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Draft version of King George VI’s first wartime speech hit’s the auction block

King George VI contemplated declaring war on Germany prior to Hitler's Invasion of Poland in 1939.

King George VI contemplated declaring war on Germany prior to Hitler’s Invasion of Poland in 1939.

Sotheby’s will auction off an initial draft of King George VI’s speech in which he tells the country that Britain was ready, willing and able to declare war on Germany. It is the first time in 74 years, that the draft has become available. The speech was the King’s first broadcast during wartime and is dated 25 August 1939, a week before Hitler and his Nazis began their invasion of Poland.

The same speech was portrayed in the 2010 movie The King’s Speech with Academy Award winner Colin Firth portraying the King. Where Firth repeated the famous words “In this grave hour, perhaps the gravest in our history …”

The Draft King’s Speech is a three page document that charges Germany with being an aggressor that aspired to govern the world through bullying and control, emphasizing that “we are fighting for the principles of freedom and justice.”

Keen on the sentences being short and concise, the King kept the copy complete with notes written in the left hand margins making his opinion clear of the lengthy sentences. Obviously he was heard as his 3 September speech indeed contained the brief, succinct sentences he wanted.

“This is a fascinating document for a number of reasons. It brings to life not just the speech but a pivotal moment in British history. It was written before Poland had been invaded but at a time when it was clear we were moving towards war with Germany,” Auctioneer Dr. Gabriel Heaton of Sotheby’s commented in The Telegraph.

“There would have been a group of people writing this speech and Rhodes was one of them. He had provided a first draft and was sent this revised version. His note in the margin is saying that his original is better than this one and that the wording should be shorter,” Heaton concluded.

War with Germany was on the horizon prior to the speech. It began when Hitler blatantly ignored stipulations of the 1919 Treaty of Versailles. The build-up to war included: in 1933, Germany stopped paying back the war reparations as well as pulled out of the League of Nations. In 1935 Hitler chose to overhaul the armed forces using compulsory military service for young men. Then in 1938, Hitler answered Austria and set a full on invasion of Czechoslovakia.

It was the 3 September 1939 invasion of Poland that say Britain have enough with the antics of Hitler, therefore issuing a declaration of war.

“When it happened, war wasn’t out of the blue. There had been a number of political crises involving Germany going on for over a year before. The idea that this speech was prepared in advance of war is not a huge surprise, especially as the King had difficulties in delivering speeches.” Imperial War Museum Historian Nigel Steel, concluded.

The auction will be held at Sotheby’s in London on 10 December.

A copy of King George VI speech is available on the British Monarch Website:

photo credit: FDR Presidential Library & Museum via photopin cc