Who was George VI? How did he boost morale during WWII?

King George VI and Queen Elizabeth visit families at Peckham Central School Community Centre
King George VI and Queen Elizabeth visit families at Peckham Central School Community Centre. Credit: Fox Photos/Getty

King George VI boosted morale during the Second World War but struggled to keep the British Empire together. He reigned from 1936 to 1952 

King George VI’s place in popular culture has been cemented thanks to actor Colin Firth. In the Oscar-winning 2010 film The King’s Speech, the stammering Prince Albert accepted the throne reluctantly following his brother’s abdication, and tried desperately to restore public confidence in the monarchy.

The country would soon require strong leadership. In three years, an axis led by Hitler’s Nazi Germany invaded Poland, marking the beginning of the Second World War in Europe. George VI led by example. He visited the United States in the summer of 1939 to shore up Anglo-American relations, embraced rationing in the royal household and made morale-boosting visits to munitions factories and army barracks to support the war effort at home.

While George could celebrate winning the war in May 1945 from the balcony of Buckingham Palace with Winston Churchill, his reign wasn’t entirely successful. In the aftermath of the war, the economy faltered and the British Empire shrank. Many colonies joined the informal Commonwealth community or declared independence – most notably India in 1947.

Key dates

  • 1940 – Winston Churchill begins his first term as prime minister
  • 1946 – The National Health Service is established
  • 1950 – The world’s longest-running radio soap opera, The Archers, first airs on the BBC
  • 1951 – The Festival of Britain takes place, promoting British prowess in science, the arts and industry