As January 1941 dawned, Princess Olga of Yugoslavia was enjoying a visit from her sister Elizabeth and her family from Munich. There were also lots of official engagements to undertake including the distribution of coats, sweets and toys to underprivileged children in Belgrade (under the auspices of the ‘Winter Help” charity of which the Princess was patron) as well as a charity concert at the local Y.M.C.A. Much to Olga’s relief, a new Lady-in-Waiting, Madame Babic, had agreed to assist the Princess with her increasing round of duties and audiences.
However, always in the background was the deteriorating situation in the Balkans, and in particular, the expansionist desires of Mussolini. Italy occupied Albania in the spring of 1940, from there it led air attacks on Greece on 28 October. As a Greek, the Princess was encouraged by her homeland’s successes over the Italians during a counter-offensive which saw them penetrate deeply into Italian-held Albanian territory. The recent capture of the strategically vital Klisura Pass was particularly welcome. However, as the Consort of the Prince Regent (Paul) of Yugoslavia, Olga was increasingly anxious over her adopted country’s future. As Head of State of a neutral country, Prince Paul was having to balance an increasingly difficult tight-rope of not provoking the Germans (who had already ‘persuaded’ Yugoslavia’s neighbours of Hungary and Romania to join the Axis Tripartite Pact), while at the same time keeping relations with Britain and the Allied powers on an even keel. The Regent had little room for manoeuvre. Unlike her anxious husband, the Princess could at least relax by skating on an ice rink near her home, the magnificient neo-Palladian style Beli Dvor (White Palace) or take drives to nearby Avala. When all else failed, there were five dogs to be walked!
On 12 January the British MP, Henry ‘Chips’ Channon, arrived in Belgrade. He was an old friend of Prince Paul’s from Oxford University days and part of the Anglophile Prince and Princess’ social circle in London. However, this was no mere social visit but rather one for taking ‘soundings’, as his arrival coincided with the British Minister, Ronald Ian Campbell, informing Paul that Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minister, was intent on sending a mechanized force into Greece. Campbell also indicated that Yugoslavia’s current policy of neutrality was no longer enough, for Churchill now wanted the Slavs to join the war on the Allied side and assist British, Greek and Turkish troops in the southern Balkan peninsula (often referred to as ‘ forming a United Balkan Front’). The Prince told the American Minister, Arthur Lane, that he simply could not agree to this as Yugoslavia would be overrun in a matter of weeks by militarily superior Axis forces. Such an action might also precipitate a civil war in this ethnically diverse country.
Meanwhile, Olga ploughed on with a batch of official audiences in what she descibes as ‘anxious days’. A visiting Greek diplomat came to lunch, on 16 January, and this provided the Princess and her sister Elizabeth with the ideal opportunity to catch up on fresh news from Athens. Olga also found time to give Chips Channon a tour of the royal air raid shelter. When he departed for Athens, on 20 January, carrying a large pile of Christmas cards and presents from the Princess to her Greek relatives, Channon was in tears as he truly feared for the future wellbeing of the Regent and his wife. Bidding her Bavarian-based sister Elizabeth farewell, on 26 January, was also a heartrending ordeal for Olga, as neither of them could be sure when they might see each other again. At least the Princess had all her children for company, as Nicholas and Alexander had not returned to their boarding schools in England following the summer 1940 recess. They were currently attending the Second Gymnasium School in Belgrade. King Peter was also close to his ‘Aunt’ Olga. He was due take over full powers as Head of State from the Regency Council on reaching his majority (at the age of 18) in September.
But as I will reveal in a later instalment, things were to take a different course……
A new biography Princess Olga of Yugoslavia: Her Life and Times by Robert Prentice was published on 1 April 2021 by Grosvenor House Publishing. This is now available to purchase on Amazon in hardback or as an e-book.