England: British Air Ministry, 1943. Photograph. This striking, wartime British Air Ministry photograph of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and His Majesty King George VI was taken on 25 June 1943 at a British Royal Air Force station upon the King's return from a tour of Malta and North Africa. The 9.75 x 7.5 inch (24.77 x 19.05 cm) black and white photograph displays multiple stamps and annotations on the verso, including those made by News organizations and military censors. A typed and pasted paper label in eight lines reads "BRITISH OFFICIAL PHOTOGRAPH NO. CH. 10395 (XP) | (Air Ministry Photograph - Crown Copyright Reserved) | THE KING RETURNS TO BRITAIN AFTER HIS NORTH AFRICAN CAMPAIGN. | H.M. the King returned to this country by air this morning | (25th June 1943) after his North African tour. | Picture shows:- H.M. the King with Mr. Winston Churchill in the officer's mess at the R.A.F. station in Britain to which the King returned."
The captioned slip is original to the photo, as evidenced by several dated ink stamps that overlay the slip, one of them being an initialed stamp stating "REVIEWED AND PASSED | U.S. Army | 25 JUN 1943 | PRESS CENSOR | No. 21 | E.T.O. U.S.A.” A "War Department" stamp indicating "RELEASED FOR PUBLICATION" is dated "JUN 29 1943". There are three press ink stamps: one of "THE NEWS LIBRARY" dated "RECEIVED JUL 5 1943", an undated stamp of "NEWSPICTURES, Inc." and a stamp stating "CERTIFIED BY LANET NEWS Ltd." stating "AS PASSED BY CENSOR". There are also various minor ink and pencil notations.
Condition of the photograph is very good, unfaded with no creasing. We note minor surface scuffing, and some scattered, tiny black spots. Vertical ink notation along the upper left edge reads: "PLA690217FILE". This notation is consonant with "File" and "Folder" notation on the verso and intrudes only 3/16 (.48 cm) inch into the margin, making it easily obscured by professional matting when the photograph is framed.
The image itself appears more candid than posed. Churchill and the King are both standing, the King on the left, Churchill on the right, the King in profile prophetically holding a half-smoked lit cigarette (the habit that eventually killed him), Churchill holding what might be a cigar and facing the camera. Both wear serious expressions and Churchill's mouth is slightly open, as if he was caught in the midst of saying something. The photograph is protected within a heavy gauge, removable mylar sleeve.
When captured in this image with Churchill, the King had just returned from a visit to troops in Malta and North Africa. “It was still possible to say that many men ‘fought for King and country’ during the Second World War.” The King was mindful of his role in uniting disparate people of the Empire and active in visiting members of his armed forces. These trips held their own measure of sacrifice, even for the King, who is visibly gaunt in this image. “When he returned to London on 25 June, the queen was shocked to find her husband had lost a stone in weight.” (Cadbury, Princes at War, p.244)
George VI became King in 1937 after his elder brother, Edward VIII, famously abdicated to marry his twice-divorced American mistress. Churchill had supported Edward during the crisis, to his political cost. During the Second World War, King George was reluctant for Churchill to succeed Neville Chamberlain, but after Churchill became Prime Minister in 1940, he and the King developed what has been described as "the closest personal relationship in modern British history between a monarch and a Prime Minister". The King died on 6 February 1952, during Churchill’s second and final premiership. Churchill’s fifteen minute broadcast speech to the nation the next day was a moving tribute to the both the man himself and the monarchy he had ably rescued from his brother: “…there struck a deep and solemn note in our lives which, as it resounded far and wide, stilled the clatter and traffic of twentieth-century life in many lands…”. Item #004792