Sixty years ago Princess Elizabeth’s honeymoon in Kenya was cut short when her father died and she returned to the the UK as Queen Elizabeth II (but was only actually crowned a year later in June 1953).
Whatever your views on monarchy you have to admit that she has done well to stick it out through thick and thin for sixty years!
But sticking out out is what the British royal family does. During my research for my first wartime novel, Lavender Road, I discovered that people who lived through the war had been impressed that King George VI and the royal family (including the two young princesses) stayed on in London right through the Blitz. As we all now know from the film The King’s Speech, the Queen’s father King George VI had terrible problems with public speaking. Nevertheless, despite his stammer, people admired his courage in trying to give them moral support during those dangerous times. In Oct 1940, right in the middle of the Blitz, even the fourteen year old Princess Elizabeth made a radio broadcast (her first of many) to reassure the evacuee children of Britain.
Some of the other European royals weren’t quite so gritty. Historians believe that when Mussolini fell in 1943, the vacillation of the Italian King, Victor Emmanuel, not only prolonged the war but also caused immeasurable suffering to his own people. His chronic indecision about what to do allowed the Nazis to occupy Italy, which meant the Allied forces had to fight the whole way up the peninsula. And in May 1940 the King of Belgium let the side down in a big way by surrendering his country far too soon, thus causing the Allied troops to be encircled at Dunkirk.
In fact, as well as the Jubilee, this weekend is also an anniversary (the 72nd) of Dunkirk. As 750,000 Nazi forces poured into Belgium, Allied forces frantically retreated to the coast where they became stranded due to the lack of vessels to evacuate them from the beaches. While their rearguard forces fought a valiant defensive action to hold the Germans at bay, a call eventually went out for private boats to come and help. And suddenly what had seemed like a crushing defeat turned into one of the most amazing and spectacular rescue efforts ever as hundreds of tiny inadequate vessels ploughed across the English channel, braving bombs and heavy machine gun fire from the Nazi air force, to rescue their compatriots. And what’s more, some (like my character Alan Nelson in Lavender Road) went back more than once, risking their own lives in their determination not to leave anyone to the mercy of the Nazis.
And so was born the concept of the Dunkirk spirit. Whether it was partly due to the continuing presence of the King in London we will never know, but I am quite sure that the Queen believes it was, and it is her innate Dunkirk spirit that has helped her weather the storms of the last sixty years!