La Veillée: La reine Elizabeth II reçoit l’hommage final.

Sa Majesté la reine Elizabeth est décédée jeudi 8 septembre à son domicile des Highlands d’Écosse, au château de Balmoral. Dans le passé, la reine avait parlé avec d’autres, y compris sa fille Anne, la princesse royale, des plans à mettre en place si elle venait à mourir en Écosse (où elle a passé jusqu’à dix semaines de l’année). L’opération a été appelée “Operation Unicorn” (Opération Licorne) car la Licorne est un symbole de pureté pour les Écossais. Aussi, la licorne apparaît également sur les armoiries du souverain comme symbole de fierté et de force.

Dans le cadre de cette opération, à Édimbourg, dans la soirée de lundi jusqu’à trois heures de l’après-midi de mardi, plus de 26 000 personnes sont passées devant la dépouille mortelle de Sa Majesté dans la cathédrale St Giles pour rendre hommage à la souveraine dont on se souvient en Écosse comme “Queen of Scots” (la reine des Écossais). Le cercueil de la reine reposait sur un catafalque en chêne écossais spécialement fabriqué dans un atelier près du palais de Holyroodhouse. Au sommet du cercueil se trouvait la Couronne d’Écosse, qui fait partie des honneurs de l’Écosse (“The Honours of Scotland”), car les joyaux de la Couronne sont désignés en Écosse. Ce sont les plus anciens joyaux de la couronne au Royaume-Uni. Le cercueil était gardé par le garde du corps des souverains en Écosse connu sous le nom de “Royal Company of Archers”. Ils sont facilement reconnaissables à leur uniforme vert foncé distinctif et leur capot à plumes. Les enfants de la reine étaient tous présents à St Giles et, lundi soir, ils ont monté la garde sur le cercueil de leur mère pendant dix minutes alors que les personnes en deuil passaient.

Puis, mardi soir, la dépouille mortelle de Sa Majesté a été transportée d’Édimbourg à Londres par la Royal Air Force pour le début de la période de deuil là-bas. Le cercueil de la reine gisait, pour une nuit seulement, dans la “Bow Room” du palais de Buckingham, ce qui a permis à d’autres membres de la famille royale, qui ne l’avaient pas encore fait, de lui rendre hommage.

Aujourd’hui, 14 Septembre, à Londres, la foule a commencé à faire la queue pour le mensonge dans l’état de Sa Majesté la reine Elizabeth II à Westminster Hall. On s’attend à ce que des centaines de milliers de personnes assistent à ces événements émouvants. Le cercueil a quitté le palais de buckingham peu après 2 heures de l’après-midi et a été suivi par le nouveau roi, Charles III et ses fils, le prince de Galles (William) et le duc de Sussex (Harry). Également dans la procession se trouvaient les autres enfants du défunt souverain: la princesse royale (Anne), the le duc d’York (Andrew) and le comte de Wessex (Edward). Le neveu de la reine, le comte de Snowdon (fils de la défunte princesse Margaret) ainsi que le duc de Gloucester, cousin de la reine, faisaient également partie du groupe royal. Pendant ce temps, marchant devant le cercueil se trouvaient des membres de la maison personnelle de Sa Majesté. Les Grenadier Guards et la King’s Troop assurèrent l’escorte. Mais immédiatement à droite et à gauche du cercueil se trouvaient d’anciens écuyers de Sa Majesté accomplissant un dernier devoir envers leur défunt souverain.

Au-dessus du cercueil de la reine, qui reposait sur un chariot de canon, se trouvaient la couronne impériale d’État et l’étendard royal. On dit que la couronne contient les quatre perles appartenant à Marie reine d’Écosse qui était mariée à François II, roi de France. À l’avant se trouve l’énorme diamant Cullinan II qui pèse 317 carats (63 grammes).

À l’arrivée à Westminster Hall, le cercueil de la reine a été pris du chariot de canon et transporté par un groupe de Grenadier Guards et placé sur un cafalque, drapé de pourpre royal, au centre de ce grand bâtiment. Les chorales des chapelles royales de Londres chantaient des hymnes et l’archevêque de Cantorbéry dirigeait des prières pour Sa Majesté. Après le départ du roi avec d’autres membres de la famille royale élargie, les membres du parlement britannique ont rendu un dernier hommage à la défunte reine. Enfin, à cinq heures cet après-midi, les portes du Westminster Hall ont été ouvertes au grand public. La salle sera ouverte en continu à partir de ce moment jusqu’à 6h30 le matin du 19 septembre (jour des funérailles).

Robert Prentice est biographe (il a récemment terminé une biographie de la princesse Olga Yougoslavie et de Grèce et du Danemark intitulé “Princess Olga of Yugoslavia: Her Life and Times) et contribue régulièrement au magazine Majesty au Royaume-Uni.

Robert Prentice is biographer and regular contributor to Majesty magazine in the United Kingdom.

The Queen’s Final Journey.

Around 10.06 am on 11 September, the hearse bearing the mortal remains of Her Late Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, passed through the gates of Balmoral Castle to commence a journey of 175 miles to Edinburgh and the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the Sovereign’s Official residence in Scotland. The oak coffin was covered by the Royal Standard of Scotland atop of which was a single wreath composed of the late Queen’s favourite flowers including phlox, dahlias, sweet peas, white heather and pine fur. Not long before, Her Majesty’s coffin was carried from the ballroom of the Castle, where it had lain since shortly after her death last Thursday, by six estate gamekeepers, to the accompaniment of the Sovereign’s Piper playing the haunting airs ‘Balmoral’ and ‘Glen Gelder’.

In the cortège immediately behind the hearse was Her Majesty’s daughter, the Princess Royal along with her husband, Vice-Admiral Sir Timothy Laurence. Also accompanying the seven-car royal motorcade, as it wound its way along the banks of the River Dee, on a bright Sunday morning, via the A93 towards Aberdeen, was the minister of the church near Balmoral, Crathie Kirk, the Reverend Kenneth Mackenzie (known officially as a Domestic Chaplain to the Sovereign).

At Ballater, the first village on the route (where the Queen knew most of the shopkeepers personally) local residents (and the Member of Parliament) lined the main street in sombre silence. However, the mood was subsequently somewhat lightened when a group of Aberdeenshire farmers mounted a salute by tractors in a roadside field, while an aptly equine tribute to this well-known royal horse owner (and accomplished horsewoman) was provided by some local riders on horseback. As the cortège reached the next main town, Banchory, gentle applause could be heard, and a local member of the British Legion dipped his banner in salute to his late Sovereign Lady.

After the procession had passed by Aberdeen’s Duthie Park, it took the A90 road southwards towards Dundee, quickly passing by fertile farmlands. En route, just after the cortège had entered the County of Angus, there was a brief ‘refreshment’ stop at the small cathedral city of Brechin, before recommencing the journey just after 2pm to travel past the county town of Forfar. It was this stage that the motorcade passed within a few miles of Glamis Castle (which lies just to the south), the birthplace of the late Queen’s sister, Princess Margaret and the ancient ancestral home of the Earls of Strathmore, from whom Her Majesty was directly descended, as a granddaughter of Claude Bowes-Lyon, the 14th Earl. It was at Glamis that the young Princess Elizabeth of York (as Her Majesty was then known) learned to appreciate the countryside of Highland Scotland during long summer holidays in the company of numerous cousins.

The cortège then gathered pace until it reached the city of Dundee. The long Kingsway (planned in the reign of King Edward VII but not completed until the reign of his son George V) was lined by thousands of Dundonians, many of whom clapped as the hearse went by. Although the Queen had often visited the city on official duties, she probably would have remembered it better from her youth, as she accompanied her grandmother, Cecilia, the Countess of Strathmore, to a local toy shop in Whitehall Crescent or when, accompanied by her mother, Queen Elizabeth, she enjoyed pre-war shopping trips to a local jeweller in the city’s Nethergate to buy gifts.

The small motorcade then journeyed down the Carse of Gowrie, a fruit growing area, famous for its succulent raspberries and strawberries. There were not so many convenient viewing points from the A90 roadside here, but wherever there was a flyover or a hill, determined groups of locals gathered to salute their late Sovereign. This was particularly so as the cortège merely had time to skirt past the eastern extremities of Perth on the M90 motorway, via the Friarton Bridge. Again, many inhabitants of the ‘Fair City’ travelled out by car to roadside lay-bys to pay their respects; others impulsively slowed down or stopped their cars in the neighbouring northward lane.

The M90 is a fast-moving motorway at the best of times, but it seemed even more so on this historic Sunday afternoon. Other than large clusters of people as the motorcade passed the towns of Milnathort and Kinross, the route was devoid of crowds and the pace quickened. Meanwhile, clearly visible over to the left was Loch Leven, where the late Sovereign’s ancestor, Mary, Queen of Scots had been imprisoned for nearly a year, following her surrender to the Protestant nobles at the Battle of Carberry Hill in 1567. Royal history of even earlier times might also be recalled as the cortège passed the turn-off for Dunfermline, a Royal Burgh and the final resting place of King Robert the Bruce in 1329.

As the might Firth of Forth appeared in the horizon, the hearse carrying the late Queen travelled across the Queensferry Crossing, the newest of three neighbouring bridges which traverse the River Forth at this point. The Queen had opened this structure in 2017, as well as the neighbouring Forth Road Bridge in 1964. Then, as the suburbs of Edinburgh beckoned, the pavements grew busier with onlookers, particularly so in Queensferry Road. After crossing the Dean Bridge spanning the Water of Leith, the motorcade turned right into Lothian Road and eventually ascended to the Royal Mile which links Edinburgh Castle (at the top) with the Sovereign’s official residence in Scotland, the Palace of Holyroodhouse (at the bottom). Here the crowds were up to ten deep on either side and as the road grew noticeably narrower, policemen had to ensure the way was kept clear. Again, just prior to reaching the Palace, the cortège passed by the Scottish Parliament which the Queen had opened in 2004. History, on this journey, was indeed all around.

On reaching the Palace of Holyroodhouse, around fifty staff, as well as members of the royal family including Prince Andrew and the Earl and Countess of Wessex and Forfar, were waiting at the palace entrance to receive the Queen’s mortal remains, along with officials including the High Constables of Holyroodhouse. They were soon joined by the Princess Royal and her husband as they exited the State Bentley in which they had travelled for over six hours from Balmoral. The Queen’s daughter subsequently curtsied deeply to the coffin. A bearer party, formed from the ranks of the Royal Regiment from Scotland, of which Queen Elizabeth II was Colonel-in-Chief, carefully carried the coffin from the hearse (provided by the Aberdeen funeral directors, William Purves) and proceeded with it through the central principal entrance, along the colonnaded piazza of the Quadrangle, up the tapestry-lined Great Stair and into the oak-panelled Throne Room. It is here the late Queen will lie at rest till the afternoon of Monday 12 September, to allow palace staff and members of the Royal Household in Scotland to pay their respects.

Then, a procession, led by His Majesty the King on foot, will accompany the coffin to St Giles’ Cathedral. After a short service to receive the late Queen’s mortal remains, it will lie at rest guarded over by members of The Royal Company of Archers, to allow the people of Scotland to pay their respects. The Queen’s coffin will travel from Scotland by Royal Air Force aircraft from Edinburgh Airport, accompanied on the journey to RAF Northolt in London by the Princess Royal, in the early evening of Tuesday, 13 September. As has already been announced Her Majesty’s funeral will take place at 11am on Monday 19th September at Westminster Abbey in London. Queen Elizabeth II will then be laid to rest at St George’s Chapel Windsor in the afternoon.

Robert Prentice is a royal biographer and regular contributor to Majesty magazine.

A Queen Without Equal.

Here in Scotland, as in the rest of the United Kingdom (and beyond), we mourn the death of our late Queen at her highland estate on Royal Deeside. In these parts, she was invariably referred to as the Queen of Scots, for the title of Elizabeth II did not sit well with many in Scotland, as-unlike in England (prior to the Union of the Crowns in 1603)-Scotland has never had a Queen Elizabeth I. This is why in Scotland the distinctive red post (pillar) boxes do not bear the EIIR insignia that is a common sight over the border in England, but instead carry an image of the Crown of Scotland in relief.

Scotland too had a different sort of relationship with the Queen to that of England. There was a little less overt deference; less curtseying and bowing perhaps. Nonetheless, this should not be confused with a lack of respect, for the Queen was highly regarded by Scots, who loved her work ethic and sense of duty. They also appreciated her deep love of Scotland and its people. Holyrood Week was a regular fixture in her diary, in early July, when the Queen and the Court went into residence at the Sovereign’s Official Residence in Scotland, the Palace of Holyroodhouse, in order to allow Her Majesty to undertake a busy schedule of engagements, not just in the Scottish capital of Edinburgh, but throughout her northern realm. On occasion, Her Majesty worshipped on a Sunday at the Canongate Kirk (church) just a few hundred yards up the Royal Mile (a mile-long street stretching down through the Old Town from Edinburgh Castle to the Palace). A highlight of the week was the annual royal garden party on the lawns of the Palace; while on alternate years there was a service in the Thistle Chapel of St Giles Cathedral for the Order of the Thistle, the great order of chivalry in Scotland, at which Her Majesty presided as Sovereign of the Order. This was usually followed by a lunch for the Knights and Ladies of the Thistle at the Palace of Holyroodhouse.

However, the late Queen is probably more identified with Balmoral Castle than Holyroodhouse. This is unsurprising as she spent far more time there (usually from late July until early October). In past years, she was sometimes seen walking on her estate or in the nearby village of Ballater, invariably wearing a headscarf. In the days when she sailed into Aberdeen Harbour aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia (which was decommissioned in 1997), at the end of her traditional cruise up the west coast of Scotland, small clusters of local residents would line the fifty-mile route to Balmoral in order to wave to the Queen, as she passed by in her Rolls Royce car.

Each week when in residence (pre-pandemic), Her Majesty travelled across the little bridge over the River Dee from the Castle (hence the name Royal Deeside) to attend the Sunday morning service at Crathie Church. Interestingly, on the last weekend of her long life, although she was no longer able to attend the service in person, the Queen entertained the Moderator of the Church of Scotland, The Right Rev Dr Iain Greenshields, who was preaching at Crathie, to dine at Balmoral on the Saturday evening and, after an overnight stay, to partake of Sunday lunch at the Castle the following day. Dr Greenshields remembers that ‘It was a fantastic visit. Her memory was absolutely amazing and she was really full of fun’.

Another ‘hardy annual’ in the calendar at Balmoral was the Queen’s attendance (as Patron) at the nearby Braemar Gathering. Although the royal party (which included the Duke of Edinburgh and Prince Charles) usually remained for only an hour, their attendance at these highland games (with a busy mix of a tug o’ war, highland dancing, hill race and caber [log] tossing) helped to attract a turnout of tourists from around the world. The Queen loved the sound of the bagpipes (according to one of her personal Royal Pipers she had a finely tuned ear) as the pipers marched ahead of the royal cars as they processed towards the showground’s Royal Pavilion.

But of course, in addition to relaxation, the Queen was never off duty at Balmoral. The red boxes followed her from London each day, with official documents to be perused and signed. Her Majesty also invited her Prime Minister and his/her spouse each year for a weekend stay. Although there were elements of fun to the visit, such as an informal evening barbecue somewhere on the Balmoral estate, the Prime Minister also had an audience with the Queen. Indeed, given the royal work ethic, it is hardly surprising that the last image of our late Sovereign was of Her Majesty undertaking one of her main constitutional duties: the receiving of the Hon. Liss Truss MP, the newly elected leader of the Conservative Party, to invite her to form a government as Prime Minister.

The new King (Charles III) also has a deep love of Scotland, some of it thanks to the influence of his late grandmother, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, a member of the aristocratic Bowes-Lyon family, with deep roots in Glamis and the county of Angus (Forfarshire of old). Previously, His Majesty was known here as the Duke of Rothesay and Lord of the Isles. As such, he has regularly toured the islands and mainland of Scotland, involving himself with many projects, such as a major restoration programme at Dumfries House, which has brought work to many locals. However, the late Queen Elizabeth II has set a very high benchmark: to many (indeed, the vast majority) she was a Queen Regnant without equal.

Robert Prentice is a biographer and regular contributor to ‘Majesty’ magazine in the United Kingdom. His biography, ‘Princess Olga of Yugoslavia: Her Life and Times’ is available to purchase in hardback or as an e-book through Amazon.

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Death of an Iconic Princess.

At 11.40am on 27 August 1968, Princess Marina died peacefully in her sleep at her apartment in Kensington Palace, from an inoperable brain tumour. This had only been discovered by doctors, on 18 July, when she entered the National Hospital for Nervous Diseases for ‘various tests’, as Marina had increasingly found it difficult to put weight on her left leg, which kept giving way, causing her to stumble badly. This devastating news, along with the doctors’ prognosis that the Princess had only six or seven months left to live, was known only to her children, Edward, Alexandra and Michael. Even her beloved older sister, Princess Olga of Yugoslavia, was kept in the dark noting, ‘I can’t make it out exactly what is the cause…’ Marina herself thought it was rheumatism. Although, following her discharge from hospital, she needed daily assistance from a nurse, the Princess was still able to pay a visit to her daughter and grandchildren at Alexandra’s home, Thatched House Lodge, in London’s Richmond Park, on 23 August. Furthermore, on 25 August, Alexandra, her husband Angus Ogilvy and their children, James and Marina, lunched with the Princess at Kensington Palace. Marina’s close friend, Zoia Poklewski was also present. At this stage there seemed no immediate cause for alarm. However, in the evening, Marina suffered a brief blackout and, on the morning of 26 August, she said, ‘I feel tired. I think I will go to sleep.’ It was a sleep from which she would never awaken.

Thus, when word was released of her death, people both in Britain and the British Commonwealth (for the Princess had travelled extensively on official duties to Commonwealth countries both in the Far East, as well as-inter alia-to Canada, Australia and Ghana) were shocked by the news, for she was only 61 years of age. Many could still recall Marina’s arrival in Folkstone, in September 1934, as the chic future bride of the handsome and popular Prince George, youngest surviving son of King George V. Others remembered her as an enduring presence (for some 25 years) when, as President of the All England Tennis and Croquet Club (“Wimbledon” in everyday parlance), she presented the trophies to the champions and runners-up at the end of the famous tennis tournament. The Australian Women’s Weekly called her ‘the smartest of the royal women’ in terms of dress sense and, in England, the late Princess even had a colour named after her, Marina Blue.

It was announced on 28 August that the funeral would take place in private at St George’s Chapel Windsor. It was the height of the holiday season and most of the British Royal family travelled down from Balmoral on Royal Deeside for the service. The Princess’ mortal remains were carried into the chapel by eight officers from regiments of which she was Colonel-in-Chief, her personal standard and flowers atop the coffin. The service was conducted by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Ramsey, assisted by Archimandrite Gregory Theodorus of the Greek Orthodox Church. The latter’s participation was particularly apt as Marina had been raised in the Greek Orthodox faith and had remained a regular attendee, during Holy Week, at the Orthodox Easter services at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of Saint Sofia in London’s Moscow Road. The moving service also included the collect hymn of the Holy Orthodox Church, Give Rest, O Christ, to Thy Servant with Thy Saints. Marina was subsequently laid to rest at the Royal Burial Ground at nearby Frogmore. Interestingly, on the previous evening, the mortal remains of her late husband, Prince George, who died on active service in a flying accident in 1942, had been removed from the Royal Crypt at St George’s Chapel and transferred to Frogmore. Now husband and wife were once again reunited.

In addition to Marina’s three children and other royalties, also present was Marina’s sole surviving sister, Princess Olga of Yugoslavia. The latter had hastened over from her holiday home near Florence, after being told that Marina’s health had suddenly deteriorated, so as to be at her younger sister’s side for the final hours of her life. Olga wore Marina’s own mourning outfit and veil at the funeral for, in the rush, she had no chance to pack her own. The Duke of Windsor also made a rare appearance at Windsor, to salute a royal sister-in-law who was, after all, the widow of his favourite brother, George.

A public memorial service (which was televised to millions) was held in Westminster Abbey on 25 October. Among the two thousand present were representatives of the British, Greek, Danish, Yugoslav and Russian Royal Families. The presence of the latter was particularly prescient as Marina was (through the maternal line) a great-granddaughter of Tsar Alexander II of Russia. However, in a nod to the Princess’ down-to-earth character, also present were two representatives of a garage in Iver, where she lived for so many years on the Coppins estate. The Dean of Westminster summed up Marina’s salient characteristics succinctly: ‘her grace and beauty, her spirit of spontaneity, her courage in adversity, her unswerving service to this land of her adoption, her faithfulness in friendship…[and] not least do we thank God for the mutual affection which was established between her and our people…’ And that was Marina’s secret-the British people had taken her to their heart almost from the first; yet equally she had reached out to them. In essence, it was a case of ‘mutual admiration’.

As the years have moved on, Marina is still remembered with great affection. This warmth has long been extended towards her children, particularly Prince Edward, the Duke of Kent and Princess Alexandra, the Hon. Lady Ogilvy who, although in their late eighties, continue to carry out a wide range of official engagements, for dedication to duty was at the heart of their late mother’s ethos.

Robert Prentice is a biographer and regular contributor to ‘Majesty’ magazine in the United Kingdom. His biography of the late Princess Marina’s sister, ‘Princess Olga of Yugoslavia: Her Life and Times’ is available to purchase in hardback or as an e-book through Amazon.

King’s Brother Dies in Mysterious Wartime Flying Accident.

On 26 August 1942, newspapers in London and throughout the world were reporting the tragic death of Prince George, the Duke of Kent (and younger brother of King George VI) in an air accident over the north of Scotland. The Duke (who held the rank of Air Commodore in the RAF and was attached to the staff of the Inspector-General of Air) had been en route to Iceland, in a Short Sunderland flying boat, W4026, on the afternoon of 25 August, ostensibly to carry out a tour of inspection of bases there. Interestingly , the Prince, who was very keen to take on a role as a liaison officer between the British and American air forces, had also arranged to hold a second meeting at a US air base in Iceland with the US Air Force General Carl ‘Tooey’ Spaatz. This was to finalise matters discussed between the duo at their first meeting, a week earlier, at a London restaurant in Mayfair, the Bon Viveur. Of those on board (some sources say fifteen, others sixteen), only one survived the air accident-the rear gunner, Flight Sergeant Andrew Jack. He was badly burned as he attempted to pull bodies from the wreck. Among those killed were the Duke’s Private Secretary, Lieutenant John Lowther, His Royal Highness’ equerry, Pilot Officer the Hon. Michael Strutt and Prince George’s valet, Leading Aircraftman John Hales.

The aircraft had taken off from Invergordon on the Cromarty Firth shortly after 1pm. It has been noted that there was low cloud along the south coast of Caithness that day. After clearing the Cromarty Firth, the airplane turned north-east to follow the coastline. Around thirty minutes later, just inland from the village of Berriedale, in north-east Caithness, some shepherds, David Morrison and his son Hugh, heard the aircraft approach from the sea, although they could not physically see it owing to the foggy conditions. However, a loud explosion soon followed, as the Sunderland, having cleared the 2000 feet summit of Donald’s Mount, then somehow lost height and, at an altitude of approximately 700 feet, ploughed into a hillside to the east of Eagle’s Rock, eventually sliding down a hill on its back. Hugh Morrison ran to collect his motorbike and sped westwards to the hamlet of Braemore to raise the alarm. The police at nearby Dunbeath were also alerted and soon several search parties, including local crofters, headed for the hills. When the wreckage and bodies of the deceased were found (not an easy task in the dense mist that pervaded the area) the Duke’s body was easily distinguishable from the identity bracelet he was wearing.

King George VI received the news that evening by telephone from Sir Archibald Sinclair, the Secretary of State for Air (and also-by coincidence-a Caithness landowner), just as he and the Queen were enjoying dinner at their Scottish estate at Balmoral on Royal Deeside. It so happened that one of the guests was the King’s younger brother, Henry, the Duke of Gloucester, who was accompanied by his wife Alice. Both of the brothers and their wives were stunned at the news. The King then had to consider how best to inform his sister-in-law, Princess Marina, of her husband’s death. This was a particularly delicate undertaking for the Duchess of Kent was Greek-born and not on particularly close terms with her British in-laws. The task of arranging this was given to Eric Miéville, the King’s Assistant Private Secretary. Miéville telephoned Coppins, the Kent’s residence near Iver, and ascertained from the butler, Booksmith, that the Duchess had just retired for the evening, but was not yet asleep. He also learned that Miss Kate Fox, Marina’s aged, devoted former nurse was also present, as she was helping with the care of the Kent’s seven-week-old son, Michael. Miéville must then have imparted the sad news to the trusted retainer hoping, no doubt, that she would then gently inform the Duchess that her beloved husband had been killed. However, ‘Foxie’ could not bring herself to climb the stairs, doubtless realising the dreadful trauma this information would inflict on Marina. Instead, she telephoned Zoia Poklewski, a close friend of the Duchess, who lived in a cottage nearby on the Coppins estate, and urged her to come over to the main house at once. When Zoia arrived, Miss Fox related the tragic news as quietly as she could. Nevertheless, Marina must have heard something, for she soon shouted from the landing above, “What are you talking about?” Madam Poklewski then braced herself as she ascended the stairs to convey the harrowing message. According to Marina’s biographer, Stella King, the news of her husband’s death ‘produced a reaction in his widow which was dramatic in its intensity’. Unfortunately, all of Marina’s own family-to whom she was devoted and would, in normal times, have turned to for comfort and courage-lived overseas: her mother, Princess Nicholas (Grand Duchess Helen), was living in Athens, which was occupied by the Germans; her eldest sister, Princess Olga of Yugoslavia, was currently a ‘political prisoner’ of the British government in Kenya; while the middle sibling, Princess Elizabeth, was married to a German, Count Toerring, and lived in Bavaria. Nevertheless, both the Queen (Elizabeth) and Queen Mary (Prince Edward’s mother) would later make the journey separately to Coppins to offer Marina their condolences and support.

Meanwhile, in the north of Scotland, the Duke of Kent’s mortal remains were removed from the hillside and transferred to Dunrobin Castle where Eileen, the Duchess of Sutherland (ironically a friend of the late Prince George) arranged for local undertakers to provide a coffin, which was duly sealed and remained-guarded by RAF personnel-in a flower-filled sitting room for nearly two days. It was subsequently transported by rail from the local station, close by the Highland castle, to London’s Euston Station. The Duke’s body was then taken by car to Windsor Castle to lie in the Albert Memorial Chapel. Soon thereafter, Princess Marina, accompanied by a Lady-in-Waiting, Lady Mary Herbert, arrived at the chapel bearing a bunch of red and white roses from the garden at Coppins. She asked to be left alone with her late husband for a private farewell. After some fifteen minutes, Marina emerged and returned home to Iver.

In the interim, the King, through the office of the Lord Chamberlain, commanded that there should be four weeks of court mourning. He had travelled south from Balmoral, arriving by special train in London, on 27 March, accompanied by the Queen and the Gloucesters to prepare for the funeral. The Member of Parliament and socialite, Henry ‘Chips’ Channon, who was a good friend and onetime London neighbour of the Duke and Duchess of Kent, noted that everyone was ‘shocked and depressed’ at the news. Channon also observed that the death of Prince George’s ‘tactful and efficient’ private secretary, John Lowther, meant that dealing with administrative matters, including the arrangements for the funeral, was to prove more difficult for the late Duke’s office than would otherwise have been the case. Some of those who were to attend Prince Edward’s funeral received their invitation by telegram.

As the morning of 29 August dawned, Marina prepared herself for husband’s funeral. She was supported throughout the service in St George’s Chapel by the Queen and Prince George’s mother, Queen Mary, the dowager queen. Although the latter was privately distraught, for the Duke of Kent was said to have been her favourite son, the old Queen maintained a stoical stance that day, her face shielded-as was Marina’s-by a thick black veil. Atop the coffin was a simple wreath of flowers from Coppins, together with Prince George’s Air Commodore’s cap. Among those attending were the Dutch Queen (Wilhelmina), the Kings of Norway, Greece and Yugoslavia, as well as the Prince George’s personal detective, Evans, and his chauffeur. Particularly poignant was the presence of Mrs Charlotte ‘Lala’ Bill, the Duke’s childhood nurse, who had travelled down from her home at West Newton on the Sandringham estate. The Duke of Windsor (the former King Edward VIII and the brother to whom the Duke of Kent had been closest in the past) who was currently serving as Governor of the Bahamas, was represented, at the King’s personal direction, by Sir Lionel Halsey, a distinguished seamen and retired Vice-Admiral, who had served in Edward’s household (when Prince of Wales) as Comptroller and Treasurer.

At the end of the service, writes Stella King somewhat melodramatically, ‘it seemed at one moment that [Princess Marina] would have hurled herself into the [royal] vault’ beside her husband’s body’ had it not been for the ‘restraining arms’ of the Queen. The same source provides a clue as to why this was so: it seems the Duchess of Kent had not wanted her late husband’s body placed in the vault of St George’s Chapel at all, preferring a grave in the open air, such as was to be found at the Royal Burial Ground at Frogmore. Evidently, the Duke of Kent had hated ‘gloomy royal vaults’. King George VI-who cried openly at the funeral-would later write movingly that, ‘I have attended very many family funerals in the Chapel but none…have moved me in the same way…’ Subsequently, on the afternoon of 13 September, following Sunday lunch with Grand Duchess Xenia (who had temporarily relocated to Scotland during wartime), the King travelled north from Balmoral for an overnight stay at Dunrobin, so as to view the site of the air crash and personally thank the locals who had worked so diligently to recover the bodies of the deceased. His Majesty was particularly struck that a piece of ground some 200 yards in length by 100 yards across was so badly scorched (unsurprising given that the plane had a fuel load of around 2,400 gallons) and noted that ‘the impact must have been terrific.’

To this day, the accident has been a cause of endless speculation in various publications and on-line discussion forums. These include the theory that the Duke had been killed on the orders of British Intelligence due to his alleged pro-German views. Another postulation was that Prince George had been at the controls himself, a view restated through BBC Wales, in December 2003, by Margaret Harris, the niece of the sole survivor, Flight Sergeant Jack (who died in 1976). Mrs Harris was quoted as saying that her uncle had told her late father ‘in confidence’ that he had pulled the Duke ‘out of the pilots position’. Yet, in an article for the Daily Mail in July 2021, the author Christopher Wilson states that he had once spoken to a Leading Aircraftsman Arthur Baker, who informed him that he had been a member of the RAF search-and-rescue team sent to retrieve the bodies from the crash. Baker apparently stated that the Duke of Kent’s body (recognisable from his flying suit) was found some 50 yards from the wreckage on a bed of heather. Prince George, he claimed, had a pack of playing cards (perhaps Lexicon) still in his left hand. So the evidence from these two sources alone is contradictory. However, according to Arthur Baker, he also found the body of a woman at the crash site. When he informed his Sergeant of this, he was evidently told “to cover her [remains] up quick” and remove them from the site. Baker was also told “What you’ve seen here, you speak about to nobody.” Interestingly, according to Margaret Harris, her uncle, Flight Sergeant Jack had also alleged that ‘a mysterious extra [sixteenth] person’ was on board the flight that afternoon. However, in this case, no mention was ostensibly made as to the sex of the person. It certainly seems probable that there were indeed sixteen people on board the flight, for that is the figure written at the time in the personal diary entry for 25 August of Sir Alan ‘Tommy’ Lascelles, Assistant Private Secretary to the King, who was known to be punctilious in such matters. However, to this day, there has been no indication as to who that sixteenth person was.

What is indisputable today, is that many still wonder how an experienced crew captained by an Australian Flight Lieutenant Frank Goyen, with around 1000 flying hours on ocean patrols, could have made such an error as to descend into low cloud, when the normal procedure would have been to try and gain altitude. One commentator, Roy C Nesbit (a former RAF navigator) stated in the January 1990 edition of Aeroplane Monthly that the crash was caused by instrument error, probably the new gyro-magnetic compass. A few years earlier, when the journalist Robin McWhirter investigated ‘Crash of W4026’ for a radio broadcast, he found that all the documentation relating to the Court of Enquiry was no where to be found. However, it has to be noted that just weeks after the crash, on 7 October 1942, Sir Archibald Sinclair, the Air Minister, outlined to the House of Commons, the salient findings of the Enquiry. These are detailed in the official record of the House, Hansard. Sinclair noted that ‘the accident occurred because the aircraft was flown on a track other than that indicated in the flight plan given to the pilot…’. Blame was placed on Flight Lieutenant Goyen with the observation that ‘the weather encountered should have presented no difficulties to an experienced pilot.’ It was further observed that the engines were ‘under power’ when the aircraft hit the ground.

No doubt the conjecture and theories will continue, but for the British royal family, and more particularly for Princess Marina and her children, the Duke’s death was a loss that was and, no doubt, continues to be felt keenly to this day.

Robert Prentice is a biographer and regular contributor to ‘Majesty’ magazine in the United Kingdom. His biography of the late Duke of Kent’s sister-in-law, ‘Princess Olga of Yugoslavia: Her Life and Times’ is available to purchase in hardback or as an e-book through Amazon.

Prince Michael of Kent-An 80th Birthday Celebration.

HRH Prince Michael of Kent was born on 4 July 1942 at Coppins, the Buckinghamshire home of his parents, Prince George, the Duke of Kent (the youngest surviving child of the late King George V and Queen Mary) and Princess Marina, born a Princess of Greece and Denmark, but also with strong links to the exiled Russian Imperial family (her great-grandfather was the late Tsar Alexander II). The Prince’s birth was a rare moment for celebration, as the United Kingdom was currently at war with the Axis powers of Germany, Italy and Japan, with food, fuel and clothing subject to strict rationing.

The baby boy was christened Michael George Charles Franklin (the latter a nod to one of the child’s godparents, the US President Franklin D. Roosevelt with whom Prince George had struck up a friendship during an official visit to the United States the previous year), in a ceremony at Windsor, on 4 August, attended by a large gathering of royalty which included the Kings of Britain, Greece and Norway, as well as Prince George’s cousin, Crown Prince Olav of Norway and his Swedish wife Crown Princess Martha. Michael’s paternal grandmother, Queen Mary, made a rare journey up to Windsor from her wartime bolthole at Badminton in Gloucestershire. The Queen and the Princess Royal were also in attendance. It was a joyous occasion but tragedy was just around the corner…

On 25 August, Prince George, who at the time was an Air Commodore in the Welfare Section of the Royal Air Force Inspector General’s Staff ( a post which included making official visits to RAF bases to help boost morale) took off on a grey overcast day from the Royal Air Force base at Invergordon in a Sunderland flying boat bound for Iceland, where the Duke was due to carry out an inspection tour of air bases. However, some 30 minutes later the aircraft crashed into a hill side, known as Eagle’s Rock, near Dunbeath, in Caithness. All on board died-with the exception of the rear-gunner who was thrown clear by the impact.

Marina learned of her husband’s death at Coppins from her beloved childhood nurse, Miss Fox, who had earlier answered the telephone to be informed of the tragic news. The Princess became so distraught that King George VI made the decision to send for Marina’s eldest sister, Princess Olga of Yugoslavia, who was then living in Kenya as a political prisoner, following her husband, Paul’s removal from power as Prince Regent of Yugoslavia, the previous year in a British-backed coup. This was an astute move on the part of the King, for Marina had few close friends in Britain and by the time of Princess Olga’s return to Kenya at the end of the year, she had resumed her busy official life. But it was more than sisterly love which helped to bring the widowed Duchess of Kent back from the brink of such a terrible ordeal: As Olga astutely noted, little Michael was the ‘greatest blessing of all…that depends on her [Marina] so much and for whom she must live…’

Prince Michael enjoyed a happy childhood. He and his older siblings Edward (now the Duke of Kent) and Alexandra formed a strong family bond which was fostered by their ‘cosy’ mother, who continued to remain close to her sisters Olga and Elisabeth and their Russian-born widowed mother Grand Duchess Helen. It is not surprising therefore, that in his youth, the young Prince would often join his mother on post-war trips to Athens to see his maternal grandmother, who lived in a large, airy house in the upmarket suburb of Psychiko, surrounded by faithful servants and a menagerie of cats and dogs. It was also during this period that Michael paid visits with his mother and older siblings to his Aunt Olga and Uncle Paul, who had by now settled in Paris with their children Alexander, Nicholas and Elizabeth. Similarly, the Kent family also regularly travelled to Bavaria to stay with Aunt Woolly (as Marina’s middle sister Elisabeth was referred to en famille) and her husband Count Karl Theodor Toerring (‘Uncle Toto’). The Toerrings had two children, a son Hans Veit and a daughter Helen, so there was no danger of ever becoming bored. On occasion, a selection of these cousins would arrive at Coppins (described in later years by cousin Helen as ‘the meeting place’) for a summer or Easter reunion. There were also “bucket and spade” holidays for the extended family in Jersey or Norfolk.

The Prince’s pre-school education was supervised by a Scotch governess, Miss Catherine Peebles, who later moved on to look after Queen Elizabeth II’s children, Prince Charles and Princess Anne. In 1951, Michael attended Sunningdale Preparatory School before going on to Eton four years later. Like his mother, Princess Marina, and brother Edward, Michael already displayed an aptitude for foreign languages (French and German) and spent a brief period at the Institut de Torraine in Tours to study French language and culture.

In January 1961, the Prince joined the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst where officers in the British army are trained to take on the responsibility of leading their soldiers. He was commissioned into the 11th Hussars (Prince Albert’s Own) in 1963. Michael proved an enthusiastic sportsman, enjoying bobsleighing (he would later compete for Great Britain) and he also continued to expand his linguistic skills, this time studying Russian (the native language of Grand Duchess Helen). His level of fluency was such that he subsequently qualified as a military interpreter in that language. By 1968 the Prince was attached to the Ministry of Defence, liaising with Foreign Defence Attaches based in London. He subsequently saw service in Germany, Hong Kong and Cyprus (where his squadron formed part of the UN peacekeeping force in 1971). On his return to England, he worked in the Defence Intelligence Service at the Ministry of Defence. But it was not all work: Prince Michael loved cars and competed in a number of motor rallies including the 1970 World Cup Rally from London to Mexico, co-driving an Austin Maxi. He also took up competitive carriage driving and later, in the 1980’s, Michael qualified as a pilot and passed the Institute of Advanced Motorists tough motor-cycle test on a Honda CX50 (he had passed the Institute’s equally demanding test for motorists some twenty years earlier).

The death of Princess Marina in August 1968 was a severe blow to Michael. She had recently been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour, a fact which was kept from Marina. The Prince was the only one of her children to remain unmarried and, when not on military duties, he continued to lead a bachelor life from a small flat in Chelsea. As was usual for a man of his age and background, there were no shortage of girlfriends with whom to socialise. In early 1972, while staying with his cousin Prince William of Gloucester at the latter’s home, Barnwell Manor, near Oundle, Prince Michael had an interesting encounter with a Karlsbad-born, Roman Catholic aristocrat of mid-European descent (but who had been raised in Australia), Baroness Marie-Christine von Reibnitz. She had arrived in London in 1968 to be apprenticed as an interior designer and was married to a merchant banker friend of Prince William, Tom Troubridge. Michael and Marie Christine (who would go on to establish her own successful interior-design business, Szapar Designs, named after her mother Countess Marianna’s Hungarian family) soon discovered that they shared a keen interest in the history of modern art and had a long discussion together on the subject. However, following this brief meeting, the duo were not to meet again for some time, as Marie-Christine moved to Bahrain where her husband had been posted by his bank. The Baroness, who liked to keep busy, was soon bored with the ex-pat life and returned to London to continue her work in interior design. After having been separated for several years, the Troubridges’ divorced in 1977. Marie-Christine was granted an annulment by the Pope in April of the following year.

In the meantime, Michael and Marie-Christine had established a close friendship and in mid-December 1975, the Prince and the Baroness paid a visit to Princess Olga of Yugoslavia and her husband Paul at their Parisian home in Rue Scheffer. Michael’s Aunt Olga warmed to Marie- Christine, feeling that she displayed ‘just the right influence’ over her nephew. In April 1977, the couple paid a return visit to Paris, following a holiday to the South of France, and over lunch at the Relais restaurant informed Olga they would like to marry. Michael and Marie-Christine celebrated a civil marriage at the Rathaus (Town Hall) Vienna on 30 June 1978 where guests included the bride’s parents and Prince Michael’s siblings. Also present was Earl Mountbatten of Burma, who had been a wise counsellor to the couple. The ceremony was followed by an evening banquet at the Schwarzenberg Palace. Although the newlyweds had hoped for a church wedding, for complex Canon Law and religious procedural considerations, this had not proved possible. Furthermore, the fact that Marie-Christine was a Roman Catholic meant that under the Act of Settlement of 1701, which was still in force at the time, Prince Michael was required to forfeit his place in the royal line of succession. However, on 27 July 1983, it was announced that Pope John Paul II had given his approval of the marriage; a blessing ceremony then took place in Cardinal Hume’s private chapel at Westminster Cathedral on 30 July. The couple’s marriage was now established in the eyes of the Roman Catholic Church. Furthermore, the 1701 Act of Settlement was eventually repealed by the Succession to the Crown Act of 2013 and Prince Michael was later reinstated in the line of succession.

On their return to London the Kents’ were given the use of a grace-and-favour residence, Apartment 10, in Kensington Palace which was free of rent, although domestic rates were payable. Marie-Christine was now known by the royal title, Her Royal Highness Princess Michael of Kent (or more frequently as simply ‘Princess Michael’). Children soon followed: a boy, Lord Frederick Windsor, was born on 6 April 1979 in the Lindo Wing of St Mary’s Hospital. In the spring of 1981 Princess Michael gave birth to a girl, Lady Gabriella Windsor. Despite their royal lineage, both siblings keep a reasonably low profile: Frederick attended Oxford University and is an executive director with J P Morgan Private Bank; while Gabriella is a freelance writer with a Master of Philosophy Degree in Social Anthropology from Oxford University. Both are married and Frederick has two daughters, Maud and Isabella, born in 2013 and 2016 respectively.

In 1981, Prince Michael retired from the army in the rank of Major. As the younger son, he was not expected to undertake royal duties and therefore received no payment from the Civil List. With the maintenance of the apartment at Kensington Palace, not to mention the upkeep of a new country home, the neo-classical Nether Lypiatt Manor near Stroud in Gloucestershire, for which it was said the couple paid around £300,000, the Prince had to earn a living. He decided to work in the City, initially serving on the board of several companies including Aitken Hume, Walbrook Investments and Standard Telegraph and Cables. Michael also later set up his own consultancy business, working in sectors which included property, education, medicine, aviation and the automotive industry. As Founder Patron of the Genesis Initiative, the Prince has also been involved in promoting the growth of small businesses, particularly in relation to developing export initiatives.

However, despite not being on the regular royal rota, on occasion the Queen has asked him to represent her on the international stage: In 1981, Prince Michael attended the Independence Day celebrations of Belize (formerly known as British Honduras) in Belmopan and he and Princess Michael also attended the coronation of King Mswati III of Swaziland in 1986 ( the Prince had previously attended the funeral of Mswati’s father and predecessor, King Sobhuza II, in 1982).

Prince Michael has maintained close links with the military: He is-inter alia-an Honorary Air Marshal of the Royal Air Force; a Royal Honorary Colonel of the Honourable Artillery Company and is Senior Colonel of the King’s Royal Hussars. The Prince has also been heavily involved over the years in charity work. The list is eclectic and long and includes the Presidency of both SSAFA-The Armed Forces Charity and the famous Battersea animal shelter. Given his love of motoring his role as President (since 1979) of the Royal Automobile Club seems particularly apt. Given his links to Russia, charitable links were also to be found there and included a role as Patron of the Children’s Fire & Burn Trust.

Prince Michael of Kent is a first cousin, twice removed, of the last Tsar of Russia, Nicholas II on both the maternal and paternal side of his family. He bears a strong resemblance to the late Tsar (as did his grandfather King George V). During his visits to Athens with Princess Marina, his grandmother Grand Duchess Helen would often talk of Russia and the Romanovs to her young grandson. Marina’s sister Olga was also most concerned with her imperial lineage, so it is safe to assume that she never missed a chance to impart her first-hand knowledge of life at the Imperial Court in St Petersburg and Tsarskoe Selo with her nephew during her long stays at Coppins and Kensington Palace. It thus seemed apt that Prince Michael, who had since developed a keen interest in Russian history, should travel to St Petersburg to join over fifty members of the Romanov family and their close relatives for the interment, on 17 July 1998, at the Saint Peter and Paul Cathedral, of the earthly remains of Tsar Nicholas II and his immediate family, exactly eighty years to the day after their murder in the cellar of the Ipatiev House at Ekaterinburg. In September 2006, the Prince returned to St Petersburg to attend the reburial of his Great-Great Aunt (and mother of Tsar Nicholas II), the Danish-born Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna of Russia. Over the years, Prince Michael continued to maintain close links with Russia. However, following Russia’s recent incursion into Ukraine, he resigned his position as a patron of the Russo-British Chamber of Commerce, which has been active in the promotion of trade between Russia and the United Kingdom. He has also relinquished an Order of Friendship award, one of Russia’s highest honours, that he received from former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in 2009 for his work to promote Anglo-Russo relations.

In 2005, Prince and Princess Michael placed Nether Lypiatt Manor on the market. It sold the following year, allegedly for £5.75m. The Princess was quoted in the Sunday Times as stating that it had proved ‘very expensive’ to run. This sale was perhaps fortuitous as it was announced in 2008 that from 2010 the royal couple would pay a market rent of £120,000 per annum for the use of Apartment 10.

In mid-June 2022, there was speculation that the Prince and his wife would ‘retire from public life’ and that Michael’s retirement would ‘coincide’ with his 80th birthday on July 4. This has been reiterated in press articles (e.g. the Daily Express) on his actual birthday. However, with his dedication to charity work and eclectic range of interests, it is hard to imagine the Prince withdrawing totally from public life, although inevitably there might be a slowing of pace.

Happy 80th birthday Prince Michael.

Robert Prentice is the author of Princess Olga of Yugoslavia Her Life and Times which is published by Grosvenor House Publishing and is available to purchase on Amazon and other outlets both as a hardback and an e-book.

Queen’s Platinum Jubilee: Trooping the Colour.

The start of a busy four days of Platinum Jubilee events to celebrate the 70th anniversary of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s Accession to the throne commenced on 2 June with the Trooping of the Colour in London’s Horse Guards Parade, an imposing ceremonial parade ground overlooked by the Prime Minister’s residence at 10 Downing Street, as well as the offices of the Privy Council. The ‘Trooping’ is an annual event (with rare exceptions such as during wartime or a train strike), now customarily held on a Saturday (often the second) in June, to celebrate the Official Birthday of the Sovereign (as opposed to Her Majesty’s actual birthday on 21 April). Thus the Trooping is also often referred to as the Queen’s Birthday Parade. However, given Her Majesty’s ongoing mobility issues, and in deference to her great age, this year Prince Charles deputised for his mother to take the salute, just as when, in 1951, the present Queen-then The Princess Elizabeth, Duchess of Edinburgh-presided over proceedings on behalf of her ailing father, King George VI; with the slight difference that, on 2 June, Her Majesty was able to be present on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, to inspect the troops of the 1st Battalion of the Welsh Guards (whose turn it was to have the new colour trooped) as they marched past, after having progressed just over half-a-mile up the Mall, from Horse Guards, at the conclusion of the Trooping ceremony.

The event has its origins in the 18th century, when the guards and sentries of the royal palaces and (other important buildings) were mounted daily at the Horse Guards (a Palladian building constructed around 1750, replacing an earlier guard house belonging to the Palace of Whitehall). As part of the ‘mounting’ of the guard, the Regimental Colour (or flag) of the battalion, bearing the battle honours of the battalion (and used historically as rallying points in battle) was carried (‘Trooped’) down the ranks, so as to be seen and memorised by the troops. Queen Victoria twice took the salute at the Trooping at Windsor during her reign, with the future King Edward VII (then still Prince of Wales) taking the salute in London in 1896.

The nucleus of the current form of the Trooping was developed thanks to the intervention of Edward VII’s son, King George V in 1913. Until then, the traditional ceremony involved the customary exercise of several elements carried out in slow and quick march time, with the Escort for the Colour advancing to the centre of the parade ground to receive the new regimental colour from the Colour Party. This was then carried down the ranks, followed by a march past of Foot Guards (and sometimes the Household Cavalry) after which the Monarch or their representative departed with minimum ceremony. However, George V was keen to offer a more impressive public display for his official Birthday Parade, and at the close of the ceremony, George V placed himself at the head of his Guards and rode down the Mall to Buckingham Palace, proceeded by the mass bands. There, the troops who were to provide the new King’s Guard at the Palace (and the nearby St James’ Palace) marched into the forecourt of Buckingham Palace to prepare for the Changing of the Guard ceremony. The Monarch, meanwhile, positioned himself in the central gateway of Buckingham Palace, where he was saluted by the remainder of the troops on parade, as they returned to barracks. The King then moved into the palace between the Old and New Guards, who offered him a salute. Thereafter, the Changing of the Guard continued apace in the Palace forecourt.

King George VI also introduced a further innovation: following the completion of the salute at the gates of the Palace, the Monarch joined other members of the royal family (many of whom had, as was customary, earlier travelled both to and from Horse Guards in a carriage procession) on the balcony of Buckingham Palace to witness a fly-past by the Royal Air Force. It is also worth noting here that the present Queen first appeared on parade in the first post-war Birthday Parade on 12 June 1947 in her role as Colonel-in-Chief of the Grenadier Guards.

During Elizabeth II’s reign, the Queen rode on horseback down the Mall, preceded by the Sovereign’s Escort . However, from 1987, she instead travelled in Queen Victoria’s 1842 ivory-mounted phaeton. In 2020 and 2021, as a result of the Covid-19 crisis, a modified Trooping event took place in the presence of the Queen in the quadrangle of Windsor Castle, but without the attendance of the customary dignitaries, diplomats and members of the public. Normally 1400 to 1500 parading soldiers, 200 horses and 400 musicians (led by the Massed Bands of the Household Division) take part in the Queen’s Birthday Parade. And, once again in 2022, the crowds returned in force to line the Mall with Union flags and celebrate Her Majesty’s Platinum Jubilee. Instead of the customary 41-gun salute in Green Park provided by the King’s Troop, Royal Horse Artillery, on this special Jubilee year, all witnessed an impressive 82-gun Royal Gun Salute from Hyde Park, as well as a well-executed fly-past of 71 aircraft.

Robert Prentice is the author of the recently-published Princess Olga of Yugoslavia Her Life and Times which is available to buy through Amazon and other on-line and local bookshops.

Prince Philip: The Early Years.

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:

Princess Olga of Yugoslavia : Robert Prentice : 9781839754425 (bookdepository.com)

Princess Alice’s Wartime Canadian Adventure.

In February, 1940 the King’s representative in Canada, Lord Tweedsmuir, died suddenly following surgery. This left the post of Governor-General vacant at a particularly important time, for German military successes in Europe now required the strengthening of relationships between the United Kingdom and the Dominions, each of whom would provide military and non-military assistance to the ‘mother’ country. King George VI decided to appoint his Uncle Alge, the sixty-five-year-old Earl of Athlone to the post. The official announcement was made from Buckingham Palace on 3 April. The appointment was a God-send to the Earl (a younger brother of Queen Mary), who although too old for active military service, was anxious to be of use in the war effort.

There was no one more surprised at this sudden turn of events than Lord Athlone’s wife, the fifty-seven year-old Princess Alice. She was the spirited daughter of Queen Victoria’s youngest son, Leopold, Duke of Albany. Given Lord Athlone’s age, she had probably envisaged seeing out the war undertaking a series of minor official engagements or providing succour to evacuees from London’s East End who were currently quartered at the family’s country home, Brantridge Park, in rural Sussex. Alice was kind, candid, enthusiastic and fun; she was also often praised for her ‘band box’ elegance.

Yet, the King had actually made a wise choice for Alge and Alice were already well-versed in the nuances of Vice-Regal life: The Earl of Athlone had served as Governor-General of the Union of South Africa from 1924-1931 at a time when Afrikaner nationalism was on the ascendency, leading to tensions with those of British descent. Although Princess Alice had left the politics largely to her husband, she had proved to be an indefatigable hostess at the Government Houses of Pretoria and Cape Town, as well as forging strong links with both the ‘pro-British’ politician Jan Smuts and the Nationalist Afrikanner leader and Prime Minister, General James Hertzog. When not occupied entertaining official guests and politicians, the down-to-earth Princess could be found visiting Girl Guide groups, presiding over Rose Day festivities in Johannesburg or fund-raising for the King Edward VII District Nursing Association.

Although Canada differed enormously from its fellow Dominion in the south, the two countries shared a deep political and cultural divide. Whereas in South Africa these divisions had been between the more reactionary, republican Afrikaans-speaking people of mainly Dutch descent and the liberal-leaning (and monarchist) English-speaking population, in Canada the disconnect was between the principally royalist English-speakers of English and Scottish descent (who formed a majority in most areas of Canada) and their French-speaking counterparts (who were dominant only in the province of Quebec). It would be fair to say that the latter viewed the Crown (of whom Lord Athlone was now the official representative) with indifference at best, and sometimes open hostility.

After zig-zagging their way across the Atlantic to avoid enemy U-boats, on 21 June, the Vice-Regal couple steamed into Ottawa’s Union Station where they were greeted by the Administrator (Sir Lyman Duff) and the Prime Minister, Mr Mackenzie King. The Earl of Athlone and Princess Alice then processed to the imposing Parliament Buildings where the Earl immediately took the Oath of Office as sixteenth Governor-General in the Senate chamber. From there, the couple travelled to their official residence, Rideau Hall. Princess Alice quickly made a tour of this 175-room edifice, which she found to be an unsatisfactory hotchpotch of rooms in varying architectural styles, for the building had been much extended over the years. Nonetheless, within weeks, the highly-organised Alice had rearranged much of the furniture in the public rooms and mastered every detail of the domestic side of life at the Hall, some say down to the point of knowing the exact number of dusters in the housemaid’s cupboard.

Again leaving the political side of matters to her husband and his Private Secretary, Sir (Arthur) Shuldham Redfern, the Princess first focused on welcoming various relations who sought refuge at Rideau Hall. These included her daughter, Lady May Abel Smith (whose husband Henry was currently serving in Palestine) and her three children Anne, Richard and Elizabeth. Also arriving in Ottawa was Princess Juliana of the Netherlands and her daughters Beatrix and Irene. Juliana was the daughter of Princess Alice’s first cousin Queen Wihelmina. Although the Abel Smith family would remain at Rideau Hall for several years, the Dutch royals soon relocated to a charming house in nearby Rockcliffe Park.

In October the Earl and Princess Alice spent the weekend at the country home of President Roosevelt at Hyde Park on the Hudson River. The Princess was much taken with Eleanor Roosevelt, especially her energy and positivity. Although Lord Athlone had to rush back to Ottawa, Alice then took the opportunity to visit New York where she visited the British Pavilion at the World’s Fair. The Vice-Regal couple later paid a visit to Montreal, where Lord Athlone received an Honorary degree from McGill University. As both the Princess and her husband spoke excellent French, they were able to converse quite freely with the Québécois.

With the approach of her first Canadian Christmas in Ottawa, Princess Alice pulled out all the stops to make it a festive occasion. In addition to her own daughter and grandchildren, she also invited, as guests, Juliana and her daughters, as well as the Canadian Prime Minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King, who was a bachelor. Not only was this a thoughtful gesture, it was also a prudent one. ‘WLMK’ as many called him, could be prickly and was often difficult to get along with on official matters. Some say he even resented the presence of the Athlone’s, feeling that he played second fiddle to them. In a sense this was true, as technically they had precedence over him. This was perhaps Alice’s tactful way of smoothing his sometimes ruffled feathers. Sadly, all of the Princess’ Christmas presents and cards to family and friends in England went to the bottom of the sea, when the ship carrying them there (the Western Prince) was sunk by a German U-boat.

Canada, of course, was a huge country and tremendous distances would require to be covered. Each individual province was more akin to the size of one of the larger countries in Europe. Fortunately, the Vice-Regal couple were given the use of carriages from the Royal Train which had transported the King and Queen during their tour of Canada in 1939. Thus, as winter turned to spring, the Athlones set out on a tour of the western provinces, travelling as far west as Victoria on Vancouver Island. On the way out, they made stopovers in Winnipeg and Edmonton to visit air force training units and those involved in war charity work; while the return journey saw them visit Calgary (where they inspected members of the Royal Canadian Volunteer Reserve) and Regina (to attend a patriotic display by 12,000 schoolchildren).

In June 1941, it was the turn of the east of Canada, with a visit to Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Alice was particularly taken by the Province House in Halifax, the home of the oldest legislature in Canada, and she also joined her husband on a visit to the naval dockyard to inspect a group of navy ratings, stepping gingerly along muddy paths in her best finery. However, when the occasion required it, she happily wore uniform. There was quite a selection as Alice was, inter alia, Honorary Commandant of the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service, Honorary Air Commandant of the Royal Canadian Air Force (Women’s Division) and President of the Nursing Division of the St. John Ambulance Brigade. 

In late July, Alice’s nephew, Prince George, the Duke of Kent paid a visit to Canada to inspect the operations of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan and other matters relating to the war effort. He stayed at Rideau Hall and brought the Princess up-to-date with news from England. Not welcome were the Duke and Duchess of Windsor who were travelling to their ranch in Pekisko, Alberta. Alice commented tartly that ‘there was much feeling against’ the Duchess in Canada and must have been glad that the couple tactfully avoided Ottawa. Other royal visitors included the widowed (and somewhat other-worldly) Empress Zita of Austria who always dressed in black and Queen Wilhelmina, who visited in 1942 and 1943, and kept the staff at Rideau Hall on their toes by alternating between insisting on ‘giving no trouble’ but then suddenly becoming imperious if her royal wishes were thwarted in any way.

With the first year under their belt, Princess Alice and her husband carried on with the ‘official round’ in a similar fashion throughout the rest of the war, with visits stretching from Newfoundland in the east to British Columbia in the west; from the Great Lakes of the south to the Yukon Territory in the north. On one occasion, they paid a call on the native Ojibwe tribe. The Earl was created ‘Chief Rainbow’, while Alice was presented with a squaw’s head-dress. The duo also visited Alaska at the invitation of President Roosevelt to view American tanks and aircraft being ferried across the Bering Straits to the Soviet allies. Back in Canada, endless factories and munition works were inspected, along with hospitals and military establishments. Also part of the annual Vice-Regal schedule were levees and official dinners at Rideau Hall, as well as the State Opening of Parliament. If Alice was required to make a speech, she invariably wrote it herself.

Each July, the Princess and her husband would escape the heat of Ottawa for the cooler climes of Quebec City and their other official residence, La Citadelle, with its wonderful views over the St Lawrence River. This residence was also the location for the famous Quebec Conferences, held in August 1943 and September 1944 (to discuss strategies for the invasion of France and the subsequent advance on Germany). Although the Vice-Regal couple were happy to act as hosts to Winston Churchill, President Roosevelt and Mackenzie King, apart from posing for official photographs and attending some official dinners, they otherwise tried to remain firmly in the background.

However, there was also still time for fun. In the winter the couple would skate on an ersatz ice rink at Rideau Hall (formed by simply flooding the tennis court) or go tobogganing in the nearby Gatineau Hills. Alice and her husband also regularly spent time at a fishing lodge at Kamloops in British Columbia; while another favourite destination was the Jasper National Park where they lived unobtrusively on board their private railway carriage which was shunted into a siding.

Princess Alice and the Earl of Athlone departed Ottawa in March 1946. The final period of their Vice-Regal term was mercifully busy with a ball at Rideau Hall in honour of General Dwight Eisenhower and a stream of farewell dinners. It is typical of Alice that instead of accepting the traditional gift to the wife of a departing Governor-General of jewellery or a warm fur coat, instead asked that a Fund be established to support the young people of the Dominion. Furthermore, in a final speech as Honorary President of the Imperial Order Daughters of Empire, she emphasised the need for the citizens of Canada to adopt a national outlook, rather than one focused on the needs of the individual provinces.

The author of this blog takes a keen interest on the fate of royalty during World War II. He narrates the wartime adventures of a Greek-born princess in Africa (and much else besides) in the new biography Princess Olga of Yugoslavia: Her Life and Times published on 1 April 2021 by Grosvenor House Publishing. This is now available to purchase on Amazon in hardback or e-book.

Queen Mary’s Wartime Escapades

As the rumours of war intensified in the first days of September, 1939, Queen Mary was holidaying at the royal family’s Norfolk estate at Sandringham, close to the ancient market town of King’s Lynn. On the morning that war with Germany was declared, 3 September, the Queen was listening to a radio broadcast by the Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, on the vicar’s radio in her stall at the small estate church of St Mary Magdalene. Soon thereafter, the local parishioners were temporarily diverted from their devotions by the drone of the local air raid siren. This was a false alarm, being merely a test of the system. Presumably, the Queen Dowager spent the rest of what remained of that first Sunday of wartime in a state of nervous anticipation.

In the early hours of 4 September, Queen Mary was roused from her sleep by another ‘alarm.’ She and her detective Green and her grandchildren Prince Edward and Princess Alexandra of Kent (the children of Prince George, the Duke of Kent and his wife Marina, who were temporarily under her care) all rushed to the basement, where they sat stoically until the ‘all clear’ was sounded at 3.30 am. Although Mary returned to her bed, she remained wide-awake till morning.

Indeed, by 10am the Queen Dowager and her large entourage of staff had already packed their cases and departed ‘the Big House’, under a pre-arranged plan, for an even grander edifice, Badminton House, in rural Gloucestershire. This was the home of the Duke of Beaufort (‘Master’) and his wife, Mary, who was a niece of Queen Mary. As the Duke had already joined his Regiment, it was Mary Beaufort who was faced with the daunting prospect of greeting her royal aunt and her staff of around fifty, along with seventy pieces of the Queen’s luggage.

Queen Mary-who had lunched en route at the Northamptonshire home of Lord and Lady Spencer at Althorp-quickly selected a first-floor bedroom, with a splendid view over across the park, together with an adjacent sitting room and bathroom. For her private dining room, she made use of the so-called Oak Room, the main feature of which was its dark, heavy Jacobean panelling. Yet, even this generous accommodation was deemed insufficient, so she commandeered a large dining-room to serve as a formal drawing room for receiving important guests. To protect her royal personage, four despatch riders were on constant call to lead the way to safety in case of a sudden attack or a German invasion. They were augmented by 120 men of the local Gloucestershire Regiment who were quartered in the old stables. Of course, Inspector George Gardner, the Queen’s personal police protection officer, was also on hand.

It must be said that the Queen Dowager never wanted to go to the country. She would far preferred to have remained at Marlborough House, but the King persuaded his mother that if she were to remain in London, he would be constantly fretting over her wellbeing. To combat her initial restlessness and feelings of uselessness, ‘Bertie’ ensured that Mary should receive regular news summaries from the Foreign Office. These were sent down by motorbike courier in official red leather dispatch boxes. Another weapon to combat country boredom was Queen Mary’s weekly train visits up to London, during which she sometimes lunched with the King and Queen at Buckingham Palace and visited her favourite shops. Filled with purpose, the Dowager was up with the lark to catch the 8.28 train from nearby Chippenham. The journey took two hours. Her only complaint was that the blackout requirements, on the evening return trip, hampered her ability to read.

Looking out of her bedroom window one day, Queen Mary espied a whole wall of the house covered in ivy ‘of 50 years standing.’ She had always hated the plant with a vengeance, believing that it was destructive to a building’s stone work. Some of the park’s trees were also covered in the dastardly plant. Soon, her Equerry, Sir John Coke, was pressed into joining his mistress for a morning of clearing ivy. This ‘Ivy Squad’ was eventually augmented by the enrolment of Her Majesty’s duty Lady-in-Waiting and Private Secretary, aided by any visiting guests. Given the old Queen’s zeal, it is not surprising that Badminton’s considerable stock of Ivy was quickly exhausted.

Undeterred, by the autumn of 1940, Queen Mary turned her attention, most afternoons, to the clearance of areas of the local woodlands. A ‘Wooding Squad’ was established, mainly composed of the four dispatch riders and their royal charge. As Mary now rarely went to London due to the German bombing campaign or ‘Blitz’ (during which most of Marlborough House’s windows were blown-out, as were many of the interior doors), this diversion proved particularly welcome. The Queen was a thoughtful ‘employer’ and happily passed round cigarettes to her workers during their breaktime from chopping and sawing, always ensuring, of course, to have one herself. Mary also took great pains to find out the birthdays of her ‘wooders’, so that she could give them a small gift.

However, the Dowager Queen’s efforts at undertaking a salvage campaign to collect scrap iron for the war effort proved less successful. Her enthusiasm often led her into ‘salvaging’ the local farmers’ perfectly serviceable field implements which had to be discreetly returned to them at a later date. Yet, her dedication to the task is evidence that her patriotic heart was in the right place. Mary’s patriotism was also apparent in her insistence on obeying the strict rationing rules. Many was the evening that a dinner guest left her table hungry after consuming only half a snipe. By contrast, the Queen loved to fill her rooms with exuberant displays of geraniums and orchids, the latter often sourced (doubtless at great expense) from neighbouring nursery gardens.

Another outlet for Queen Mary’s talents was to undertake a varied array of official engagements in the locality, be it visiting a munitions factory or a hospital or a woollen mill or a group of evacuees from London. Although Her Majesty’s movements were meant to shrouded in secrecy, on a visit to a spitfire production factory at Trowbridge, one of the workers let the secret slip, so a group of children were there to greet her as she alighted from her old green Daimler saloon ‘prim as always’ with her trademark rolled-up umbrella in one hand. Sometimes, on her outings, Mary would come across members of the military plodding along the road and she soon took to offering them lifts. Many were unaware of who this kind and inquisitive old lady was, particularly in the case of foreign combatants.

For relaxation the Queen Dowager often visited antique shops in nearby Bath. She also enjoyed embroidery (or ‘stitchery’ as she sometimes referred to it). Mary would also visit local gardens and if it happened to be raining, she would don a pair of short rubber boots and prod tentatively at the flower beds with her stick or umbrella. Family members often visited, particularly her youngest son, the Duke of Kent, and his sister Mary, the Princess Royal. The Duke’s death in an air accident in northern Scotland, in August, 1942 was a severe shock. However, Mary stoically put her own feelings aside and arranged to motor to Buckinghamshire next day, to comfort his widow, Marina. The only night the Queen Dowager spent away from Badminton during the entire war period, was at Windsor Castle on the eve of the Duke’s funeral on 29 August.

On occasion, Badminton was subjected to air raids due to its proximity to Bristol and Bath. Queen Mary initially ‘descended’ to a reinforced room on the ground floor where, dressed to perfection and sitting bolt upright, she would attempt to solve a crossword puzzle. Eventually, she decided to remain upstairs in bed and take her chances. However, Mary was less sanguine when it came to the bombing of her beloved Marlborough House noting, ‘The dear old House cannot stand much more of this, & I tremble each day for news of it’s having succumbed.’

By early 1945, the old Queen had resumed her journeys up to London. Their primary purpose was so that she could assess the extent of the damage to Marlborough House, with a view to preparing the place for her eventual return. From the outset, it became clear that only her private suite of rooms could be made habitable in time for her return home, as materials to undertake repairs were almost impossible to obtain.

After celebrating VE day (8 May) with a visit to the local pub (where the villagers were celebrating with a sing-song), Queen Mary departed Badminton on 11 June. She insisted on personally bidding farewell to the Heads of each of the nine ‘departments’ of the estate and presented a gift to each. It was an emotional occasion and with tears streaming down her face, the Dowager acknowledged to Mr Perks, the Head Gardener, ‘Oh, I have been happy here! Here I’ve been anybody to everybody, and back in London I shall have to begin being Queen Mary all over again.’ She also admitted to having ‘gained much’ from her time there, which is an understatement given that, prior to moving to Badminton, she had not even known what hay looked like.

The writer of this blog is the author of a new biography: Princess Olga of Yugoslavia Her Life and Times published by Grosvenor House Publishing and available as a hardback or e-book from Amazon and other on-line booksellers and local bookshops.