It was in February of my second term at grammar school that an unusual event occurred. At 11 am in the middle of one of the lessons, the classroom door opened, and into the room swept the imposing figure of the head-teacher, Colonel Thomas. He was, as usual, in his black gown and mortar board, but had a very grave expression on his face. The teacher looked startled, wondering what was happening, as did the class. Col. Thomas took off his mortar board and faced us.
“I think you should know,” he told us, “that at 7.30 this morning His Majesty King George VI passed away. I think we should rise for a minute’s silence.”
We all stood up as he left, and duly kept the minute of silence, realizing that we now had a young queen on the throne. We later learned that the King had in fact died in his sleep and had been found dead in his bed, apparently from coronary thrombosis. In those days the monarchy was more remote than it is now, but was held in awe and affection by a patriotic nation whom the King had ruled through the Second World War. He had earned the country’s gratitude by opting to remain in Buckingham Palace throughout the German bombing of London.
As we resumed our seats when the minute’s silence ended, one boy put his hand up and asked, “Please, Sir, who’s dead?”