The King’s Speech, King’s signature and Jim Kerfoot

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, February 23, 2011

The signature of King George VI, enlarged at top, appears at the upper left of the 1937 document appointing Cochrane’s Jim Kerfoot, seen in this wedding photo with his Scottish bride, Margaret, as an officer of the Indian Army, Royal Garhwal Rifles. Click to see a larger version.

At the close of this Sunday’s Academy Awards, Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter may well take home coveted Oscars for their outstanding performances in The King’s Speech, but it was a Cochrane rancher who took home the King’s signature.

James “Jim” Kerfoot saw his world change forever when he opened the imposing document and began reading:

“George the Sixth by the Grace of God of Great Britain, Ireland and the British Dominions beyond the Seas, King, Defender of the Faith, Emperor of India, &c. To Our Trusty and well beloved James Duncan Kerfoot. Greeting!”

The letter appointed Jim as an officer in the Indian Land Forces and set him on a journey to the Orient that nearly cost him his life but gained him a wife.

Dated Aug. 12, 1937, it bore the signature “George R.I.”

King George VI, known as Albert, Duke of York, prior to his reluctant ascent to the throne eight months earlier after his brother’s abdication, is the stuttering monarch at the centre of Tom Hooper’s historical film nominated for 12 Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director.

With the support of his wife the Queen Mum (Bonham Carter), and the assistance of a speech therapist commoner (Rush), the King (Firth) is prepared for the film’s climax: his 1939 radio speech calling his subjects to war with Germany – and ultimately, of course, with the Empire of Japan.

Which brings me back to Jim Kerfoot and his part in the war in the Far East.

Following his appointment by King George VI, Jim served with the 1st Battalion, 18th Regiment of the Royal Garhwal Rifles. In their campaign to drive the Japanese back out of Burma, he was seriously wounded while leading his company in an attack on an entrenched Japanese machine-gun position.

He and a fellow officer were coming up under the position when one of its defenders threw out a grenade that went off near Jim, sending him up into the air, through the machine-gun fire, and then dropping him back down again through the spray of bullets.

Amazingly, he survived and ended up in the Killearn Emergency Hospital, Scotland, where he met Nurse Margaret McNaughton. Married in Glasgow in 1945, he brought his bride home the next year to his ranch in the Wildcat Hills northwest of Cochrane.

Alive by the grace of God, as he saw it, he named his spread Providence Ranche to express his gratitude for God’s providential care over him during the war.

In 2001, at the end of a long, good life, Jim rested in peace. Those who knew him praised him for his worthiness of the King’s “special Trust and Confidence in (his) Loyalty, Courage and good Conduct” as laid out in that treasured Royal document he’d received 64 years earlier during those tumultuous days leading up to the King’s speech.

© 2011 Warren Harbeck

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