Day King George V1 pitched up on a Suffolk beach and sang Auld Lang Syne
- Credit: Archant
It is 65 years since the front page of the ‘late final’ edition of the Ipswich Evening Star proclaimed THE KING IS DEAD as flags were lowered to half-mast and theatres shut for the day.
King George V1 had been found dead in bed at sandringham Hosue, in Norfolk that morning, aged just 56.
Was King George V1 really as shy as we are led to believe?
We tend to think monarchs were stand-offish and staid early last century – and particularly the shy George VI, whose battle to overcome a stutter was portrayed so memorably in the film The King’s Speech. But folk on a Suffolk beach in 1938 might tell us a different story.
That summer, the King interrupted a cruise with the Queen and princess daughters Elizabeth and Margaret to drop in on Southwold. The Ipswich Evening Star retold the tale on Wednesday, February 6, 1952 – the day the King was found dead in his bed at Sandringham House in Norfolk.
“For four hours on August 2nd, 1938, he strolled, bare-headed and in grey flannel shorts and open-necked shirt, among the 400 boys from public schools and factories who were attending the annual camp at Southwold, which he had founded 18 years previously as Duke of York,” it said.
The family had been sailing on the royal yacht Victoria and Albert. “As two local watermen brought him ashore, the boys who had gathered on the beach to greet him chanted: ‘Yo-ho, heave ho!’ and ‘In-out, in-out!’, then hauled the boat high up the shingle.”
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And with classic understatement: “It was the first time for many years that a sovereign of England had landed on the coast in this manner. His Majesty walked with the cheering boys and holidaymakers nearly a mile to the camp.
“On his departure, the thousands who had assembled took up the refrain of Auld Lang Syne.
“Owing to the sea swell, one boatman had difficulty in getting aboard, and the King promptly gave him a hand and assisted him into the boat. Later, the royal yacht sailed northwards to Yarmouth, where it anchored for the night before proceeding on towards Aberdeen.”
For East Anglians, the formal reputation of the monarch in those class-ridden days wasn’t the whole picture. Many saw George VI as “the Farmer King”.
Royal estates at Sandringham bred the traditional animals of the East Anglian countryside. There was the herd of red polls, for instance, and the King was a patron of the Suffolk Horse Society and Suffolk Sheep Society.
He was also enthusiastic about racing, having horses in training at Captain Cecil Boyd-Rochfort’s yard in Newmarket.
What was life in Suffolk like in 1952?
The year of 1952 began with news that Lord Bristol had left £1,257,999 in his will. Rear-Admiral Frederick William Fane Hervey, 4th Marquis of Bristol – who lived at Ickworth, near Bury St Edmunds, and was a former MP for the town – had died the previous October, aged 87.
Adverts in the Evening Star heralded the new year sales. Lavey of London, which had a shop in Carr Street in Ipswich, offered men’s overcoats for £4 (usual price nearly £20). Ladies’ hooded coats – in cherry, bottle, grey, royal or navy – were 79 shillings and 11 pence.
Then, on February 6, it gave readers the sad news about the monarch. “Elizabeth, who a week ago waved from her aircraft at London Airport to her father, King George VI, standing bareheaded to wish his daughter godspeed on her journey to Africa, is today flying back to England as Queen. Tonight she will be proclaimed sovereign.”
The paper said: “At 10.45am this morning the whole nation and Empire was stunned by the announcement that the King, who retired to rest last night in his usual health, had passed peacefully away in his sleep early this morning at Sandringham. He was in his 57th year, and the sixteenth year of his reign. His death comes just over four months after his grave operation for lung resection.” He was claimed by a coronary thrombosis.
“People who have regularly watched the King attend morning service on a Sunday at Sandringham Church had until a fortnight ago commented on his improved appearance since he came down to his native Sandringham for the Christmas holiday. But, the last two Sundays, they noticed that his ready smile for the crowd was missing.”
The Star said he had devoted his life to duty. “Despite his exalted station he was a man of simple tastes and found his relaxation and greatest pleasure in the simple joys of family life.”
It talked about the hurdles he’d cleared. “The King suffered from an affliction which might well have many a lesser man flinching from undertaking the duties of a Prince of the Blood and even more those of a King. From his early years he had a nervous hesitation in his speech which occasionally made it extremely difficult for him to enunciate certain words.
“But moral courage was a virtue which King George the Sixth possessed in a very high degree, and he regarded the affliction as a challenge to be overcome. With the help of exercise prescribed by an Australian specialist, Mr Lionel Logue, he gradually conquered the trouble until in private talk he spoke normally, hesitating only on public occasion.”
His queen, in the early years of his reign, would sit close by, “glancing up at him with a smile of encouragement at that long-drawn moment when the words would not come. Meeting his wife’s glance, the King would derive strength from her and continue his speech”.
The Star’s opinion column said: “We say in all respect that the monarchy is the one nationalised institution which the British people really feel they own.
“It was King George’s greatest achievement that he fostered this. By identifying himself wholly with the nation in service to it,
he earned for himself and his family not only immense respect but a love which may have surprised him.”
Mourning the King
At Ipswich Juvenile Court, chairman Mr SJ Stearn asked everyone to stand in silence. He told four boys before him: “There has passed a great King and an inspiring character, whom all of you boys might aspire to emulate and follow.”
And in town? “Little groups of people congregated on street corners and in cafes and bars, passing the news on to their neighbours. There was little
noise in the streets and people went quietly about their business,” said the Evening Star.
Flags flew at half-mast and the mayor sent a message of condolence to Buckingham Palace. During the lunch-hour, many folk in the town centre made their way to the civic church, St Mary-le-Tower, to kneel in silence.
At Bury St Edmunds, about 100 farmers – including the Duke of Grafton – stood in silence for a minute at Simpson’s saleyard. Bells tolled elsewhere in town.
At Bentwaters military base, near Woodbridge, a guard of RAF and American Air Force men put the Stars and Stripes and the RAF flag at half-mast.
The flags always flew together.
The news brought congestion to Britain’s telephone exchanges. Some private exchanges and switchboards in City offices, including newspaper HQs, were closed temporarily to outgoing calls.
The Lord Chamberlain ordered that all theatres should be closed that day; and, on the day of the funeral, up until 6pm.
One that went “dark” was Ipswich Theatre, which had just begun a two-week run of
Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire (“adults only”). It was the theatre’s 100th production.
The Cinematograph Exhibitors’ Association of Great Britain and Ireland advised its members to shut that day.
Ipswich Post Office Sports Club cancelled its dance at the British Legion, along with a whist drive in the club room.
Astonishingly, FA Cup football matches were played – during the day, too – but Ipswich Town Reserves’ game at Southampton was cancelled by the home club.
Ipswich were by then en route – a message for them was sent to Winchester station to tell them the match was off.
No smartphones in 1952…
On the day the King died, poultry farmer Alfred Moore, 36 and from Huddersfield, was executed at Leeds Prison for the murder of a detective. The officer was shot when police formed a cordon around father-of-four Moore’s smallholding the previous summer.
Rather more innocently, 10 Ipswich boys and girls aged from nine to 13 were discharged by the local juvenile court. They’d been accused of trespassing on railway lines near Ipswich cemetery.
The parents of two of them said broken wire fences had been left unrepaired for 20 years and there were no warning notices. One child’s
father said grown-ups had been crossing the lines in the same way for years. “Why pick on the children when adults do it?” he asked.
Meanwhile, four youths were dealt with for stealing money left out for the milkman with the empty bottles.
One 14-year-old, who had been in trouble before, was told by the juvenile court chairman: “It is quite obvious you think far too much of yourself. You are a proper show-boy.”
He was sent to an approved school.