George VI unexpectedly became King following the abdication of his brother, King Edward VII, in 1936. Conscientious and dedicated to the role which had been thrust upon him, George worked tirelessly to adapt to his new role. He was helped in his duties by wife Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon who he had married in 1923, including making state visits to France, Canada and the United States within the space of one year.
George’s most significant achievement came during the period of the Second World War, when he visited British troops on the Normandy beaches 10 days after D-Day, as well as his Army in Italy and the Low Countries. He also remained - for the most part - at Buckingham Palace, despite it being bombed nine times during the Blitz, providing him and his wife Queen Elizabeth access to severely bombed areas of the East End of London and elsewhere across the country, while gaining him great popularity by paying such interest.
Forging a close working bond with wartime prime minister Winston Churchill during this tumultuous period, alongside his experience during active service in the Navy during the First World War, enabled George to acquire greater understanding of the hardships such combat created, leading to the institution of the George Cross and the George Medal, both of which were awarded for acts of bravery by citizens.
In 1942, the George Cross was subsequently awarded to the island and people of Malta in recognition of the heroism shown when resisting an enemy siege. In 1947, in the midst of Britain’s weak post-war economic positioning, India and Pakistan became independent and George ceased to hold the title of Emperor of India.
Changes to the Commonwealth meant that its ties shifted towards recognition of the Sovereign as Head of the Commonwealth as opposed to common allegiance to the Crown as it once was. It was soon after in 1948 that it became apparent the hardships of the post-war period had taken its toll on the King’s health, resulting in his failure to recover from a lung operation, which led to his death on 6 February 1952, aged 56.