News of Germany’s surrender in 1945 was met with unbridled enthusiasm and relief

It was one of the greatest – and certainly the most joyous – street parties London had ever seen. On Tuesday 8 May 1945, tens of thousands of singing, dancing people gathered in the Mall in front of Buckingham Palace. The moment they had dreamed of for more than five and a half years had finally arrived.

The German surrender had been on the cards for several days: a team of bell ringers was on standby to ring in victory at St Paul’s Cathedral, people stocked up on Union Jack flags and houses were garlanded with bunting. Then at three o’clock, Winston Churchill finally spoke to the nation: at 2.41 a.m. the previous day, he announced, the ceasefire had been signed by Colonel General Alfred Jodl, Chief of the Operations Staff of the Armed Forces High Command, at the American advance headquarters in Reims. In his speech, Churchill paid fulsome tribute to the men and women who had ‘fought valiantly’ on land, sea and in the air – and to those who had laid down their lives for victory. His broadcast was delivered from the War Cabinet Office, the same room in which his predecessor Neville Chamberlain had announced the country was at war six years earlier.

‘We may allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing,’ Churchill concluded. ‘But let us not forget for a moment the toil and efforts that lie ahead. Japan, with all her treachery and greed, remains unsubdued.’

Shortly afterwards, the King, as much a symbol of national resistance as Churchill, stepped out onto the balcony of Buckingham Palace to acknowledge the cheers of the ecstatic crowd below. For the first time in public, he was accompanied not just by the Queen but by the two princesses. At 5.30 p.m. the doors opened again, and the royal family stepped out once more – this time together with Churchill. They were to make a total of eight such appearances that day. Later that evening, the King was due to follow his prime minister in addressing the nation.

At 11.30 a.m. on the previous Saturday, Logue had received a telephone call from Lascelles asking him to go to Windsor that afternoon: ‘Peace Day V’, as it was known, was in the offing. Lascelles was still not certain of the exact day; it all depended on what happened in Norway. The German forces occupying the country had contemplated turning it into a last bastion of the Third Reich, but had finally come to realize the futility of further resistance. The only question was when they would capitulate. A car came to Sydenham Hill to pick up Logue, and he was at Windsor Castle by 4 p.m.

He arrived to find the King looking completely exhausted. They went through the speech, which Logue really liked – although they altered a few passages. They had a further run-through, this time at Buckingham Palace, on Monday at 3 p.m., and it was agreed that Logue should return at 8.30 that evening. He went home for a rest, but at six o’clock the telephone range; it was Lascelles. ‘Not tonight,’ he said. ‘Norway has not come into line.’ But he assured Logue this was certain the following night and told him to stand by.

The next morning Logue received another message from the Palace. ‘The King would like to see you at dinner tonight, and bring Mrs Logue’ – to which someone had added the cryptic message: ‘Tell her to wear something bright’. So at 6.30 p.m., Lionel and Myrtle set off towards Buckingham Palace. The streets were virtually deserted and it took them only a few minutes to drive into the centre of London. They encountered the first traffic barrier near Victoria Station, but Mieville had organized a permit, and they continued on their way towards the Palace. As their car crossed the courtyard towards the Privy Purse entrance, a tremendous cheer broke out – the King and Queen had just come out again onto the balcony. Lionel and Myrtle joined other members of the royal household in wildly cheering and waving handkerchiefs.

Lionel made for the new broadcasting room on the ground floor, facing the lawn, and went through the speech with the King. They made a couple of alterations, more for the running of the speech than anything else, and then the King, rather plaintively, declared, ‘If I don’t get dinner before nine I won’t get any after, as everyone will be away, watching the sights.’ This, coming from a man in such an exalted position, sent Logue into paroxysms of laughter – so much so that the King himself joined in; but after thinking it over, he said, ‘It’s funny, but it is quite true.’

After they had eaten, they went back to the broadcasting room at 8.35. Wood of the BBC was there; he and Logue compared watches and they had another run-through. There were two minutes to go. Another small further alteration and then, as usual, the Queen, who was dressed in white, came in to wish her husband luck. As the floodlights were switched on, a mighty roar erupted from the crowd. Logue found the atmosphere fantastic: ‘And in an instant the sombre scene has become fairyland – with the Royal Ensign, lit from beneath, floating in the air,’ he wrote in his diary. ‘Another roar – the King and Queen come on to the balcony.’ He was especially struck by the way the lights played on the Queen’s tiara; as she turned, smiling, to wave to the crowd, the floodlights created what looked like a band of flame around her head. The King declared:

Today we give thanks to Almighty God for a great deliverance. Speaking from our Empire’s oldest capital city, war-battered but never for one moment daunted or dismayed, speaking from London, I ask you to join with me in that act of thanksgiving.

Germany, the enemy who drove all Europe into war, has been finally overcome. In the Far East we have yet to deal with the Japanese, a determined and cruel foe. To this we shall turn with the utmost resolve and with all our resources. But at this hour when the dreadful shadow of war has passed far from our hearths and homes in these islands, we may at last make one pause for thanksgiving and then turn our thoughts to the task all over the world which peace in Europe brings with it.

Continuing, the King saluted those who had contributed to victory – both alive and dead – and reflected on how the ‘enslaved and isolated peoples of Europe’ had looked to Britain during the darkest days of the conflict. He also looked to the future, urging that Britons should ‘resolve as a people to do nothing unworthy of those who died for us and to make the world such a world as they would have desired, for their children and for ours. ‘This is the task to which now honour binds us,’ he concluded. ‘In the hour of danger we humbly committed our cause into the Hand of God, and He has been our Strength and Shield. Let us thank him for his mercies, and in this hour of Victory commit ourselves and our new guidance of that same strong Hand.’

The King was exhausted, and it showed; he stumbled more than usual over his words, but it didn’t seem to matter. ‘We all roared ourselves hoarse,’ recalled Noël Coward, who was among the crowd. ‘I suppose this is the greatest day in our history.’

As the celebrations continued, the two princesses asked their parents for permission to be allowed out into the throng. The King agreed: ‘Poor darlings, they have never had any fun yet,’ he wrote in his diary. And so, at 10.30 p.m., accompanied by a discreet escort of Guards officers, Elizabeth and Margaret slipped out of the Palace incognito. No one seems to have recognized the two young women as they joined the conga line into one door of the Ritz and out of the other.

At 11.30 the Queen sent for Lionel and Myrtle, and they said their goodbyes. Then Peter Townsend, the King’s equerry and future lover of Princess Margaret, led them out through the gardens to the Royal Mews where a car was waiting for them. The crowds had thinned considerably by then, but there were still plenty of people out on the streets celebrating victory.

As the Logues drove home, they gave a ride as far as the Kennington Oval, in south London, to a soldier and then, after he got out, to a couple with a little girl, who wanted to go to Dog Kennel Hill which was near their home. As they drove, they talked about the evening’s events and about the King and Queen. The couple thanked the Logues warmly as they got out; Lionel heard the baby’s sleepy little voice saying goodnight.

Although Logue had recently celebrated his sixty-fifth birthday, he had no plans for retirement and continued to see other patients. On 3 June 1945, Mieville wrote to thank him for ‘what you did for young Astor’ – a reference to Michael Astor, the twenty-nine-year-old son of Viscount Astor, the wealthy owner of the Observer newspaper, who wanted to follow his father into politics. ‘Your efforts were successful in that he was adopted for his constituency,’ Mieville added. ‘He ought to get in as it is a v. safe seat, but I fear he will not contribute much when he does arrive in the House of Commons.’ Astor was duly elected as the Member of Parliament for Surrey East in the following month’s general election, but served only until 1951 and made little impact on British public life.

For Logue, joy at the return of peace was soon to be tinged with personal tragedy.

That June he was in St Andrew’s Hospital in Dollis Hill in northwest London having an operation on his prostate when Myrtle suffered a heart attack and was taken to the same hospital. She died a few days later on 22 June.

Lionel was heartbroken. During their more than forty years together, Myrtle had been a dominant figure in his life; they had been deeply in love. During an appearance in 1942 on a BBC programme called On My Selection – similar to today’s Desert Island Discs – he had described his wife as ‘the lass who has stood by my side . . . and helped me so valiantly over the rough places’. She was cremated at Honor Oak Crematorium in south-east London, near their home.

The King sent a telegram of condolence as soon as he heard the news: ‘The Queen and I are grieved to hear of Mrs Logue’s death and send you and your family our deepest sympathy in your loss – George.’ He followed up with two letters: one on 27 June and a second on the following day. ‘I was so shocked when I was told because your wife was in such good form on Victory night,’ he wrote. ‘Please do not hesitate to let me know if I can be of any help to you.’

Logue had to face his grief without two of his three sons: Valentine was due to leave a few weeks later for India with a neuro-surgical unit, while Tony seemed likely to be sent back to Italy. He hoped at least Laurie would remain in Britain, though. ‘He has had a bad time in Africa and has not yet recovered,’ he wrote to the King on 14 July. ‘I don’t know quite what I would have done without him.’

Logue’s own health continued to be poor, but he nevertheless went back to work, ‘the great panacea for all sorrow’. ‘I am entirely at your Majesty’s command,’ he added. ‘I expect there will be a Parliament to be opened shortly.’

The State Opening, which took place on 15 August, saw a return to the pomp of pre-war years, with thousands of people lining the streets of London as the King and Queen travelled to parliament in the royal coach. There was an extra cause for celebration: earlier that day, following America’s dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Emperor Hirohito of Japan announced his country’s surrender. The Second World War was finally over.

In content, the speech written for the King was one of the most dramatic for decades. That July’s election had for the first time returned a Labour government with an absolute majority – and a mandate for a programme of sweeping social, economic and political change that would transform the face of Britain. Among the major reforms to which the new administration was committed was the nationalization of the mines, the railways, the Bank of England and the gas and electricity companies, as well as reform of the welfare and education systems and the creation of the National Health Service. ‘It will be the aim of my ministers to see that national resources in labour and material are employed with the fullest efficiency in the interests of all,’ the King declared.

A natural conservative, the King was concerned at the potential impact of some of his new government’s more radical measures. He was also saddened by the defeat of Churchill, with whom he had formed a close bond during the war. Yet whatever his misgivings, he was a constitutional monarch and had no alternative but to accept his new government. On a personal level, he developed good relations with Clement Attlee, the prime minister – like the King a man of few words – as well as with several of the new Labour ministers. He had something of a natural affinity with Aneurin Bevan, the minister of health, even though he was a member of the Labour left. Bevan, too, had long suffered with a stammer and told the King during his first audience of his admiration for the way he had overcome his speech defect.

Although the war had ended, life remained tough for ordinary Britons; the economy had been dealt a serious blow from which it would take many years to recover. Rationing, far from being ended, actually became stricter: bread, which had been freely on sale during the war, was rationed from 1946 until 1948; potato rationing was introduced for the first time in 1947. It was not until 1954 that rationing was finally abolished, with meat and bacon the last items to go.

Logue continued with his practice. ‘Life goes on, and I am working very hard, harder than I should have [to at] my age 66, but work is the only thing that lets me forget,’ he wrote in a letter to Myrtle’s brother, Rupert, in May 1946. In the letter he expressed the hope that he could go back to Australia for six months, in what would have been his first trip home since he and Myrtle emigrated to Britain in 1924. He was suffering from abnormally high blood pressure, however, and was warned by the doctors not to fly. This meant having to wait until normal shipping services resumed. He never made the trip.

Of Logue’s various cases, particularly poignant was that of Jack Fennell, a thirty-one-year-old stammerer from Merthyr Tydfil in Wales, who in September 1947 had written to the King pleading for his assistance. Unemployed, penniless and with a child to feed, Fennell was despondent and suffered from an inferiority complex brought on by years of discrimination over his stammer. Lascelles forwarded Fennell’s letter to Logue on 24 September, asking him to take a look at him and give an opinion on his condition. Logue reckoned he might need as much as a year of treatment, which Fennell couldn’t afford. After trying in vain to get help from the various welfare bodies, Fennell eventually found a sponsor in Viscount Kemsley, the newspaper baron who owned the Daily Sketch and The Sunday Times. With lodging in an army hostel in Westminster and the offer of a job at the Kemsley newspaper press in London, Fennell began his treatment in January 1948.

By April the following year, Logue was able to write back to Kemsley boasting of the progress his patient had made: Fennell had grown in confidence and passed ‘with flying colours’ an interview to work at the Atomic Energy Research Establishment at Harwell. Logue continued to see him for another year, although their appointments were reduced to just one a month. By August 1949, things were going so well at work that Fennell had moved his family into a house in Wantage; in January the following year he enrolled at the Oxford College of Technology and by May was offered a permanent job at Harwell.

With Myrtle gone and his sons now grown, Logue sold the house on Sydenham Hill in April 1947. It was not just that it was far too big for him now; as he wrote to the King that December in his annual birthday greetings, ‘it held too many memories’ of his decades of married life. He moved to 29 Princes Court, a ‘comfortable little flat’ in the Brompton Road in Knightsbridge, just opposite Harrods.

There were more problems at home. Tony, Lionel’s youngest, had in the meantime left the army and returned to university, only this time it was Cambridge. He continued to study medicine for nine months, but his heart was not in it and he switched to law. He was in delicate health, however. He went into hospital for a relatively straightforward operation on his appendix, but then had to have four major operations within six days. In his customary birthday letter to the King, Logue blamed the dramatic turn of events on a delayed reaction to an incident when his son was serving in North Africa and was unconscious for four days after getting too close to an explosion. Tony had been involved ‘in a desperate fight for his life’, he wrote. The King wrote back two days later expressing sympathy. ‘You have certainly had your share of shocks and sorrows,’ he said. As usual, he updated Logue on his public speaking, noting how pleased he was with a speech he had made at his father’s memorial. He expressed concern, however, that his Christmas message would not be easy, ‘because everything is so gloomy’.

Logue did, however, see one ambition realized: on 19 January 1948, he wrote to the King asking him to become patron of the College of Speech Therapists, which now counted 350 members, was ‘quite solvent’ and was now recognized by the British Medical Association. ‘I am sixty-eight years of age and it will be a wonderful thought in my old age to know that you were the head of this rapidly growing and essential organisation,’ he wrote. The King agreed.

Logue was still finding it difficult to come to terms with Myrtle’s death. They had been married for almost forty years, during which she had been a dominant influence on him, and her death left a massive hole in his life. Although otherwise a rational man, he became attracted to spiritualism in the hope of making contact with her on the ‘other side’. As a result he got in touch with Lilian Bailey, a ‘deep trance medium’. Over the years, Bailey had been consulted by a number of prominent figures in Britain and abroad – among them the Hollywood actresses Mary Pickford, Merle Oberon and Mae West, and Mackenzie King, the Canadian prime minister.

Quite how Logue got in touch with Bailey and how many séances he attended is unclear; his sons, however, were appalled when he used to tell them he was going off to ‘get in touch’ with his late wife. ‘It was something we thought was really crazy and wished to goodness he wasn’t doing it,’ recalled Valentine Logue’s wife Anne.90

Amid the gloom of the immediate post-war years, there was one glimmer of light: on 10 July 1947, it was announced that Princess Elizabeth would marry Philip, the son of Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark and the British-born Princess Alice of Battenberg. The couple had met in June 1939 when Philip was eighteen and the future Queen just thirteen. The King had travelled with his family on the Royal Yacht to visit the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth, and during the visit someone had to look after Elizabeth and Margaret, then aged nine.

Lord Mountbatten, the King’s ambitious aide-de-camp, made sure that of all the young men present, it was his nephew Philip, a tall, strikingly good-looking man who had just graduated as the top cadet in his course, who was given the task. Elizabeth (who was Philip’s third cousin through Queen Victoria, and second cousin, once removed, through Christian IX of Denmark) was smitten. ‘Lilibet never took her eyes off him,’ observed Marion Crawford, her governess, in her memoirs. The couple soon began to exchange letters.

What appeared to have started as a crush on Princess Elizabeth’s part soon turned to a full-blown romance – which was encouraged at every stage by Mountbatten, who was keen to see his family linked with the House of Windsor. Elizabeth and Philip wrote to each other and even managed occasional meetings when Philip was on leave, but so long as the war continued, there was little chance of their relationship going any further. That was changed by the outbreak of peace.

The King had mixed feelings about the match, not least because he considered his daughter too young and was concerned she had fallen for the first young man she had ever met. Philip was also seen by many at court – the King included – as far from the ideal consort for a future monarch, not least because of his German blood; the Queen was said to refer to him privately as ‘the Hun’. Hoping their daughter might find someone else, she and the King organized a series of balls packed with eligible men, to which Philip, to his great annoyance, was not invited. Yet Elizabeth remained devoted to her prince.

Eventually, in 1946, Philip asked the King for his daughter’s hand in marriage. George agreed – but still had one last trick up his sleeve: he insisted any formal announcement was postponed until after Elizabeth’s twenty-first birthday the following April. By the month before, at Mountbatten’s suggestion, Philip had renounced his Greek and Danish titles, as well as his allegiance to the Greek crown, converted from Greek Orthodoxy to the Church of England and become a naturalized British subject. He also adopted the surname Mountbatten (an Anglicized version of Battenberg) from his mother’s family.

The couple married on 20 November 1947 in Westminster Abbey in a ceremony attended by representatives of various royal families – but not Philip’s three surviving sisters, who had married German aristocrats with Nazi connections. On the morning of the wedding, Philip was made Duke of Edinburgh, Earl of Merioneth and Baron Greenwich of Greenwich in the County of London; the previous day the King had bestowed on him the style of His Royal Highness.

The King’s public speaking may have been getting better and better, but his health was getting worse. He was still only forty-nine when the war ended, but he was in poor physical shape: the strain he suffered during the war is often given as a prime reason, yet it is difficult to see how this strain was any greater than that suffered by the millions of men who served on the front line or indeed by the civilian population left behind. Another factor was his chain-smoking: in July 1941 Time magazine reported that, in order to share the hardship of his people, he was cutting down from twenty or twenty-five cigarettes a day to a mere fifteen. After the war, he started smoking more again.

Despite his poor health, the King set off in February 1947 on a ten-week tour of South Africa. He had already been to Australia, New Zealand and Canada, but had never visited South Africa and was keen to see it. The itinerary was a gruelling one and the King tired easily; a warm reception from the Afrikaners, especially from those old enough to remember the Boer War, was by no means guaranteed. There was also an added psychological strain: Britain was in the grip of one of the bitterest winters for decades, and the King suffered pangs of guilt at not sharing his subjects’ suffering. At one point he even suggested cutting short his trip, although Attlee strongly advised against it, warning that this would only add to the sense of crisis.

Within two months of his return, the King was beginning to suffer cramp in his legs, complaining in a letter to Logue of ‘feeling tired and strained’.91 By October 1948 these cramps had become painful and permanent: his left foot was numb all day and the pain kept him awake all night; later, the problem seemed to shift to the right. The King was examined the following month by Professor James Learmouth, one of Britain’s greatest authorities on vascular complaints, who found him to be suffering from early arteriosclerosis; at one stage it was feared that the King’s right leg might have to be amputated because of the possibility of gangrene. A few weeks later Logue wrote to express his concerns: ‘As one who had the honour to be closely connected with you during those dreadful war years and had a glimpse of the enormous amount of work you did, and saw the strain that was constantly made on your vitality, it is very evident that you have driven yourself too hard and at last have had to call a halt,’ he wrote on 24 November. ‘I know that rest, medical skill and your own wonderful spirit will restore you to health.’

The King appeared to have recovered by December, but the doctors ordered continued rest, and a trip to Australia and New Zealand planned for early the next year had to be abandoned. The King nevertheless seemed upbeat in a letter to Logue on 10 December. ‘I am getting better with treatment and rest in bed, and the doctors do have a smile on their face, which I feel is all to the good,’ he wrote. ‘I hope you are well & are still helping those who cannot speak.’

Lionel, who was fifteen years the King’s senior, was also having a bad year – and was confined for some of the time to his new flat, which was on the eighth floor. As he wrote in his annual birthday letter to the King that December, he was in such poor health that friends wrote home to Australia saying they didn’t think he would survive. He was heartened, though, by the apparent good news about the King’s condition. ‘I have followed the wonderful struggle you have made and rejoice the Almighty has brought you back to health,’ he wrote.

Christmas was looming – and with it the annual message. ‘I have got a new type of broadcast this year from a more personal angle which I hope will go well,’ the King wrote to Logue on the twentieth. In a sign of the progress he had made over the years, he no longer looked to Logue to help him prepare for his broadcast, as he had in the old days, although he urged him to telephone afterwards to give his opinion on his performance.

The King delivered the message from Sandringham, returning to London only at the end of February, when he resumed a limited programme of audiences and held an investiture. March 1949 brought bad news, however. After a full examination, it was decided the King’s recovery had not been as complete as everyone had thought; Learmouth advised a right lumbar sympathectomy, a surgical procedure intended to free the flow of blood to his leg. The operation, which was carried out at the King’s insistence in an impromptu operating theatre in Buckingham Palace rather than a hospital, went well. The King was under no illusions, however, that he would be completely restored to health; his doctors ordered him to rest, reduce his official engagements and cut down drastically on the smoking that had aggravated his condition; a second attack of thrombosis could be lethal.

The King’s health appeared to continue to improve through 1949, but the doctors nevertheless ordered as much rest as possible. That Christmas brought another message to the nation, the Commonwealth and the Empire. ‘Once more I am in the throes of preparing my broadcast,’ the King wrote to Logue, thanking him for his annual birthday greetings. ‘How difficult it is to find anything new to say in these days. Words of encouragement to do better in the New Year is the only thing to go on. I am longing to get it over. It still ruins my Christmas.’

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