On November 11, 1918 at 11:00 a.m. the war came to an end. The death toll reached 10 million world-wide. The British Empire claimed 908,371 casualties, 2,090,212 wounded out of 8,904,467 of mobilized forces. (WWI Casualty and Death Tables, n.d.).
Huge crowds gathered in Trafalgar Square in London to celebrate the end of the war. In spite of the fact that Britain was one of the victorious countries, her state was alarming. Her economy was in a bad shape with a huge debt of 136% of her gross national product, with the United States as a debtor. The politics were fractioned; the Liberal Party divided into two groups – the first one supporting Lloyd George and the second backing the former Prime Minister Asquith. (Britain after the war, n.d.).
But for King George V and his wife Queen Mary there was an enormous feeling of relief. All allegations of their German ancestry were forgotten and they could enjoy the power of the cheering crowds as they passed through the streets of London in their open carriage. The King highlighted his feeling in a note dated November 11 “Today has indeed been a wonderful day, the greatest in the history of the Country.” The Queen wrote to one of her children: “This has repaid us for much hard work and many moments of keen and bitter anxiety.” The King celebrated the victory by attending a theatre performance. He visited more than 30,000 disabled men in Hyde Park who all obtained a copy of his speech commencing with: “I am glad to have met you today and to have looked into the faces of those who for the defence of Home and Empire were ready to give up their all, and have sacrificed limbs, sight, hearing and health…” (Rose, 1986, p.223). On five successive days he drove through the streets of London. There were cheering crowds of up to nine miles and he was very touched by that. In St. Paul’s Cathedral a service of thanksgiving was held. The King received congratulations from the members of the House of Lords and Commons in the Royal Gallery of Westminster Palace in the presence of the representatives of the Dominions and India. In the next days he visited Edinburgh, France, the battlefields of St.Quentin, Le Cateau, Mons, Ypres, Passchendaele, Cambrai and Zeebrugge. When he returned back to London he received the visit of the President of the United States, Woodrow Wilson. (Nicolson, 1952, p.327)
One year later when the King attended the Derby race at Epsom, he was witness to the crowd making space for the disabled men in their hospital dresses. The King waved at them and proclaimed: “Without them there would be no Derby today”. (Aronson, 1986, p.223)
When the armistice´s second anniversary was approaching, it was suggested that along with the unveiling of the cenotaph on the Mall in London, the body of an unknown soldier should be buried in Westminster Abbey in the presence of the King. Despite the King´s objections relating to his feeling that two years after the war would be too long a time to carry out this act and it would reopen the war wound, he finally agreed. After unveiling the Cenotaph, he walked behind the gun that carried the body of the unknown warrior to the Westminster Abbey (Nicolson, 1952, p.343)
3.1Implications for Survival of the Monarchy
The collapse of the Tsarist system and fall of the Austro-Hungarian and German empires initiated a discussion about the monarchical tradition in Britain. Lord Esher declared: “The Crown and its cost will have to be justified in the future in the eyes of a war-torn and hungry proletariat, endowed with a huge preponderance of voting power”. (Aronson, 1986, p.194).
George V realized very soon after the outbreak of the war that his role needs to be considerable in regards to the provision of support and compassion, to unification, to his regular presence and also his sacrifices. It is worthy of notice that his duty was not only limited to representing his country as an official head of state, but to his active engagement in the war effort and his constant concerns for his subjects, which proved him to be a much-favoured sovereign of the British Empire. He died in 1936 and “by then he had developed into a quintessentially British monarch; the very symbol of the nation. All but forgotten was his German ancestry and his Continental connections; George V and his dynasty had become a truly national institution, the embodiment, it was said, of everything that was best in British life.” (Aronson, 1986, p.199)
Only four kings out of the nine that attended the funeral of Edward VII and whose picture was taken in Buckingham Palace kept their thrones. These were the constitutional sovereigns of Belgium, Denmark and Norway and Great Britain. “One of the 20th-century’s early lessons was that the only way for kings to stay kings was to give all their power away. George didn’t much like the lesson, but he learnt it very thoroughly.” (Carter,2009).
Queen Victoria, her son King Edward VII and her grandson King George V were all limited by the Constitution and their governments. They all actively followed their country’s events and tried to get involved – although each monarch to a different extent. Despite the fact that Queen Victoria’s reign was influenced by the early loss of her husband, she lived to the age of eighty one and for a long time refused to involve her son. It was only at the end of her reign that she accepted him as an advisor. At the moment of her death, her descendants were sitting on many of the European thrones so her legacy as the Grandmother of Europe was assured.
Taking into consideration that Edward VII came to the throne at the age of fifty-nine, his contributions in the field of foreign affairs and in army and naval matters was remarkable. In spite of his enthusiasm regarding the events in home and foreign politics, his decisions were taken into account only on the occasion of minimal objections from the participating sides. What needs to be stressed is his effort in the creation of agreements between the nations; the Entente Cordiale with France in 1904 and Anglo-Russian Entente in 1907. It must be noted that he managed to reach some results simply by travelling and by being an English gentleman, as many people called it, and due to his personal relationships with many of the sovereigns, aristocratic families, army officers and many others that he found interesting or necessary. Unfortunately, this was not the case with German Kaiser Wilhelm II. Although he was the son of his oldest sister, Edward VII indicated his dislike towards to his nephew on a regular basis. It can be said that the Kaiser’s behaviour may have been the initial reason for the King to make his own suggestions to define Britain as an ally to France and Russia, rather than to Germany.
Bearing in mind that King George V was the second son of Edward VII and was therefore not in direct succession to the throne, his role as British sovereign during the world conflict could be summarized as essential. As noted above he recognized the urgent demands for the sovereigns’ support. From the moment of the war´s onset, he visited his soldiers on the front, the workers in the factories, the citizens affected by the bombing and the wounded returned to the country. He did not hesitate to make sacrifices which he proved by limiting his food or service consumptions and abstinence in the campaign to reduce alcoholic drinking in the country. Even after his riding accident in France he carried on visiting the troops and his subjects.
Regarding his personal relationship with other sovereigns he did not appear to dislike any particular sovereign, but as the result of the Anti-German campaign, he decided to change his name from Saxo-Coburg to Windsor. Windsor remains the name that the British sovereigns employ to this day. He also issued the Title Deprivation Act that dispossessed the German peers of their British titles. These significant measures were accepted by the British public as proof of their sovereign’s commitments to his country and its citizens. What was not known for a long time was also the fact that due to his concerns over his throne, he refused to grant the asylum to his cousin, the Russian Tsar Nicolas II and his family. It could be viewed as proof of being concerned about the future of his own reign or as a simple sign of unpreparedness for accepting a foreign sovereign in his own country. Overall, it must be remembered that King George V succeeded in maintaining British monarchy contrary to those that fell during the war in the cases of Russia, Austro-Hungary and the German Empire, and in reassuring his people throughout the conflict that lasted four long years.
One hundred years after the moment of the war outbreak, one of Britain’s most remarkable sights, the Tower of London, became the place of the display called Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red (see Fig.10). Artists Paul Cummins and Tom Piper were behind the magnificent show to commemorate the centenary of the onset of the First World War. 888,246 ceramic red poppies were planted around the Tower each representing one military life lost in the time of the First World War. After the remembrance, the poppies were sold for £25 each, raising an astonishing 10 million pounds for six charities. (Brown, M., 2014). During four months this breathtaking show was visited by Queen Elizabeth II (see Fig.11) and also by her two grandsons, Prince William and Prince Harry (see Fig.12). It should be declared that these royals owe their place to their ancestors, who did their best not only to preserve their families, but also show the British people their human sides by becoming closer than ever before to their subjects.