Neville Chamberlain had resigned as Prime Minister of Great Britain and been replaced by Winston Churchill, The Royal Air Force had conducted its biggest air raid on Berlin and a young Princess Elizabeth was set to make her very first broadcast to the children of the Commonwealth.
Derek McCulloch, nicknamed Uncle Mac, was the man responsible for ensuring that Princess Elizabeth took part in the start of a monthly series of features on Children’s Hour dedicated to children in wartime.
Despite concerns that Princess Elizabeth was too young for such a broadcast, King George VI eventually agreed.
On 9th October 1940, the Daily Mirror reported, “When Uncle Mac thought of starting a new service for the children who had been evacuated to Canada, America and Australia, he decided at once that Princess Elizabeth was the one to introduce this once-a-week feature of the Children’s Hour. The Princess has never broadcast before but this did not deter Uncle Mac. He besieged the big noises in the BBC and when they wondered whether permission would be given, he turned his attention to the Ministry of Information and pointed out how appropriate such a broadcast would be.”
And so on October 13th, 1940 Princess Elizabeth, with Princess Margaret at her side, made her first broadcast from Windsor Castle. See the full extract of the speech below:
“In wishing you all ‘good evening’ I feel that I am speaking to friends and companions who have shared with my sister and myself many a happy Children’s Hour.
Thousands of you in this country have had to leave your homes and be separated from your fathers and mothers. My sister Margaret Rose and I feel so much for you as we know from experience what it means to be away from those we love most of all.
To you, living in new surroundings, we send a message of true sympathy and at the same time, we would like to thank the kind people who have welcomed you to their homes in the country.
All of us children who are still at home think continually of our friends and relations who have gone overseas – who have travelled thousands of miles to find a wartime home and a kindly welcome in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the United States of America.
My sister and I feel we know quite a lot about these countries. Our father and mother have so often talked to us of their visits to different parts of the world. So it is not difficult for us to picture the sort of life you are all leading, and to think of all the new sights you must be seeing, and the adventures you must be having.
But I am sure that you, too, are often thinking of the Old Country. I know you won’t forget us; it is just because we are not forgetting you that I want, on behalf of all the children at home, to send you our love and best wishes – to you and to your kind hosts as well.
Before I finish I can truthfully say to you all that we children at home are full of cheerfulness and courage. We are trying to do all we can to help our gallant sailors, soldiers and airmen, and we are trying, too, to bear our own share of the danger and sadness of war.
We know, every one of us, that in the end, all will be well; for God will care for us and give us victory and peace. And when peace comes, remember it will be for us, the children of today, to make the world of tomorrow a better and happier place.
My sister is by my side and we are both going to say goodnight to you.
Come on, Margaret.
Goodnight, and good luck to you all.”
The broadcast was a resounding success in Britain and across the world. The North American representative of the BBC in New York, Gerald Cock, sent a telegram which read, “Princesses yesterday huge success here. Some stations report telephone exchanges jammed with requests for a repeat.”
King George VI exclaimed that Princess Elizabeth’s voice sounded exactly like that of her mother, Queen Elizabeth.
Princess Elizabeth would not make another broadcast until 1944 but it is certain that the Children’s Hour speech set Elizabeth up for a lifetime of broadcasts, which would dramatically increase when she ascended the throne just 12 years later.