. During the early morning hours of 22 January 1944, troops of the Fifth Army had swarmed ashore on a fifteen-mile stretch of Italian beach near the pre-war resort towns of Anzio and Nettuno, taking the Germans almost completely by surprise. The initial landings were carried out so flawlessly and the resistance so light that British and American units had gained their first day’s objectives by noon, and moved three to four miles inland by nightfall. The British forces included the Scots Guards, among whom was Second Lieutenant Antony Logue – Lionel’s youngest.

In a classic military blunder, however, Major General John Lucas, the commander of the US VI Corps, then threw away any element of surprise by delaying his advance in order to consolidate his beachhead. When he did try and move forward at the end of the month, he faced fierce resistance from the Germans under General Albert Kesselring, who in the meantime had had time to move in his reinforcements. These then formed a ring around the beachhead and rained down fire on the Allied troops in the swamp below. Many British lives were lost. By 18 and 19 February things were going so badly for the Allies that it looked as if all might end in another Dunkirk. Miraculously, they survived, but only after a ferocious battle – as a letter from Tony home to his parents, dated Midnight 19 February, and written by torchlight, revealed:

You can tell Val that, until last night I had not taken off my boots or my coat, or removed a stitch of my clothing for 19 days, a very different figure to the debonair figure of peacetime,’ he wrote. ‘Still, it has been a classic show and one that I feel should live in history forever. I am very proud to have been here and to have participated in my tiny way. The fellows have fought as only the Brigade of Guards can, more than that I cannot say.

For the next two months or so the situation remained static, and then, finally, on 4 June, two days before D-Day, they entered Rome. Tony, who had been promoted the previous month to captain, described the scene in a letter home on 15 June.

I was in a jeep on the second night, one of the most beautiful cities I have ever seen. All was completely quiet and orderly, people enjoying their ordinary lives without disturbance and except for the stream of convoys, no soldiers to be seen, it was the finest occupation I have experienced.

We were in a wood north of Rome when we heard of the second front, and since then we have not stopped. I have had enough ecstatic welcomes over the last fortnight to last me all my days. These northern Italian cities, amongst the most beautiful in the world, have welcomed us right royally, and in most cases the German’s fires have not yet gone cold.

Although the momentum across Europe was now clearly with the Allies, Hitler made a last desperate attempt to turn the tide. On 16 December 1944, the German army launched a massive counter-offensive in the Ardennes with the aim of splitting the Western Allies, encircling large portions of their troops and capturing Antwerp, the primary port from which they were supplied.

For those, such as Logue, back in Britain, the days after D-Day also saw the deployment by Hitler of his first secret weapon, the V-1, pilotless planes filled with explosives that were to rain down on London and other cities day and night for much of the next nine months. The effect on morale was severe. ‘There is something very inhuman about death-dealing missiles being launched in such an indiscriminate manner,’ the Queen wrote to Queen Mary.89 There was worse to come: that September the V-1s were followed by the even more terrifying V-2s, ballistic missiles launched from installations in the Netherlands and the Pas de Calais, which fell with no warning on London and the south-east. The first one hit Chiswick, in the west of the capital, on 8 September.

Despite all the progress he had made over the years with Logue, the King was still far from being a perfect public speaker – as is clearly audible to anyone listening to the recordings of those of his speeches that have survived in the archives. A contemporary analysis was provided in an unsolicited letter that was sent to Lascelles that June. It was written by the Reverend Robert Hyde, the founder of the Boys’ Welfare Association, the organization of which the King had become patron more than two decades earlier when he was the Duke of York. Over the years, Hyde had had plenty of opportunities to listen to the King at close quarters and was apparently keen to share his impressions – although he didn’t offer any solutions. The letter was nevertheless passed to Logue.

‘As you know, I have studied the King’s speech for some years, so send you this note for what it is worth,’ Hyde wrote. The hesitations, he said, seemed quite consistent. ‘Apart from a slight lapse into his old difficulties with the c’s and g’s as in “crisis” and “give”, the same two groups still seem to worry him: the “a” vowel, especially when it was followed by a consonant, as in “a-go” or “a-lone” and a repeated sound or letter, as in the combination “yes please” or “Which we”.’

That November brought another State Opening of Parliament – and another speech. Going through the text with the King, Logue played his habitual role of identifying and eliminating potential tongue twisters and other awkward phrases that might trip him up. ‘In an unbreakable alliance’ looked like it was going to cause problems, as did ‘fortified by constant collaboration of the governments concerned’ – so both were replaced. Another phrase, ‘on windy beaches’, was replaced by ‘storm swept beaches’.

On the evening of Sunday 3 December the King was due to make a speech on the radio to mark the disbanding of the Home Guard, the two-million-strong defence force formed of men either too young, too old or too unfit to join the army. The force had been created in July 1940 to help defend Britain against a Nazi invasion, which appeared imminent. Now, in a reflection of the conviction that the tide of war had finally turned in the Allies’ favour, it was being disbanded. Logue worked with the King on the text of the speech and went to Windsor to hear him speak. He was impressed to note he made only one mistake: he stumbled over the ‘w’ in weapons.

Afterwards, Logue shook hands with the King and, after congratulating him, asked why that particular letter had proved such a problem.

‘I did it on purpose,’ the King replied with a grin.

‘On purpose?’ asked Logue, incredulous.

‘Yes. If I don’t make a mistake, people might not know it was me.’

That Christmas, there was another message to the nation and on 23 December Logue went to Windsor to go over the wording. Its tone was optimistic – expressing the hope that before the following Christmas the nightmare of tyranny and conflict would be over. ‘If we look back to those early days of the war, we can surely say that the darkness daily grows less and less,’ the text read. ‘The lamps which the Germans put out all over Europe, first in 1914 and then in 1939, are slowly being rekindled. Already we can see some of them beginning to shine through the fog of war that still surrounds so many lands. Anxiety is giving way to confidence and let us hope that before next Christmas Day, the story of liberation and triumph will be complete.’

An annotated copy of the text, found among Logue’s papers, shows the changes he made to eliminate words or phrases that could still catch out the King: ‘calamities’, with that difficult initial ‘k’ sound, for example, was replaced by ‘disasters’, while ‘goal’, with its tricky ‘g’ at the beginning, was substituted by the much easier ‘end’. All in all, though, Logue was impressed by the text. ‘They all have to be cut out of the same pattern, but I think we altered this particular one less than any other,’ he wrote.

As they sat in the study, with the fire burning, the King suddenly said: ‘Logue, I think the time has come when I can do a broadcast by myself, and you can have a Christmas dinner with your family.’

Logue had been expecting this moment for some time, especially since the Home Guard speech. They discussed the matter thoroughly with the Queen, who agreed they should give it a try. So, instead of Logue, it was decided that, for the first time, she and the two princesses would sit beside the King at the microphone as he delivered his message.

‘You know, Ma’am, I feel like a father who is sending his boy to his first public school,’ Logue told the Queen as he went to go.

‘I know just how you feel,’ she replied, putting her hand on his arm and patting it.

Logue, spending his first Christmas at home for several years, celebrated with a house party; John Gordon of the Sunday Express and his wife were among the guests. Logue was so busy with all the preparations that he scarcely thought about the speech, but at five minutes to three he slipped off into his bedroom. After saying a silent prayer, he turned on the radio softly, just in time.

When the King’s voice came through, Logue was astonished at how firm and resonant it was. It was three years since he had last heard him speak over the radio and he sounded much better than Logue remembered. He was speaking confidently and with good inflection and emphasis, and the breaks between words had all but disappeared. During the eight-minute message, he stopped only on one word, ‘God’, but it was only for a second and then he continued even more firmly than before.

Logue’s guests had been listening in the drawing room and when he went back to join them, he was overwhelmed with congratulations.

He then tried a little joke: ‘Would you like to hear the King speak?’

‘Well, we’ve just heard him,’ replied Gordon.

‘If you go to the two extensions of the phone, you will hear him talk from Windsor.’

During their last run-through, it had been agreed that Logue would call the King after the speech; so he took the main phone and telephoned Windsor, while his guests listened in on the two extensions. A few seconds later, the King’s voice came through.

Logue congratulated him on a wonderful talk, adding: ‘My job is over, Sir.’

‘Not at all,’ the King replied. ‘It is the preliminary work that counts, and that is where you are indispensable.’

The Christmas message was well received, and Logue received a number of letters of congratulations – including one from Hugh Crichton-Miller, a leading psychiatrist who had been based for some time at 146 Harley Street. ‘That broadcast was streets ahead of any previous performance,’ Crichton-Miller wrote to Logue on Boxing Day. ‘One heard the self-expression of a new freedom which was wholly admirable.’

A delighted Logue passed it on to the King, who was flattered by the compliment – and had kind words for his teacher. ‘I do hope you did not mind not being there as I felt that I just had to get one broadcast over alone,’ he wrote back to Logue on 8 January. ‘The preparation of speeches and broadcasts is the important part and that is where all your help is invaluable. I wonder if you realise how grateful I am to you for having made it possible for me to carry out this vital part of my job. I cannot thank you enough.’

Four days later, Logue responded, ‘When we began years ago, the goal I set myself for you was to be able to make a speech without stumbling and talk over the air without fear of the microphone,’ he wrote. ‘As you say, these things are now an accomplished fact, and I would not be human if I were not overjoyed that you can now do these things without supervision.

‘When a fresh patient comes to me the usual query is: “Will I be able to speak like the King?” and my reply is: “Yes, if you will work like he does.” I will cure anyone of intelligence if they will only work like you did – for you are now reaping the benefit of this tremendously hard work you did at the beginning.’

By January 1945 the Germans had been repulsed in the Ardennes without achieving any of their strategic objectives. The Soviets attacked in Poland, moving on to Silesia and Pomerania and advancing towards Vienna. The Western Allies, meanwhile, crossed the Rhine, north and south of the Ruhr, in March, and the following month pushed forward into Italy and swept across Western Germany. The two forces linked up on the River Elbe on May 25. Five days later, the capture of the Reichstag signalled the military defeat of the Third Reich. With Soviet troops only a few hundred yards away, Hitler shot himself in his bunker.

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