In 1939, Roosevelt was mainly interested in the defense of the Western Hemisphere, not in entering a European war. He told the king that if war came he would try and relieve pressure on the Royal Navy by guarding the approaches to the Americas himself. The president also hoped that, again if war broke out, the United States could acquire bases on British colonial soil, places like Bermuda and points around the Caribbean.
Roosevelt also confided that he hoped he could alter those isolationist neutrality laws and try to change American public opinion. The president was sincere in wanting to help Britain, as his later actions proved, but he also was guilty of some exaggerations. If London was bombed, Roosevelt assured King George, the United States would come in. Perhaps President Roosevelt felt he had to stretch the truth a little to reassure a potential ally that was on the brink of armed conflict. The three men talked until about 1:30 am, when Roosevelt, noting the hour, patted the king on the knee and said, “Young man, it’s time for you to go to bed.”
“Good Luck to You! All the Luck in the World!”
The next day, Sunday, June 11, was devoted to divine services and the celebrated picnic lunch. After church, the royals were conveyed to Top Cottage, a cozy dwelling about four miles from the main mansion. There was a wide variety of food on the menu, including steak, smoked ham, and local Duchess County strawberries. But it was the hot dogs that received the lion’s share of attention.
“What are these delicacies?” the king politely inquired. Once the concept was explained to him, he wolfed them down with gusto. He ate two but grew a little less enthusiastic when he spilled some mustard on his spotless suit. Later, the king seemed to favor the memory of smoked turkey, another American food that was new to him.
The king and queen departed from Hyde Park that evening. The president and Mrs. Roosevelt were at the train station to see them off. Once they boarded, the president called out, “Good luck to you! All the luck in the world!” As the train pulled out of the station, crowds who had assembled to see the royal visitors spontaneously started singing “Auld Lang Syne.” It was poignant because no one knew what fate awaited them as war clouds thickened over Europe.
The visit of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth reassured the British that America was, in spite of the strong strain of isolationism, a country that was a friend and possible future ally in the struggle against Hitler and fascist aggression. The royal visit was generally popular and played its part in the eventual weakening of isolationism in the United States.
This article first appeared on the Warfare History Network.
Image: FDR Presidential Library & Museum