I said to the man who stood at the Gate of the Year, “Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown”. And he replied “Go out into the darkness, and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than a light, and safer than a known way.”
This quotation from a poem by Minnie Louise Haskins may be found in St George’s Chapel, engraved on a panel on the gates to the George VI Memorial Chapel. But who was Minnie Haskins and why are the words, which form the first verse of her poem, ‘God Knows’, published in 1908, immortalised in this way?
Minnie Louise Haskins was born on 12 May 1875 in Bitton, Gloucestershire. An academic by profession, she lectured in Social Sciences at the London School of Economics from 1919 to 1944, having previously served as a supervisor of women’s employment and industrial welfare in the First World War. A keen amateur poet, she had her first collection of poems published in 1908 in an anthology called the ‘The Desert’. However, it was not until 1939, when King George VI quoted from ‘God knows’ in his Christmas Broadcast, that her verse came to public notice. Acting on the suggestion of Jean Allen from Bristol who alerted him to the poem, the King decided to include the quotation in his seasonal radio address to the Empire, to serve as a message of encouragement in the dark days at the start of the Second World War.
In the late 1960s, when a new side chapel was added to the north side of St George’s Chapel as a permanent resting place for George VI, the (by now famous) words were inscribed on a panel to the right of the iron gates. A booklet written for the dedication of the memorial chapel on 31 March 1969 in the presence of his daughter, HM the Queen, offers an explanation for their inclusion: “These words meant much to him and he hoped that they would be remembered by all who dedicated themselves to the service of God and the nation.”
Clare Rider (Archivist and Chapter Librarian)