What did they know about Edward VIII?

15JimmyGrace B&W  Seventy-seven years ago, Edward VIII abdicated the British throne. Details of what happened in 1936 are relevant to one of Grace’s stories (pages 97-101). Here’s the background.
When writing about the past, it’s often difficult to be sure what people knew at the time. Does an author trust personal recollections? How important are other sources of information?
I struggled with this issue several times in the writing of Grace. It popped up when I was writing the story of Jimmy Watson, one of Grace’s pupils at Wellman’s one-room school who was a winner in a two public speaking contests in 1936. (Photo above is Jimmy and Grace with his trophies)
Jimmy chose to give a talk about Edward VIII whose father George V had passed away in January of that year. One of my readers said he thought Grace’s memory must be faulty. In 1936, he was working in a news bureau in one of Canada’s major cities. He assured me that everybody knew Edward VIII was involved with Wallis Simpson, a socialite who had been married twice before. Neither the Church of England nor the British establishment approved of the relationship. A crisis was looming. As Grace remembered it, everyone around Wellman’s Corners was surprised when Edward VIII abdicated.
I asked several others who had lived in the area whether they recalled events from 1936. Unanimously, they agreed with Grace. I went to a local library to find out what people were reading at the time. In 1936 the Belleville Intelligencer had many front-page articles about Edward’s activities, and not a single hint of scandal. I read only about his bravery, his generous attention to British veterans, his devotion to people throughout the Empire. He even wanted to visit Canada after his 1937 coronation. That was exciting news because no reigning monarch had ever visited our country.
In the 1930s, the Ontario Department of Education encouraged teachers to celebrate Empire Day. Grace and other teachers around Ontario scheduled a local event in May. Parents came to hear their children extolling the British Empire in recitations and songs. People in rural communities received outside news primarily from the radio, a local newspaper, and magazines. It would have been unusual in the 1930s to publish scandalous information about a public figure. I’m prepared to believe that in 1936, journalists in major cities may have known what was brewing while people in the hinterland had no access to such rumours.
All that effort enabled me to write in Grace: “If they had heard rumours of the king’s romance with an American divorcee, they discounted them. . . . At Wellman’s, no one expected him to become the first British monarch in history to resign voluntarily. Fortunately for Jimmy, that was three weeks after he gave his speech.”
Millie Morton

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