I was a student in high school when King George VI died on 6 February in 1952, and Elizabeth II was proclaimed queen. The day remains as fixed in my memory as the day President Kennedy was assassinated. Similarly, I can recall the day Paul Henderson scored the winning goal in the Summit Series in the Soviet Union in 1972, and again in February of 2010, when Sidney Crosby slammed in the overtime goal in the Vancouver Winter Olympics. Everyone has milestone events in their lives that they retain, despite the passage of time.
The passage below is from the book, “The Reluctant Virgin.” The death of King George VI is told through the eyes of the book’s central character, Tom Hudson. He is in a classroom at the high school he attends, his best friend, Shorty Bernstein, seated in the desk beside him. I employed my own memories of the event to write this section of the novel.
On Wednesday 6 February, Tom trudged to school under dismal skies, sullen clouds scuttling over the frozen landscape. Arriving in Mr. Roger’s classroom, his homeroom, within minutes he heard the static noise on the P.A. system at the front of the room, and waited for the booming voice of the rotund principal, Mr. Tyrone Evanson. Each morning he instructed the students to stand for the playing of “God Save the King.” On this morning, Tom heard only buzzing sounds on the PA—no voice. Everyone gazed up at the loudspeaker, wondering what had happened to dear old Gus.
Shorty whispered to Tom, “I bet his stomach swallowed him.”
After twenty or thirty seconds, they heard Vice-Principal Mr. Dinkman say, “Please remain in your seats. Mr. Evanson has an important announcement for the student body.”
Another four or five-second-delay ensued.
Then Dinkman said reverently, “Here is your principal.”
“Staff and students,” Gus began, in a voice dripping with self-importance, “it is with the greatest regret that I make the following announcement. At six o’clock this morning, Toronto time, his majesty King George VI, sovereign of Great Britain, the Commonwealth and the Empire, passed away quietly in his sleep.”
Mr. Evanson paused again, the silence in the classroom almost overwhelming. “The school flag has been lowered,” he continued. “It is now at half-mast, in respect for our beloved sovereign, who reigned over our Dominion for fifteen years and one month. He was a good king, but more important, a noble person. For those of us who served during the war years, we will always remember his words on September 3, 1939, when the conflict commenced, ‘Stand fast and have faith,’” he said. We would do well to embrace his words in our hearts today. We expect all members of York Collegiate Institute to conduct themselves today with dignity and decorum. The Privy Council, constitutional advisers to British monarchs, has formally accepted Elizabeth II as queen. Please stand as we listen to the anthem ‘God Save the Queen.’”
Tom realized that the death of the king had deeply moved Mr. Evanson, but he knew nothing about Mr. Evanson’s background. Tom was unaware that the principal’s father was British, and he had raised his son in a home that revered the traditions of the monarchy. Being a monarchist like his father, the death of King George VI had profoundly shaken him.
For Tom, the words “God Save the Queen” sounded strange and unnatural. All throughout his days of elementary school, the word “king” had seemed an eternal part of the national anthem. A new age was dawning, but Tom had no way of knowing that during the years following the ascension of Queen Elizabeth, great changes would occur in the daily life of Canadians.
On this morning in February of 1952, when the playing of the anthem ended, silence prevailed. Nobody was certain how to react. Throughout the morning at school, the hallways were quiet as students rotated between classes. No teacher cracked a joke. They remained serious and business-like. Tom understood something of the sorrow and finality of death, as he had observed people grieve at the annual Remembrance Day services. The war had ended only seven years earlier, and wounds remained unhealed. He had witnessed powerful emotions among those who had survived and the terrible pain the losses had inflicted. When he had been six-years old, his uncle Will had passed away, and he remembered how it had devastated his family, especially his grandmother.
How would the death of the king affect Canadians?
One thing was certain. The events pushed any thoughts of the Stritch murder from the minds of Tom and his friends.
For further information on the “The Reluctant Virgin,”
a murder/mystery that encompasses historical fiction: https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2012/01/29/chilling-murdermystery-showcases-toronto/
A link to the author’s Home Page: https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/