The monarch’s speech marks the start of each session of parliament. This week, Queen Elizabeth II will open a new session of parliament in one of the great ceremonies of state. Ninety-five years ago, her grandfather opened the 1917-1918 session in a ceremony that replaced the normal splendour and pageantry with sombreness khaki.
The Royal Household website describes the State Opening of Parliament – when the Queen makes her speech to both houses – as ‘the most colourful event of the parliamentary year’. The speech introduces the major legislation the government intends to pass in the new session. This week’s (on Wednesday May 9th) is the first since May 2010, following an unusually-long two year session.
In February 1917, King George V performed his first State Opening since November 1914 (although a new session had been opened in February 1916, with the King’s Speech delivered by the Lord Chancellor). In place of the usual pageantry and courtly guests was a modest and sombre parade to the palace, with the King in a plan carriage accompanied by officers from the armies of the Empire
In parliament, the King delivered a short, simple speech dominated by the great goal that occupied the nation: winning the war. He concluded by instructing members of the two houses of parliament:
Gentlemen of the House of Commons,
You will be asked to make the necessary provision for the effective prosecution of the war.
My Lords, and Gentlemen,
The accomplishment of the task to which I have set My hand will entail unsparing demands on the energies and resources of all My subjects. I am assured, however, that My people will respond to every call necessary for the success of our cause with the same indomitable ardour and devotion that have filled Me with pride and gratitude since the war began.
In place of the usual dignitaries in the Royal Gallery, the King invited over 300 wounded NCOs and men from the colonial armed forces, who joined in the cheering of the king when the assembly was called to do so by Lord Lincolnshire.
In addition to the wounded men, most of the Lords in the house were in service dress, the King in his uniform as an Admiral, and other in morning dress. All in all, it was a much less colourful occasion than those they or we are used to.
These two photos show how the event was supposed to look (in black and white from the 1920s, and in colour from 2010).