Richard Berthelsen: Analyzing the Queen's 'hopeful' speech, line by line
TORONTO -- “It reminds me of the very first broadcast I made, in 1940, helped by my sister. We, as children, spoke from here at Windsor to children who had been evacuated from their homes and sent away for their own safety. Today, once again, many will feel a painful sense of separation from their loved ones. But now, as then, we know, deep down, that it is the right thing to do."
In October 1940, as the blitz was starting in London and after just one year of war, a teenaged Princess Elizabeth addressed the children of the Empire as they were being sent to the countryside, to Canada, and elsewhere to escape relentless aerial bombing. It was a hopeful message, made at a time of great anxiousness and fear amongst many families. So, it was fitting that the Queen would remind us of her only previous public remarks in a time of a grave international crisis.
The Queen spoke, in her typically understated way at ”an increasingly challenging time.” Her previous unscheduled addresses were given in times of mourning for members of her family, following the Gulf War in 1991 or at the end of her Diamond Jubilee. They do not compare to the sense of drama and anxiety in which Her Majesty spoke on Sunday. Aside from her usual Christmas Day or Commonwealth Day messages, The Queen has not delivered addresses of this kind more than these four times in her 68 year reign – an indication of how there has been no moment that has required this kind of unity and solidarity of purpose. This speech is unlike all that has passed before. The rarity of her speaking in this manner invests her words with much greater importance.
With this in mind, let’s look at what is between the lines of parts of the speech:
“I want to thank everyone on the NHS front line, as well as care workers and those carrying out essential roles, who selflessly continue their day-to-day duties outside the home in support of us all.”
This is a tribute to the workers of the National Health Service, an iconic British institution and not unlike Canadian hospital and public health workers.
“I also want to thank those of you who are staying at home, thereby helping to protect the vulnerable and sparing many families the pain already felt by those who have lost loved ones. Together we are tackling this disease, and I want to reassure you that if we remain united and resolute, then we will overcome it.”
The Queen is clearly encouraging people to follow public health advice and to enlist us all in the fight against COVID while expressing sympathy to the families of those who have lost their lives.
“I hope in the years to come everyone will be able to take pride in how they responded to this challenge. And those who come after us will say that the Britons of this generation were as strong as any. That the attributes of self-discipline, of quiet good-humoured resolve and of fellow-feeling still characterise this country. The pride in who we are is not a part of our past, it defines our present and our future.”
Her Majesty is challenging this generation to play their role as hers did in its own test, the Second World War. She is also reminding her people that the British tradition of calm in the face of danger and adversity is part of the national identity.
“Across the Commonwealth and around the world, we have seen heartwarming stories of people coming together to help others, be it through delivering food parcels and medicines, checking on neighbours, or converting businesses to help the relief effort.”
In this nod to the Commonwealth of which she is Head, The Queen is reminding listeners that she is not just Queen of the United Kingdom, but also 15 other realms, like Canada and an important symbol of the 54 nations of the Commonwealth. As she spoke all but a very few island nations in the South Pacific are reporting cases of the virus.
“And though self-isolating may at times be hard, many people of all faiths, and of none, are discovering that it presents an opportunity to slow down, pause and reflect, in prayer or meditation.”
This is a rare moment as we process this event to encourage people to look for the positive, for the opportunity to slow down and spend time with family and their faith. It is a nod to her own role as Supreme Governor of the Church of England, particularly at Easter.
The Queen ended with a powerfully positive and hopeful statement which was not lost on anyone:
“We will succeed - and that success will belong to every one of us.
We should take comfort that while we may have more still to endure, better days will return: we will be with our friends again; we will be with our families again; we will meet again.”
Evoking as this does the 103-year-old Vera Lynn and her war time song “We’ll meet again” it was an unmistakable nod to an older generation and their time. For many, it was very emotional. Soon to be 94 herself, The Queen sent a strong signal to those who are older of her own resilience as a hopeful symbol for those whose very lives and health are at risk.
The Queen subsequently issued a special message to Canadians followed by a statement from her representative in Canada that thanked the Queen and noted that Canadians would take up the challenge with bravery, resolve and kindness.
In just over 500 words and five minutes, the world’s longest serving Head of State gave comfort and hope to many and showed true leadership as “Mother of the Nation”. This was done in a way which political figures have not and perhaps cannot. For many it was a sign that something is working as it should and reminds us that the Crown may have had one of its finest moments.