The Queen is Dead. Long Live the King!

Earl’s signed welcome home message from King George VI, and a Winnipeg Tribune photo of King George VI with his three-year-old grandson, Charles, now King Charles III.

Like all Canadians under the age of 70, I have never known a time when Britain (and Canada) had a King. In researching Dickies From Gunton: Canadian Brothers in Two World Wars, I was fortunate to get a sense of what that was last like.

Percy was a small child when Queen Victoria died in 1901, and the boys knew only Kings for the next 51 years: King Edward VII, King George V, King Edward VIII (although he abdicated) and King George VI. For the boys, King George VI (Elizabeth II’s father) was more than just a male face on the coins. He was with them during tough times, from 1936 through the Second World War.

In fact, when Earl and his fellow Winnipeg Grenadiers returned from Hong Kong, they were provided with an official signed thank you message from King George VI. Earl proudly kept it in his scrapbook for the rest of his life.

The card, written in script and signed in his handwriting, says:

“The Queen and I bid you a very warm welcome home.

Through all the great trials and sufferings you have endured at the hands of the Japanese, you and your comrades have been consistently in our thoughts. We realize from the accounts which we have already received how heavy those sufferings have been. We know too that these have been endured by you with the highest courage.

We mourn with you the deaths of so many of your gallant comrades.

We hope with all our hearts that your return from Captivity will bring you and your families a full measure of happiness.”

George RI (R for Rex or King, and I for Imperator or Emperor)

George VI died on February 6, 1952, and his 25-year-old daughter was proclaimed Queen Elizabeth II. He was only 56 and Winnipeggers were sad because he was “a good guy”. We fondly remembered his 1939 Royal Tour of Canada with his wife, Queen Elizabeth (later known as the Queen Mother). Earl and his fellow Winnipeg Grenadiers were in the Guard of Honour during their Winnipeg visit. We looked to Elizabeth, who had served during the Second World War, as she stepped into her new role. Her three-year-old son, Charles, was next in line. And now, that little boy has become King Charles III.

Elizabeth II was the longest reigning British monarch. She passed away at the age of 96 after 70 years on the throne. With the years, many things have changed. Although her face remains on the currency and on many stamps for now, we don’t use cash or the mail as much as we used to. Canada has gone from British colony to part of the British Commonwealth. And there is a growing awareness of the pain caused by colonialism. Canadians were captivated by the process of royal transition in 1953, and no matter our personal feelings about the Crown, this too is an important time in our history. We are here to experience it.

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