When King George 6th made his first wartime Christmas radio broadcast on December 25th 1939 the nation and its Empire were in the middle of the “Phony War”. The expected air onslaught on Britain hadn’t come and many of the children who had been evacuated out of our cities had returned home. Although the German Navy was already harassing our Atlantic convoys and on October 13th had managed to penetrate the defences at Scapa Flow and sink the battleship “Royal Oak” with the loss of over 830 lives the general mood in the country was of apathy and complacency.
Recognising the need to change that mood to one of confidence and determination, the King finished his speech - a gruelling experience for a man who suffered from a debilitating stutter -with a poem called “God Knows” written by Minnie Louise Haskins and first published in 1908.
And 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."
The speech was very well received both here and around the free world and the poem became one of the most widely reproduced of the 20th century. The Queen was particularly taken by it and had it engraved on a plaque on the gates of the King George VI Memorial Chapel at Windsor when the King was interred in 1952. The poem was also read out at the Queen’s own state funeral in April 2002.
102 years after it was originally written Minnie Louise Haskins’ poem still retains its power to inspire and encourage us forward into the future with hope and confidence. As we read it let us wish ourselves all - a very Happy New Year.
On the 7th January 2011 “The King’s Speech” - a film about how George VI overcame his speech impediment with the help of Australian therapist Lionel Logue is released in the U.K. The film stars Colin Firth, Helena Bonham Carter and Geoffrey Rush as ‘Lionel Logue’.
– from Martyn Day