previous
next

I

DURING 1933, 1934 and 1935 I visited Europe. I spent in England four or five months of spring and early summer of each of those years. The Western Australian Parliament ordinarily sits from the end of July until a week or two before Christmas. My absence did not interfere with my work as President of the Legislative Council, and I was able whilst in Europe to render public service to Australia in a variety of ways, including attendance in a representative capacity at two International Parliamentary Conferences.

The hospitality of English people is unbounded, more especially towards visitors from the Dominions. Each of the three visits was in a private and not an official capacity, but notwithstanding I was overwhelmed with invitations to public and semi-public luncheons, banquets, receptions and such-like gatherings. As a member of the Empire Parliamentary Association I made much use of my entrée to the Imperial Parliament and had opportunities of hearing numerous debates in both Houses. I got into touch and formed friendships with various political leaders.




  ― 359 ―

Hospitality was not merely public. The Englishman is perhaps at his best in his own home. There were invitations to town houses and for week-end visits to the country houses. English hosts and hostesses are simple and unostentatious. In a subtle, perhaps unconscious, way they create the impression in the minds of their guests that they are to make themselves at home and do just what they like, and that by doing so they are giving pleasure to those whose guests they are.

The jubilee celebrations of 1935 could not fail to produce an indelible impression on anyone in London at that time. I was able to attend the State functions. I greatly appreciated the privileges extended to me, but, remarkable and imposing as they were, what to me was even far more significant was the frantic enthusiasm of the crowds in the streets. Rich and poor, old and young, strove with genuine earnestness to show by every means in their power their devotion and loyalty to the Royal Family. No ruler in the world could have a greater popular demonstration in his favour than the late King as he drove through the streets, not on one day alone, but whilst the celebrations lasted.

The variety and brilliancy of the uniforms at the thanksgiving service in St. Paul's produced a gorgeous effect, especially where here and there shafts of brilliant sunlight illumined the scene. King George and Queen Mary and the Royal Family, foreign potentates, Indian princes and ambassadors all brilliantly garbed, the bishops and judges in their robes, together with the political, naval, military and official leaders of the Empire, constituted a truly wonderful gathering of notabilities.


  ― 360 ―
But splendid as was the scene at St. Paul's on Monday, even still more impressive was the simple dignity of Thursday's ceremony when Parliament presented addresses to the King in Westminster Hall, where as His Majesty said, “Beneath these rafters of mediæval oak, the silent witnesses of historic tragedies and pageants, we celebrate the present under the spell of the past.”

There was an absence of uniforms, except those of the spiritual and law lords and the Speaker and his attendants. King George, the Princes, the members of both Houses of Parliament and the visitors were in morning dress.

The startling changes of the previous twenty-five years, with their struggles and anxieties, were aptly spoken of by the Lord Chancellor, Lord Sankey. “Elsewhere,” said he, “thrones and constitutions have failed to outlast the strain. Yet in this realm the development of public rights and liberties has not been arrested, but has been made wider and more sure. More truly than any of your illustrious ancestors your Majesty rules over a nation of free citizens. Yet in spite of, nay, rather because of, this wide extension of government by the people, the Throne stands more firmly than ever before as the centre of the national life.”

Still more apt was the reply of His Majesty. In the course of it he spoke some home truths when he said:

“It is to me a source of pride and thankfulness that the perfect harmony of our Parliamentary system with our Constitutional Monarchy has survived the shocks that have in recent years destroyed


  ― 361 ―
other Empires and other liberties. Our ancient Constitution, ever adaptable to change, has during my reign faced and conquered perils of warfare never conceived in earlier days, and has met and satisfied new democratic demands both at home and overseas.

“The system bequeathed to us by our ancestors, again modified for the needs of a new age, has been found once more, as of old, the best way to secure government by the people, freedom for the individual, the ordered strength of the State, and the rule of law over governors and governed alike.

“The complex forms and balanced spirit of our Constitution were not the discovery of a single era, still less of a single party or of a single person. They are the slow accretion of centuries, the outcome of patience, tradition and experience, constantly finding channels, old and new, for the impulse towards liberty, justice and social improvement inherent in our people down the ages.”

After the ceremony King George and Queen Mary walked slowly down the centre of the hall along the narrow passage between the seats. I occupied an end seat next to the passage. As His Majesty passed within a couple of feet of me, there was in his face a most wonderful expression of kindness, benevolence and thankfulness, the expression of a man who was genuinely anxious to do his best for the good of others. I thought how truly the then leader of the Labour Party, Mr. George Lansbury, had described him as “a very human person.” Even better than that simple phrase were the words of General Smuts:




  ― 362 ―
“With King George one never has the sense of position or pose or pomp. The centre of the mightiest and most successful group that has ever existed in history, he himself is simplicity itself. He requires no adventitious aids or props, and is content to be simply himself. And that simple self is compact of sheer humanness, which gives him a tact, a sympathy, and intuitive understanding of others which are his real sources of strength. His humanness, his simple integrity, sincerity and goodness inspire you with respect, devotion and— I must add—affection as nothing else could.”

General Smuts goes on to describe the King as “a simple human being—natural, sincere, truthful—whose life is spent for his people and who has no thought of self.”

All this was shown in the face of His Majesty as he walked down, and when, on reaching the entrance, he turned round and gazed for several seconds at the wonderful old hall and the crowd that looked towards him. Then he quietly walked out.

previous
next