Every year Queen Elizabeth delivers much anticipated and often hyped speeches, lavishly opening Parliament or wishing the country a merry Christmas.
But there was one queen’s speech that nobody wanted to hear.
“Now this madness of war is once more spreading through the world and our brave country must again prepare itself to survive against great odds,” she says, the words written by typewriter on a government document labeled “secret.”
“The dangers facing us today are greater by far than at any time in our long history. The enemy is,” she continues, “the deadly power of abused technology.”
The date: March 4, 1983. The scenario: a speech to rally the country in case of total nuclear Armageddon.
The stirring yet grim speech, released today, was never delivered, destined for the dustbin of contingency planning. The British government prepared it during the Cold War’s final escalation, when for one last time, the West worried about an all-out war with the Soviet Union.
Just four days after the queen’s would-be speech, President Ronald Reagan dubbed Moscow the “evil empire.” And just a few weeks later, he asked the scientific community to create a “Star Wars” ballistic missile shield to make Soviet weapons “impotent and obsolete.”
The queen presents the imagined war as the 20th century’s third struggle for freedom, summoning the spirit of the world wars in order for Britain to survive. Perhaps above all else, the message is: Keep Calm and Carry On.
“Whatever terrors lie in wait for us all, the qualities that have helped to keep our freedom intact twice already during this sad century will once more be our strength,” she would have said in a speech that would have lasted less than 10 minutes. “My message therefore to you is simple. Help those who cannot help themselves, give comfort to the lonely and the homeless and let your family become the focus of hope and life to those who need it.”
And with those words, she would have been evacuated to Scotland. A nuclear attack would have caused 33 million British casualties, according to other documents released today by Britain’s National Archives. More than 1 million would have died in London alone.
The documents also reveal how the government put into place special contingency plans in the event of war. The Cabinet created “nuclear deputies,” dispersing ministers around the country to create an “embryo central government” in case London were destroyed. And ministers also wrote secret instructions to the captains of nuclear submarines – in case of total annihilation and the captains and their crews were the sole surviving members of the state.
“The documents that we released are really the nation’s memory,” Mark Dunton, the National Archives’ principal contemporary records specialist, told ABC News. “History has no final draft. There are new revelations — and perhaps more still to come.”
The queen would have filled her speech with references to her family, creating continuity between the previous generations who won the world wars with the future generations who would, hopefully, have survived World War III.
“I have never forgotten the sorrow and pride I felt as my sister and I huddled around the nursery wireless set listening to my father’s inspiring words on that fateful day in 1939,” she would have said, referring to the day her father, King George VI, declared war on Nazi Germany. “Not for a single moment did I imagine that this solemn and awful duty would one day fall to me.”
She continues: “My beloved son Andrew is at this moment in action with his unit and we pray continually for his safety and for the safety of all servicemen and women at home and overseas. It is this close bond of family life that must be our greatest defense against the unknown.”
The speech was part of a 320-page war games scenario code-named Wintex-Cimex 83. Eastern European countries and the Soviet Union were clumped together as “orange.” The National Archives released a cache of secret documents, made public because they are 30 years old.
The queen did not approve the speech, and it’s possible she never even saw it, says Dunton, the archive specialist. But it’s clear whoever wrote the speech had a good sense of her voice – and a sense she had to be very realistic in the face of nuclear war.
“They thought themselves into this situation with a deadly realism,” Dunton said of the writers and the civil servants who ran the war games. “It’s such a bleak and grim scenario. It makes you think what it would be like to be in such a scenario. [But it also] tries to give some hope to British people by expressing the desire for continuity, despite what might be on the horizon – nuclear Armageddon. It’s trying to offer some hope. The hope of continuance.”
The war games play out long after the queen has finished her speech. A series of fictional newspaper stories chart events, as do fictional Cabinet meeting minutes. One media summary creates a fictional newspaper report featuring a picture of Prince William – who was 9 months old at the time – under the caption, “Keep him safe Charlie, we will be needing him!”
The war game concludes with NATO taking a “solemn decision” to launch nuclear weapons – and then accepting an offer from “orange” to open peace negotiations.
“As we strive together to fight off the new evil,” the queen concludes, “let us pray for our country and men of goodwill, wherever they may be.”