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Published on August 10th, 2015 | by Rob Stebbings

George VI And The Dismantling Of An Empire

The abdication of King Edward VIII in 1936 to marry Wallis Simpson meant that his younger brother, Prince Albert, was unexpectedly crowned king. He had originally been named Albert in honour of his great-grandfather, Prince Albert the Prince Consort, as he had been born on the anniversary of Prince Albert’s death.

Before his brother’s abdication, Albert was an active member of the Royal Navy and served during World War One. In particular he was involved in the Battle of Jutland, the largest naval action seen during the war. After the creation of the Royal Air Force in 1918 he transferred from the Navy to the RAF, becoming a fully qualified pilot.

His marriage to Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon resulted in two children, Elizabeth and Margaret. Elizabeth would become the future Queen Elizabeth II, who still reigns today. Albert famously had a stammer that caused him to dread any public speaking and his battle overcoming the stutter was portrayed in the Hollywood film, The King’s Speech.

A Surprise Crown

Upon assuming the throne Albert adopted the name King George VI and he had his coronation in 1937. In 1939 he became the first British monarch to visit the United States in a state visit but it was during the Second World War that he gained more popularity. London was bombed extensively in the war but George refused to leave Buckingham Palace, despite the Palace being bombed multiple times.

This refusal to leave to safety helped to win them admirers as it showed the Royal family suffering along with the rest of the population. As well as this, they also were subject to rationing restrictions and they would visit various areas around Britain to help boost morale. George also visited Normandy only days after the D-Day landings as well as numerous other battle sites around Europe and North Africa.

Beginning of the Commonwealth

It was during George VI’s reign that the dissolution of the British Empire took on a more accelerated pace. During his time, many of the Dominions became independent states, resulting in Britain’s Empire becoming a more voluntary Commonwealth of nations that were united because they wanted to be. In 1947 British India was partitioned into Pakistan and India, the development of this Commonwealth resulted in him being given the title ‘Head of the Commonwealth’.

He also saw a need to honour the bravery of civilians during the Second World War that saw the founding of the George Cross and George Medal. The George Cross was award to the entire island and people of Malta in 1942 in honour of their heroism in resisting an enemy siege.

The stress and strain of the war and the post-war changes had resulted in the King’s health taking a downward turn. He developed lung cancer along with other illnesses, resulting in Elizabeth taking on more roles as her father’s health decreased. His lung was removed in 1951 after a tumour was found but he was still determined to make his Christmas Broadcast.

George VI died at the age of 56 from a coronary thrombosis in 1952, leaving his daughter to take the crown as Queen Elizabeth II. His wife and daughter were both interred with George’s remains in 2002, bringing the family together again.

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