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The Death of George V

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The death of King George V, in January 1936, made a public impact which not only allowed Rudyard Kipling to slip into the grave comparatively unnoticed, but after half a century still seems historically remarkable. Eight years earlier, on December 9th, 1928, the King's life had been saved only at the last moment when Sir Bertrand Dawson, as he then was, succeeded in locating and draining the abscess that had gravely complicated an attack of pleurisy. That crisis, and the long months of recovery, had indeed inspired a surge of popular feeling towards the throne and its occupant, who had never courted personal publicity. But by 1935 the nation-wide fervour of the Silver Jubilee (in celebrations promoted by his Government, not himself) not only touched but amazed him, and Queen Mary also. Seven months later the spontaneous participation in his obsequies was hardly less spectacular. Nearly a million mourners filed silently round the bier in Westminster Hall, where it was guarded at one interval by the new monarch and his three brothers; and the final act at Windsor was delayed for an hour by the pressure of the crowds along the entire route.

In 1928 the Great War that King George had keenly but privately felt to be 'horrible and unnecessary' had not yet been seen as a subject for books and plays, though the poets had their limited say. By 1936 the apprehensions of a second one were by close observers regarded as hastening his end. The reign of eighteen changing years had effectively become an era, and the very survival of the throne and the Empire had helped to make the King into something of a father-figure: though in a sense very different from that which he seems to have presented to his own family. That none of his sons was completely at ease with him is hardly surprising in the light of his own admission that he had himself feared his father, that his father had feared his, and that he intended to be feared in his turn. That, however, was no part of the generally accepted image. And if respect for a royal dedication to duty had been expanded into demonstrative affection, one significant cause is not far to seek.


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