Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark was born on 10 June 1921 in the dining room of Mon Repos, the Corfu summer home of his parents, Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark (the second youngest son of King George I of the Hellenes) and his English-born wife, Alice, a great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria and eldest daughter of the first Marquess of Milford Haven, a former First Sea Lord of the Royal Navy and, until the ‘Anglicisation’ of royal titles by King George V in 1917, styled as Prince Louis of Battenberg. Philip was the couple’s only son and by far the youngest of their five children, the oldest of whom, Margarita, was sixteen years the new-born’s senior. Prince Andrew must have been glad of a son but he had little time to reflect on this latest addition to his family, for Greece was in the midst of yet another war with the Turks (officially referred to in the textbooks as the ‘Greco-Turkish War 1919-1922’) and he was about to assume command of the 2nd Army Corps with the rank of Lieutenant-General. It would be many months before he would even set eyes on his son.
Meanwhile, Prince Philip settled into a familiar nursery routine at Mon Repos under the watchful ‘Nana’ Emily Roose. However, when his maternal grandfather,the Marquess of Milford Haven died in early September, Alice decided to take her young son with her to England (for she was still nursing him) to visit her widowed mother, Victoria, at Kensington Palace. This would be the first of many such visits by this Greek Prince.
Prince Andrew had, meanwhile, grown increasingly dissatisfied with his time in the military, feeling that he was surrounded in the current campaign in Asia Minor by ‘riff-raff’ and that ‘all military prudence had vanished.’ Nor was he a fan of his Commander-in-Chief, General Papoulas, and seems to have disagreed with an order to make ‘an immediate violent attack’ to the north, deeming this manoeuvre to be ‘impossible’. Andrew thought it would instead be more expedient to use his men to bolster the manpower of another corps. Papoulas was ‘astonished’ at this plan and ordered the Prince to desist. He also relieved Andrew’s Chief of Staff of his position, prompting the aggrieved Prince to demand that Papoulas also ‘order my immediate relief.’ The General refused. However, eventually, on 30 September 1921, Andrew was granted three months leave. Nevertheless, as readers will later learn, this altercation with his superior officer would have serious repercussions.
Thereafter, Alice and Philip returned to Corfu from their English visit and Prince Andrew was at last able to meet his son. However, with Greece still at war, Andrew returned to his military duties; he was transferred to the command of the 5th Army Corps Epirus and the Ionian Islands, at that time stationed in Janina [Ioannina]. However, the military situation for the Greeks was now increasingly perilous for, as 1922 progressed, the Hellenic forces continued to extend their lines of communication and supply in Anatolia to the utter limit. In the meantime, young Philip accompanied his mother and sisters to London for the wedding, in July, of Alice’s younger brother, Louis (‘Dickie’) Mountbatten to the wealthy socialite Edwina Ashley at St Margaret’s, Westminster. Philip’s four sisters were bridesmaids, although their small brother remained in the care of his nurse at his maternal grandmother’s Kensington Palace home. As summer drew to a close, the Turks, under the command of the legendary Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk), were diligently driving Greek forces back to towards the sea, with predominantly Christian towns such as Smyrna being overrun by the enemy with great loss of life. Furthermore, those Greeks who survived this advance were forced to abandon lands on which they had lived peaceably for centuries to resettle in Athens and other areas of Greece. Estimates put the number of these refugees at around 1.5 million.
In addition to the returning refugees, there was a large group of returning Greek soldiers who were still smarting at their recent humiliation. Thus, on 11 September, a Revolutionary Committee was established in Athens led by Colonel Nikolas Plastiras (who had previously served under Prince Andrew) bent on exacting revenge for the defeats in Asia Minor. The Committee demanded that the royalist government resign and also insisted that (an already ailing) King Constantine abdicate the throne. This he did on 27 October. ‘Tino’ was succeeded by his eldest son, who took the title of King George II of the Hellenes. However, the new monarch had neither real power nor influence and lived mostly in isolation at his country estate at Tatoi. In addition, these avenging revolutionaries rounded up a group of politicians and soldiers (including General Hadjianestis, who had succeeded Papoulas as Greece’s Commander-in-Chief) to face trial before a ‘Court’ largely composed of headstrong junior officers.
During this unsettled period Prince Andrew sojourned at Mon Repos, where the new powers-that-be were initially content for him to remain providing that he resigned his commission. Then, in late October, Andrew was interviewed by a member of the revolutionary committee in Corfu and summoned as a witness in the trial of the aforementioned individuals. However, on his arrival in Athens, the Prince found himself placed under house arrest and charged with offences, including disobeying orders and abandoning his post in the face of the enemy. The pretext for the trial was the acrimonious disagreement with General Papoulas the previous year. While her husband languished in a prison cell, a despairing Princess Alice (who had returned from London with Philip and her daughters in late September and was now under police surveillance at Mon Repos) contacted her brother Louis in London. Dickie subsequently lobbied Andrew’s cousin, King George V and the new Prime Minister, Bonar Law, on his sister’s behalf. Eventually, a Commander Gerald Talbot (who had previously served as the British Naval Attaché in Athens) was sent to Greece by the British Foreign Secretary, Lord Curzon, to try and negotiate Andrew’s release or, at the very least, attempt to save his life.
In November, the trials of five Greek politicians (three of whom had served as Prime Minister) and General Hadjianestis commenced. They were tried for high treason, found guilty and sentenced to death. On 28 November, they were taken to a piece of exposed ground outside Athens and executed by firing squad. That same day, the the British Legation in Athens telegraphed the Foreign Office in London to say that Prince Andrew’s situation had now grown ‘more dangerous’ and his trial was now scheduled for 30 November.
Meanwhile, Princess Alice had now arrived in Athens and a British battleship, HMS Calypso, was dispatched by the British government to lie off coast of the Greek capital to await further developments. Commander Talbot eventually obtained a promise from General Panagalos (the newly appointed Greek Minister for Military Affairs) and the aforementioned Colonel Plastiras, that Prince Andrew would stand trial and be sentenced. Plastiras would subsequently pardon the Prince who would then be handed over into Commander Talbot’s care for immediate transportation by sea to Brindisi and onwards to England.
On 3 December, Prince Andrew’s trial took place in the Chamber of Deputies and he was unanimously found guilty of the charges against him by a jury of officers. His sentence was that he was ‘degraded and condemned to perpetual banishment’ from Greece. As previously agreed, the Prince was subsequently taken down to Phaleron Bay where he boarded HMS Calypso (under the command of a Captain Buchanan-Wollaston) accompanied by Commander Talbot. Princess Alice was already aboard to greet her husband and the vessel immediately set sail for Corfu-which was reached the next day-to pick up the couple’s children and pack up such belongings as was possible. 18-month-old Prince Philip was taken aboard the Calypso in an orange box which acted as his cot.
On reaching Brindisi on 5 December, the Greek royals were far from out of the woods. Lacking financial means, they were advanced funds by the British Ambassador in Rome before travelling onwards to Paris. They reached London on 17 December and checked-in to the Stafford Hotel in Mayfair. Interestingly, there had already been questions on the British House of Commons regarding the cost (£1200) of sending HMS Calypso to Greece. During this brief English interlude, Prince Andrew had a meeting with his cousin King George V. However, at this interval, it seemed that Philip and his family’s best option-given their state of relative poverty-was to return to Paris and the benevolent care of the wealthy Marie Bonaparte (the wife of Prince George of Greece and Denmark [‘Big George’]) at St Cloud. She would subsequently place a small house adjacent to her own larger mansion at the disposal of these exiled relations.
Paris would be the home of Prince Philip for the next seven years and provided a safe haven in a time of continuing turmoil in Greece. 1923 brought mixed fortunes: In January, Prince Andrew and his wife made a visit to the United States to holiday with Prince Christopher and his wealthy wife, the former Mrs Nancy Leeds, leaving Philip in the care of ‘Roosie’. However, they had no sooner started out on their journey aboard the liner RMS Olympic, than they received word that ex-King Constantine had died of heart failure on 11 January in Italy, where he had been living in exile. Subsequently, in Athens, following a failed royalist coup in October, King George II was effectively hounded into exile by Plastiras and his Revolutionary Committee cronies; in March 1924, the Greeks would vote to ditch the monarchy in favour of a republic. Another blow to the family was the death of Philip’s grandmother, Queen Olga, in Rome, in June 1926, at the age of 74. Olga had been by far the most respected member of the Greek royal family and with a following that transcended across all political boundaries.
Philip, meanwhile, was now a of school age. He attended school at the wonderfully titled MacJannet Country Day and Boarding School (habitually referred to as ‘the Elms’ after the name of the house in which it was located). This catered mainly for the children of American clients and diplomats and was near enough for Philip, who was always full of energy and boisterous enthusiasm, to cycle to. The youngster also liked nothing better than going for motor drives through the Bois de Boulogne in his father’s car or partaking of a generous Sunday lunch at his Aunt and Uncle’s neighbouring home. Also in Paris, were Philip’s Uncle Nicholas and his charming (but intimidating) Russian wife Grand Duchess Helen, along with their daughters, Elizabeth and Marina (their eldest child, Olga, Philip’s godmother-by-proxy, was already married to Prince Paul of Yugoslavia and lived in Belgrade). These cousins were-like his sisters-much older than Philip but, as was true of most members of that generation of the Greek royal family, they were full of fun and possessed of a decidedly unique sense of humour which appealed to the youngster.
The young Prince enjoyed holidays too with his older cousin Crown Princess (later Queen Mother) Helen and her son Michael at their home in Romania. France was an obvious destination with Berck Plage, near Le Touquet, a decided favourite. Another welcome French summer retreat was the holiday home, in Marseilles, of Madame Anna Foufounis, the widow of a wealthy Greek royalist. When visiting England, Philip also enjoyed vacationing with his sisters Sophie (‘Tiny’) and Cecile (Blakeney in Norfolk being a particular favourite). Apparently, Prince Andrew was keen that his son should also be educated in England and, in 1929, it was decided to send him to Cheam, a preparatory (or ‘prep’) school in Surrey, whose purpose was-as the name suggests-to prepare boys for passing the Common Entrance examination which was required (along with payment of the large fees) for entry to exclusive public schools such as Eton or Harrow. Discipline was tight at Cheam and it is fair to say that he did not excel academically other than in French for which he won a prize. The headmaster, the Reverend Taylor would later remember Philip’s strong personality and leadership skills.
The months between December 1930 and August 1931 saw the marriage of all of Philip’s sisters to members of the German aristocracy. The Prince’s time at Cheam also saw him draw closer to his maternal grandmother, Victoria, the Dowager Marchioness of Milford Haven (born a Princess of Hesse and by Rhine and the eldest sister of the late Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna of Russia) and various other Mountbatten relatives in England, particularly his maternal uncle, George, the 2nd Marquess of Milford Haven and his Romanov wife Nadejda (‘Nada’), the younger daughter of Grand Duke Michael Mikhailovich of Russia. Conveniently, they lived at Lynden Manor on the upper reaches of the Thames. It was the Marquess who paid Philip’s school fees during this period and some have referred to George as a ‘surrogate father’ to the young Prince, while the couples’ son David-who also attended Cheam-assumed a sort of quasi-brother role in his Greek kinsman’s life. This affinity to his British-based relations coincided with a deterioration in the mental health of Philip’s mother Princess Alice, who had entered a clinic in Tegel, Germany in February 1930, for a period of rest and psychoanalysis. She was subsequently diagnosed with schizophrenia and was moved to a psychiatric sanatorium in Kreuzlingen. Until her recovery in 1937, Philip would only see his mother intermittently. His father Andrew too was not much on the scene, spending much of his time on the French Riviera, where he had many rich friends and a mistress, Madame Andrée de la Bigne.
In the 1930’s, Prince Philip spent periods at Wolfsgarten, the home of his sister Cecile (now married to Georg Donatus [‘Don’], Hereditary Grand Duke of Hesse) as well as with his sister Theodora (‘Dolla’), who lived at Schloss Salem with her husband Berthold, the Margrave of Baden. Dolla seemed keen to take an interest in her brother’s education during this period and Philip was soon enrolled at the Schloss’ school founded, in 1920, by Prince Max of Baden (Dolla’s father-in-law) and Kurt Hahn, a German Jew who had served as Private Secretary to Prince Max. Hahn was an outspoken critic of Hitler and the anti-Semitic Nazi regime and this led to his arrest in March 1933. Kurt was eventually released (thanks to the intervention of influential British friends including Ramsay MacDonald, the former Prime Minister) and subsequently moved to Scotland where he founded a new school, Gordonstoun, situated near Hopeman on the Moray coast. After only a couple of terms at Schule Schloss Salem (by which time Hahn had already departed for Britain and Berthold had assumed the role of headmaster) Philip-who was also far from respectful of the Third Reich’s foibles (he detested the ‘heel clicking’ style and thought the Nazi salute quite ridiculous as it reminded him of having to put up his hand in class at Cheam to ask to use the lavatory)-relocated to Scotland, thanks to the assistance again of George Milford Haven, to commence his studies at Gordonstoun.
Gordonstoun was an ideal school for this energetic boy with no surname, who was usually known simply as ‘Philip’, or occasionally more formally as ‘Philip of Greece’. As at Salem, the day started with cold showers and a brisk run. Meditation was also encouraged. Sailing was on the curriculum, as was amateur dramatics (a production of Shakespeare’s Hamlet is frequently mentioned by past biographers). The Prince also played cricket and hockey (eventually captaining both teams). Philip seemed keen to fit in and according to one contemporary never ‘swanked about his relatives.’ Like other pupils he undertook work to help out the local community. Kurt Hahn recalled that, ‘He was often naughty, never nasty.’ During the long summer holidays, he would continue to spend time in Germany with his sisters and their families. Wolfsgarten remained a particular favourite and Philip’s father, Prince Andrew, was sometimes present too and this made for brief, but welcome, reunions.
In November 1935 the Greek monarchy was restored following a plebiscite and, on 22 November of the following year, Philip paid a visit to Athens to join other members of the Greek royal family for the reburial, at Tatoi, of the three senior members of the Hellenic royal house who had died in exile, namely King Constantine I, Queen Olga and Queen Sophie. Their bodies had earlier been exhumed from the vaults of the Russian Orthodox Church in Florence. All of the extended royal family stayed at the Grande Bretagne Hotel which seems to have been commandeered for the occasion. This provided the young Prince with ample opportunities to discuss the history of the family with his aunts, uncles and cousins. He would also return, in January 1938, for the wedding of his cousin Crown Prince Paul (‘Palo’) to Princess Frederika of Hanover.
However, there was one disaster during this early period of the Prince’s life which was to have lasting consequences: On 16 November 1937, a Belgian Sabena aeroplane carrying his sister Cecile (pregnant with her fourth child), her husband Don, their sons Ludwig and Alexander and Cecile’s mother-in-law, Eleanore, hit a chimney in thick fog as it approached Ostend’s Steene Aerodrome. All of the passengers (who had been en route to London to attend the nuptials of Don’s younger brother, Ludwig [‘Lu’] to Margaret ‘Peg’ Geddes) were killed. Philip was informed of the tragedy by Kurt Hahn and, although in deep shock, he travelled south from Gordonstoun to rendezvous with his father in London and travel on to the funeral, which was held on 23 November in Darmstadt. Philip’s mother Princess Alice-who was now much improved health wise-was also in attendance.
In April 1938, more tragedy followed when Philip’s mentor, George Milford-Haven, died of bone cancer at the age of only forty-six. Aged sixteen, the Prince was at an impressionable age. Meanwhile, his father’s continued absence in the South of France and his mother’s recent decision to return to Greece to live in a small flat in Athens, left the way open for George’s younger brother, Louis Mountbatten, to exert considerable influence over his nephew, especially when Philip commenced his naval career, in the spring of 1939, as a cadet at the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth. By going to sea, the young Prince thus followed in the footsteps of both his maternal and paternal grandfathers. Philip often spent the weekend at Mountbatten’s London home in Chester Street, where he invariably slept on a camp bed in the sitting room.
Yet Philip’s maternal grandmother, Victoria, also remained an influential presence in his life and he sometimes spent time at her grace-and-favour apartment at Kensington Palace. Indeed, during the summer of 1939, as the storm crowds of war gathered on the horizon, Philip stayed there for a month along with his mother, Princess Alice. The duo then travelled via Paris to Italy from where they sailed to Athens. They arrived in Greece just prior to war being declared between Britain and Germany on 3 September. Philip returned to England, in late September, to resume his nautical training at the instruction of his cousin, King George II of the Hellenes. He then graduated as best all-round cadet of the term at Dartmouth, an accolade which won him the King’s Dirk. Philip would go on to serve in the Royal Navy for the duration of World War II and beyond, until 1951.
However, there was already a far greater prize on the horizon. Just prior to Philip’s summer holiday with his mother, he had enjoyed a reunion with his distant cousin, Princess Elizabeth, and her sister, Princess Margaret Rose, at Dartmouth, during a tour of inspection of the Royal Naval College by their parents, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (later the Queen Mother). Captain Louis Mountbatten was also ‘in attendance’ in his role as the King’s Aide-de-Camp. There happened to be an outbreak of mumps at the College so, rather than attend a morning church service as previously planned, the Princess’ were placed in the care of Philip. The trio played games (both croquet and tennis are frequently cited) together on a lawn, during which the Prince was observed jumping enthusiastically over a tennis net. Later, as the Royal Yacht Victoria and Albert sailed out of the Dart Estuary, a plucky Prince Philip jumped into a small boat and determinedly continued to follow the yacht long after his fellow cadets had given up the effort. Thirteen-year-old Elizabeth (or ‘Lilibet’ to her family) was captivated by her older kinsman’s exploits that day and somehow this Greek princeling found a niche in her young heart which would only grow fonder with the years.
Robert Prentice is the author of the latest biography on a member of the Greek Royal Family, Princess Olga of Yugoslavia Her Life and Times. Available, at time of posting from the bookdepository.com with FREE Worldwide Postage. Click on link below: