Clement Attlee – 1945 Humble Address after Second World War

Clement_Attlee

Below is the text of the speech made by Clement Attlee, the then Prime Minister, in the House of Commons on 15 August 1945.

I beg to move, That a humble Address be presented to His Majesty as followeth: Most Gracious Sovereign, We, Your Majesty’s most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled, would humbly convey to Your Majesty our congratulations on the achievement of final victory over Your enemies. The enemy in Asia has followed the enemy in Europe into complete defeat and submission to the will of the victorious nations which have pledged themselves to free the world from aggression. We would rejoice with Your Majesty in the liberation of our fellow subjects in those lands which for more than three years have been subject to the ruthless oppression of the Japanese and in the removal of the peril of invasion from Your Dominions of Australia and New Zealand, Your Indian Empire and the eastern territories of Your Colonial Empire. We would humbly acknowledge the great debt which Your peoples owe to Your Majesty and to Your most Gracious Consort for the courage with which You have sustained them and the sympathy which You have shown them, reaffirming their love and their loyalty during the dark years in which You shared their afflictions. On this occasion of national rejoicing, we would pay especial tribute to Your Majesty’s Forces from all parts of the British Commonwealth and Empire who, fighting side by side with the Forces of Your Majesty’s Allies, have bought with their blood and toil the return of peace to the world. Nor at this time would we forget our gratitude to the Merchant Marine, the Civil Services, the Civil Defence Services and Police, and to all those who in home, office, industry or agriculture have contributed to victory. It is now our most earnest prayer that the clouds of war which have overshadowed Your Majesty’s reign will lift for ever and that the splendour of the victory which, by God’s providence we celebrate to-day, may be matched by the glory of Your peoples’ achievements in the constructive work of peace. We have just returned from giving thanks to Almighty God for the deliverance of this country from the manifold perils which have beset her so long, for the victory vouchsafed to the Forces of the United Nations against the Japanese aggressor and for the surrender of the last of our enemies. It is, I think, altogether fitting that our first action should be to express our loyalty and gratitude to the Sovereign. It is exactly three months to the day since in this House the then Prime Minister, the right hon. Gentleman opposite me, moved a Motion similar to this on the occasion of the end of the German war. In that Address to the King the House pledged its resolute support to the prosecution of the Japanese war. I imagine that few Members on that occasion thought that the end would come so soon. Few envisaged the changed conditions in which this Motion would be brought forward. We have had a General Election which has brought great alterations in the composition of this House. We have had a change of Government; but in the midst of change there are things which remain unaltered. Among those are the loyalty and devotion of the House of Commons to His Majesty. It is the glory of our democratic Constitution that the will of the people operates and that changes which, in other countries, are often effected through civil strife and bloodshed, here in this island proceed by the peaceful method of the ballot box.
The institution of the Monarchy in this country, worked out through long years of constitutional development, protects us from many of those evils which we have seen arise in other countries. I believe that the peaceful transfer of power from one political party to another, during these last few weeks, so smoothly and with such acceptance, has been a valuable demonstration to the world of the working of real democracy. My right hon. Friend in his speech three months ago, with an eloquence which I cannot emulate, drew a picture of the position of the King as a symbol of unity not only to his subjects in these islands, but to all the many nations which are united in the British Commonwealth and Empire. He spoke with the general assent of all parties in this House and I shall not, this afternoon, attempt to traverse the ground which he covered; but in rendering our congratulations and thanks to His Majesty we pay tribute to something more than the institution of kingship.

His Majesty the King and his gracious Consort the Queen have shared our anxieties, our tribulations and our sufferings during the war, and the shadow of bereavement has fallen on them as it has fallen on the homes of their people. The King and Queen have throughout set us an example of courage and devotion which will not be forgotten. By this, and by their sympathy, they have strengthened the bond uniting them to their people. This bond is no mere constitutional formality, but the basis of the deep affection and understanding which, I believe, have been strengthened by the experiences through which we have passed.

However well and skilfully constitutions may be framed they depend in the last resort on the willingness and ability of human beings to make them work. Our British Constitution, in war and peace, works because the people understand it and know by long experience how to operate it. A constitutional monarchy depends for its success to a great extent on the understanding heart of the monarch. In this country we are blessed with a King who, as my right hon. Friend said, combines with an intense love of our country and all his people, a thorough appreciation of our Parliament and democratic Constitution. In the difficult times ahead I believe that the harmonious working of our Constitution, in which the people’s will is expressed by King and Parliament, will be an example of stability in a disordered world. It is, therefore, to my mind, a fortunate thing that this new Parliament, like its predecessor, should, in this Address, have the opportunity of expressing its feeling, and of giving thanks to the Sovereign.