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SHW Microhistory: 6. The royal visit, 1941.

Their Majesties King George VI and Queen Elizabeth visited Swansea on 19 March 1941. The visit was intended as a morale booster for the town which had suffered heavily in German air raids in February of that year.

In the darkest days of the Second World War, (between June 1940 and December 1941), Britain stood alone against the might of Nazi Germany and wasn't expected to last much longer. In the face of murderous German air raids at home and military reverses abroad, the King and Queen became a pillar of strength in maintaining the morale of the nation.

King George VI had been literally thrown in at the deep end when he acceded to the throne in December 1936. However, with the unfailing support of Elizabeth he quickly built up a close bond with the British people which seemed to grow stronger with each year of his reign. Although the government wanted to evacuate the Princesses to Canada in June 1940, it was Elizabeth who decided the matter...'The Princesses cannot go without me. I cannot go without the King. The King will never go.' Throughout the terrible winter of 1940-41, the royal couple toured the country visiting blitzed towns and exhausted factory workers. The impact of these visits was inestimable. The fact that Buckingham Palace was bombed nine times, once with the couple in the building cemented the bond between King and people even further.

In another timeless quote, the Queen said 'I'm almost comforted that the Palace has been hit. I feel I can look the East End in the face.' The Queen was often the star of the visits. Years later, Lord Harlech recalled that the Queen would often jump out of the car and straight into the nearest crowd. 'She had that quality of making everybody feel that they and they alone were being spoken to...she has very large eyes which she opens very wide and turns straight upon one'.

The royal visit did much to undo the considerable local upset that had been caused by a tactless and arrogant broadcast by the BBC intent on creating propaganda out of the Swansea raids. The couple talked to the local emergency services, and visited victims of the bombing. The Queen was taken up onto North Hill to see the extent of the bombing. In the photo above, Alderman Tom James is seen pointing out the damage. Although there have been many other royal visits over the years, they have never been so significant as this one. The site of the visit is largely unchanged today, even the phone box is still there!

More SHW Microhistory

SHW's Book of the Month:

The History of the Countryside: The...

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Oliver Rackham's book is a classic for anyone who wants to understand the way Britain's countryside has changed over the past two thousand years. I have never came across any other book that offered so many insights into trees, hedgerows, and roads explained in such a readable and interesting way. The author starts in Roman times and goes into marvellous detail to explain the way in which roads and hedgerows shaped the landscape. He looks at the 'new arrivals' such as rabbits and sycamores. The differences between woodlands, wood pastures and commons are better described here than any other book I have come across. A comprehensive reference and bibliography section give you plenty of further ideas for more reading. (Nigel Robins)

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