Queen Geraldine of Albania Escapes Mussolini’s Army…

In May 1940, as she looked out of the window of her recently acquired home, a rented château at Pontoise, north of Paris, Queen Geraldine of the Albanians was decidedly ill-at-ease. Indeed, Her Majesty had barely unpacked her suitcases when news came through that Germans troops had already entered France at Sedan and were pushing towards Paris and the English Channel coast.

The Queen’s apprehension was understandable: In the preceding thirteen months, she had given birth to a much-anticipated son, Leka, on 5 April 1939, and then been forced to flee the Royal Palace in Tirana, twenty-four hours later, in her night dress, to avoid capture by advancing Italian troops. Mussolini’s henchmen had invaded Albania following the refusal by Geraldine’s husband, King Zog, to sign a pact of protection with Italy. After a difficult car journey to the Greek border lying on a mattress with her baby alongside, the exhausted and emaciated Geraldine spent three long weeks in a musty Greek hotel room, in the market town of Florina, trying to recover her strength.

King Zog subsequently escaped Albania and decided that he, his immediate family and a large entourage (which included fearsome gun-toting guards) should spend time in Istanbul. Geraldine loved this city’s friendliness and thought this would be a splendid place to settle. However, when a delegation of French politicians offered the Albanian Royal Family sanctuary in France, King Zog agreed.

The journey to Paris was at times tortuous and involved a long detour through Romania (and a lunchtime encounter with King Carol), Poland and the Baltic countries to summery Sweden, where little Leka was found to be suffering from pneumonia. Following his recovery, the Albanian party sailed to Antwerp and then travelled on by car to the Château de la Maye in Versailles. Surely now, Geraldine thought, she might be able to settle after nearly five months on the move.

However, on 1 September 1939, German troops invaded Poland. Britain and France declared war on Germany two days later. King Zog became concerned that the château might be vulnerable to bombing should there be air-raids on nearby Paris, so he decided to relocate his family and retainers to a hotel at La Baule in Brittany. It was a pleasant interlude for Geraldine with long walks by the sea and romantic meals with her husband in nearby restaurants.

Nevertheless, King Zog soon found that he was too removed from political and military events in Paris. Suddenly, the couple’s ‘honeymoon’ was over and Queen Geraldine was on the move again, back to Versailles and the delights of the Hotel Trianon Palace. There was a further move-this time at the Queen’s insistence-to a house at Le Mesnil-Saint-Denis (which proved too hard to heat) before settling at the royal group’s current location, the Château de Méry at Pontoise.

However, one evening, only a few days after the Queen had been gazing out of the chateau window, the village nearby was bombed and a house used by the King’s bodyguards in the chateau’s grounds also suffered damage. The local Mayor was convinced that the presence of Albanian Royal Family had been the reason for the attack and asked King Zog to leave. It was a bitter blow but as nothing compared to what awaited the family in the weeks ahead following the fall of Paris……

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