This is a story that I submitted for a competition where I was required to write a future history of 2013. I am pleased to say it won third prize and now that the judging is complete, I am sharing it with the world, even though a few of the dates have already passed. Who the speaker is and what the context of the speech is will become clear as you read on.
Today a morning that should be one of joy and celebration has instead dawned as one of sorrow.
Today more than any other, we should be feeling thankful that those whom we love are near us and proving their love through warmth and generosity. Yet at this moment, I am sure we are asking ourselves, how can we think these things when such a pall of sadness hangs over us? What right have we to be happy when fate has been so cruel, above all in a season that celebrates new life?
The answer is that if we forget about the happiness that those who remain can bring us, we are fated to dwell in misery and lives that could be full of good works become empty. If you, like I, have suffered the death of loved ones this year, do not turn away from those who offer you a shoulder to cry on. It is in emotional support and words of comfort that our hearts are healed.
This year has certainly been one of tragedy at other times. On 20th March came what is now known as the Budget Day Bombing. The world sat stunned as once more, Islamic extremists struck at the heart of our nation, killing 23 people, with the Right Honourable George Osborne among the dead.
Fresh in our memories are September’s riots over oil prices, spurred on by striking North Sea rig workers. The crash of KLM flight 678 near Manchester in the same month caused great panic, as did May’s devastating floods in Lincolnshire.
In other parts of the world, Lisbon has suffered massive damage from an earthquake, mirroring the one that struck the city in 1755. Further earthquakes have devastated Sicily and the Japanese island of Kyushu, while northern Australia has been struck by ruinous tropical storms. Fighting continues in Mali, Niger and Mauritania, and may do so for a long time to come. Syria has been condemned for its use of chemical weapons on rebel forces and riots in Tibet have killed more than 60 people.
However, on a day such as this, it is apt to reflect on what good can stem from misfortune. It is often the case that in the wake of someone’s death, people are surprised how many sides there were to that person. When my father died in May, I was deeply touched by the outpouring of sympathy from those of you who brought in floral tributes and sent in messages of condolence. Yet on the day of his funeral, many of the people I spoke to claimed that they had learned things about him that day that they would never otherwise have known. Even relatives and old friends said as much.
If May was a time of fond remembrance for me July, by contrast, was a time of immense joy. It was then that I celebrated the birth of my first grandson. My son and his wife can now know the same joy and excitement that I felt when he entered the world thirty-one years ago.
Last year, I was in the stands as London proudly hosted the Olympic Games. Tokyo will experience such pride in seven years’ time when it hosts the 32nd Summer Olympics; the second time the city has hosted the event. Japan is no stranger to tragedy itself, following the Fukushima disaster of 2011 as well as the recent Kyushu earthquake. Now its people can look to the future with new sense of hope.
2013 has been a great year for science and engineering. Professor Stephen Hawking, who I have met on more than one occasion, lived just long enough to hear of the testing of the first successful fusion reactor in March. Practical environmentally cars have been successfully tested this year, as have a new generation of high-speed aircraft that will someday cut long distance flights to a quarter of the time. In the United States, plans for a new manned lunar mission have been unveiled, closely coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the death of the man who first made it happen; John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Perhaps within a generation, mankind’s dream of colonising new worlds will be realised.
One month ago, my family and I were at the Cenotaph, remembering those lives lost in the World Wars and other wars before or since. Next year marks 100 years since the start of the First World War, when the day will be especially poignant. Yet each year at this time, I see people celebrating the lives that remain even as they mourn the lives that were lost, both in the World Wars and in all Britain’s wars since. Thanks to the sacrifice of those brave men and women throughout the past century, we and the generations that follow are free to follow our own destinies.
At the time of the First World War, most of those who did the fighting were the right age to recall how their world was turned upside-down in 1901, with the news of Queen Victoria’s death. Hardly anyone could remember a time when she had not been queen. Hers was more than the death of a celebrated monarch; it was the end of a whole way of life. The people of the new King Edward’s Britain needed to get used to fitting unfamiliar words to the national anthem and seeing a different face every time they opened their wallets or sent a letter.
At the time of Queen Victoria’s birth, all of Europe was still suffering the after-effects of the Napoleonic Wars. The changes that she lived through in her long life were extraordinary. She was born into a nation without railways, electricity or telegraphy, all of which were ubiquitous at the time of her death. She was the ruler of a great land and sea empire and was very politically active; her face was everywhere.
My mother too was born into a world where the scars of war were fresh. As a young woman, she rose to the occasion when war devastated Europe once again. Her face has become intimately known to nations throughout the world, both within and outside the Commonwealth. Today, we carry pieces of technology in our pockets that could scarcely have been imagined when she assumed the throne 61 years ago. More of us are living longer and healthier lives than ever before. Yet just like our ancestors at the turn of the 19th Century, we will still notice a drastic change as new coins are forged and new banknotes and stamps are printed.
In many ways, the lives and deaths of Queen Victoria and my mother are mirrors of each other. These two auspicious women demonstrate the value that the older generation brings to those who succeed them. They are our link to a past that we cannot fully understand ourselves. They bring the wisdom that comes of age and an affirmation that even the most humble life can touch so many others, perhaps more than even they realise themselves.
With the conclusion of my first Christmas address to you, which I hope is the first of many, I make a simple request. Wherever you are and whatever you are feeling in your hearts right now, I ask you to join with me in celebrating the great life that came to an end just four days ago. If you are able, fill your glasses and raise them, drinking a toast to life, family, friends, happiness and hope for the future.
People of Britain, my mother, Elizabeth II, by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and Her Other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith. Remember her with love.
A Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year to you all.