La Vie Parisienne de la Princesse Olga de Yougoslavie.

Paris était une ville que la princesse Olga de Yougoslavie connaissait bien. Enfant, elle loge avec sa grand-mère Romanov, la grande-duchesse Vladimir, à l’hôtel Continental à la mode. Puis, en 1922, l’appartement d’une amie sur la place des États-Unis a été le lieu d’une réunion qui a abouti à la rupture de ses fiançailles avec le prince héritier Frédéric du Danemark. Par la suite, Paris devint en 1923 la maison des parents d’Olga, prince et princesse Nicolas de Grèce et du Danemark et de leurs plus jeunes filles, Marina (plus tard Duchesse de Kent) et Elizabeth (Comtesse Toerring). La princesse Olga rendait souvent à ses parents en route de l’Angleterre à Belgrade. Elle aimait particulièrement faire du shopping ici pour les vêtements de créateurs de mode tels que Jean Patou. En outre, parfois elle et son mari le prince Paul de Yougoslavie ont célébré Noël ici. En 1925, le couple envisagent brièvement d’y louer un appartement.

Plus tard, à son retour d’exil en Afrique du Sud en 1948, Olga loue, avec son mari, un appartement au Quai d’Orsay. Le couple loua ensuite brièvement la Villa Trianon de Lady Mendl à Versailles. Pendant cette période, Olga et Paul déjeunaient souvent au restaurant de Vatel ou dînaient au Ritz ou à La Méditerranée. Finalement, en 1952, ils établissent une résidence permanente dans une maison de ville située dans le 16ème arrondissment au 31 rue Scheffer. Bien que le prince Paul était un individu sociable (et aimé divertir des amis tels que le roi Umberto d’Italie), Olga préférait éviter les dîners et les cocktails. Au lieu de cela, la princesse aimait lire et écrire des lettres à la famille et aux amis. De plus, elle aimait lire les journaux intimes de sa défunte mère. En effet, tout ce qui a à voir avec l’histoire de sa famille a été particulièrement bienvenu.

Chaque jour, la princesse se rendait à pied à la rue Passy pour acheter un journal anglais. Plus tard, elle se rendit en autobus au grand magasin Marks and Spencer situé Boulevard Haussman. Au moins une fois par semaine, elle se rend à Versailles pour rendre visite à ses petits-fils jumeaux, Dimitri et Michel et leurs frère et sœur, Serge et Hélène. Les quatre petits-enfants recevaient invariablement un cadeau. À l’occasion, elle se promenait dans le jardin de Tuileries en se souvenant de ses visites d’enfance avec sa grand-mère, la grande-duchesse Vladimir et ses jeunes sœurs.

Comme elle est devenue frêle et oublieux, à la fin des années 1980, la princesse a déménagé dans une maison de soins infirmiers à Meudon où elle a été visitée par le prince de Galles à plusieurs reprises. Olga est décédée le 16 octobre 1997 à l’âge de 94 ans.

Robert Prentice est l’auteur d’une nouvelle biographie de la princesse Olga (écrite en anglais).

Princess Olga of Yugoslavia: Her Life and Times est publié par Grosvenor House Publishing. Disponible à l’achat sur Amazon ou d’autres librairies.

Yugoslav Royals wartime move to Africa.

On the morning of 28 March, Princess Olga of Yugoslavia and her family, including her husband Prince Paul, who had only the previous evening been forced to abdicate as Prince Regent of Yugoslavia, following a British-backed coup, were journeying towards Athens from Belgrade by rail accompanied by what were ominously referred to as ‘escort officers.’ On reaching the Greek border, these two gentlemen bid the Greek-born Princess farewell. At the first large town, Larissa, Olga took the opportunity to telephone her mother, Princess Nicholas, in Athens. The latter informed her astonished daughter that it was widely being reported (and even credited in Athens) that Prince Paul (who was standing nearby) was already en route to Germany. Olga was also shaken by the Greek press’ enthusiastic support for the coup d’état in Yugoslavia, which had occurred as a counter-reaction to the Slavs accession to the Tripartite Pact with the Axis powers on 25 March, a piece of slick diplomatic manoeuvring which might well (due to its exceptional terms) have kept Yugoslavia out of any conflict in the Balkans or at the very least given the country time to mobilise fully and build-up its military strength. The Greeks now expected the new government of Dushan Simovic to join with the Allied cause and fight alongside Britain and Greece against the Germans and Italians. They were about to be sorely disappointed.

Later in the evening of 28 March the British Foreign Minister, Anthony Eden (who had arrived in Athens by air from Malta) held talks with King George II of the Hellenes, whom he found to be in good spirits but not very confident about the situation in Belgrade, which he described as ‘that hive of intrigue.’ The King also indicated that he would be meeting Prince Paul and his family at the railway station the next day, but added that it might be an awkward meeting. George II must have mentioned to Eden about the constant speculation over the BBC radio about the recent whereabouts of Prince Paul, for the British Foreign Minister telegraphed London, stating this should be ‘ceased’ as it was embarrassing for the King of Greece (although not as much as it must have been for the subject of these false rumours).

On 29 March, Princess Olga and her family arrived in Athens. All the Greek royal family were at the station to greet them and appeared outwardly friendly, except Paul’s mother-in-law, Princess Nicholas, who was noticeably stiff. The Yugoslav family were staying with ‘Ellen’, as she was known in the family, at her large house in the upmarket suburb of Psychiko. It was not long before this Romanov Grand Duchess had a heated conversation with Prince Paul and Princess Olga in her salon and gave vent to her frustration over recent events in Belgrade. Ellen basically implied that Yugoslavia should have done everything in its power to protect Greece from the machinations of the Germans and Italians rather than sign the Pact.

The following day, the Greek King came to lunch at Princess Nicholas’ home at Psychiko. He had a long talk with Paul and promised to find out if Eden would agree to hold a meeting with him. However, the British Foreign Minister subsequently declined to do so citing that it would be ‘rather awkward’ given ‘the feelings in England just now’. Further still, although King George was in favour of Olga, Paul and the family remaining in Athens, Eden (later backed by Churchill) indicated that he was totally opposed to such a move. Eden’s mood was not helped by his failure to secure a personal meeting with an evasive Simovic in Belgrade. Although a delegation, headed by General Dill, flew to the Yugoslav capital on the evening of 31 March for a ‘secret’ meeting, the visitors left with nothing except the now familiar entreaty that the Slavs badly needed arms from Britain. The new Simovic government, to the Brits consternation, also deemed it inexpedient to attack the Italians in Albania and the visiting delegation also concluded the Yugoslavs would engage with German forces only if Yugoslavia was first attacked. Suddenly, like Prince Paul before him, Simovic found that he was spending much of his time trying to keep the delicate alliance of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes on-side. He was particularly wary of Croat intentions.

Meanwhile, having been told by the King to keep a low profile, Olga sat in the sun teaching her children some words and phrases in Greek. She also made a visit to the graves of her ancestors up at Tatoi and entertained Crown Princess Frederika to tea. On 31 March, the Princess tried to be put through to King Peter in Belgrade but was informed he was in bed. She tried again on 1 April, but an A.D.C. informed her that he ‘was away’ and refused to say where. The following day, Olga inspected a house for rent next to her mother’s home. At this stage, the Princess still seems to have been under the impression that she and her family might be able to live in Athens. Friends called by and tactfully spoke of everything apart from the Yugoslav royals’ recent troubles in Belgrade. However, events were about to take a dramatic turn…

In the early hours of Sunday morning, 6 April 1941 (Palm Sunday), the German minister in Athens handed a note to the Greek Foreign Office stating that Germany was going to attack Greece. The Germans also marched into Yugoslavia and bombed Belgrade. At nine o-clock that evening several flights of German aircraft flew in over Piraeus and dropped magnetic mines, one of which set on fire to the freighter Clan Fraser. She was loaded with two hundred tons of explosives due to be delivered to the Greek Powder Factory. A further six ships were written off. The naval college was also attacked and Olga was in despair that a hospital under her mother’s patronage at Piraeus had to be evacuated as bombs fell all around it smashing all the windows. Next day, Eden departed Athens for London.

On 9 April the Germans swept into Salonika having advanced almost unopposed down Yugoslavia’s Strimon Valley and then overcome Greek forces at Doiran Lake. HQ British Forces Greece now began to consider how best to withdraw the RAF squadrons from Greece. In Athens, Olga was receiving reports of the death toll of the recent air raids on Belgrade [some 17000 souls] and was distressed to learn that corpses filled the streets and the old Royal Palace-their former home-had been severely damaged. Already, there was talk of the Greek royal family evacuating to Crete and the question now arose as to where Olga and Paul and their family might go. The decision was actually to be made for them. On the morning of 10 April, Crown Prince Paul informed Olga and Paul that the Greek government could no longer guarantee their safety. Later in the day, ‘Palo’ returned to tell his cousin and her husband that it had been arranged for the Yugoslav royals to fly next day from Tatoi Aerodrome to Egypt in a British Royal Air Force plane. Olga was in dismay at leaving her mother behind in Athens (where she would remain for the duration of the war).

On 11 April, Olga, Paul and their three children Alexander, Nicholas and Elizabeth flew into Heliopolis, after a flight lasting four hours. They were greeted by Peter Coats, A.D.C. to General Wavell, the Commander-in-Chief Middle East, and taken to a comfortable house which belonged to a British officer who had been taken prisoner by the Germans in Libya. The house was staffed with a cook and some soldiers mounted guard on the lawn. The British officials in Egypt were, on the whole, well-disposed towards the Yugoslav royals and the British High Commissioner, Sir Miles Lampson, called to visit them, accompanied by his wife, on 15 April. He informed the Foreign Office in London that he was ‘rather appalled at [the] humiliating conditions in which they are held there.’ Lampson was particularly concerned about Princess Olga and observed that ‘surely it is not right to ignore Princess Olga as a Greek princess and sister of the Duchess of Kent?’ He wanted to invite Olga and Paul to lunch or dinner and ‘generally help them in a purely unofficial manner and informal way.’

Meanwhile, arrangements were being made for the Yugoslav family’s transfer to Kenya and Lampson was already in touch with the Governor of Kenya, Sir Henry Moore. Sir Miles was also impressing on a sceptical Princess Olga ‘what an excellent climate there is in Kenya and how much better than [spending] the summer in Egypt.’ However, Olga seemed ‘preoccupied about educational facilities’ (or the lack of them in Kenya!) and rightly feared that both she and Prince Paul might be ‘ostracised’ in Kenya ‘or in any other British territory to which they may go.’ Interestingly, during his visit to Heliopolis, Lampson found the Yugoslav royal couple displayed a ‘detestation of the Axis and all its works’. Their ‘sentiments’, he added, ‘could not have been more thoroughly English.’

Unlike Lampson, Anthony Eden seemed to have no interest in the welfare of the Yugoslav royal couple. He telegraphed back to Lampson next day, stating that it was a, ‘Bad idea to entertain them or exceed original instructions.’

And so it was that in the early morning of 25 April the family were driven in two cars down to the River Nile and taken out in a motor boat to the waiting flying boat. A party of friends, including Olga’s long-time friend Lilia Ralli, who had recently escaped from Athens, waved them off. A new life in Kenya now beckoned…..

A new biography Princess Olga of Yugoslavia: Her Life and Times was published on 1 April 2021 by Grosvenor House Publishing. This is now available to purchase on Amazon in hardback or e-book.

Prince Paul Of Yugoslavia meets Hitler.

On 2 March 1941, Prince Paul of Yugoslavia, the senior or ‘chief’ Regent of that country departed Belgrade for his Slovene holiday home at Brdo in what his Greek-born wife, Princess Olga, describes as ‘a depressed condition’. The Prince had every reason to feel so. Firstly, Italy had made no secret of its expansionist desires in the Balkans, as was evidenced by its recent invasion of Greece. Athough this incursion had, for the moment, been successfully repulsed, Prince Paul remained very much alive to the threat that Italy posed to Yugoslav independence. Secondly, the attitude of the British government left much to be desired. Oxford-educated Paul was known as ‘F’ or ‘Friend’ by the British for his solid Anglophile outlook. However, the British had repeatedly avoided the Prince Regent’s numerous requests for ‘material aid’ in the form of weapons and ammuntion etc.. Indeed, Churchill’s government had, until recently, been content with the Yugoslav’s neutral stance. Nevertheless, this had changed in January and February when the British government indicated that they wished Yugoslavia and Turkey to join with them to form a ‘united’ Balkan front to ‘fight’ (even if their own country was not invaded) and provide ‘speedy succour’ to Greece. Thirdly, and most pressing, were the demands currently being made by Germany for Yugoslavia to join the Axis Tripartite Pact. This matter had to be addressed as a matter of extreme urgency for, following Bulgaria’s accession to the Pact on 1 March, Yugoslavia now found itself surrounded by Axis-aligned nations on all borders, a fact emphasised when between twelve to fifteen divisions of German soldiers crossed the Danube into Bulgaria as Paul’s train travelled westwards. Ominously, ‘Fascists’ in Bulgaria were apparently calling out, ‘Down with Yugoslavia.’

Hence, Paul’s final destination was not to be Slovenia but the Berghof, Hitler’s residence in the Bavarian Alps near Berchtesgaden. Word of the meeting had gradually leaked out to the international press as far as Australia. The Fuhrer seemed to be in good form and according to German Foreign Office documents, he informed the Yugoslav Prince Regent that England had already lost the war and other nations would have to adapt themselves to a ‘new order’. Hitler mentioned that he was offering the Slavs a ‘unique opportunity’ to ‘establish and secure’ their ‘territorial integrity’ in this reorganised Europe. The Fuhrer indicated that in order to secure this preferential treatment, Yugoslavia would have to acceed to the Axis Tripartite Pact.

The Prince was not about to be rushed into a decision there and then. He parried that as far as he personally was concerned, the Greek descent of his wife, as well as his sympathies for England, made this a most difficult matter. There was also another complication: It also so happened that one of the ‘founding’ signatories of the Pact was Mussolini’s Italy. Prince Paul firmly believed that Mussolini and Italy were responsible for the assassination of King Alexander of Yugosalvia in Marseilles in 1934.

Nevertheless Hitler persevered and stressed that Yugoslavia, through accession to the Tripartite Pact, could rely on Germany both as a ‘partner’ and a ‘guarantor’ of both her present and future territory. The latter was a reference to Germany’s tempting offer that should they sign the Pact, ‘when the war ended, Salonika would go to Yugoslavia’. The Fuhrer also declared that his country only expected Yugoslavia to acceed. The Slavs would not, however, be asked to participate militarily in any war.

Prince Paul ‘reserved’ his position, having already indicated that if he did as the Germans asked, his position in Yugoslavia might become untenable. The Regent further declared that as this was such a serious matter, he would have to discuss the matter with the cabinet on his return to Yugoslavia. Soon thereafter, the German Foreign Minister, von Ribbentrop contacted the German Minister in Belgrade, von Heeren, and informed him, ‘Please do everything you can in every possible way to hasten the accession of Yugoslavia [to the Pact]’. The Prince, meanwhile, left Bavaria convinced that ‘war was inevitable but that we had to gain time to be able to moblize.’ His viewpoint was echoed by the international press in headlines ‘BALKAN VOLCANO NEARING RUPTION..’

A new biography Princess Olga of Yugoslavia:Her Life and Times was published on 1 April 2021 by Grosvenor House Publishing. This is now available to purchase on Amazon. ISBN 9781839754425

Sister in the Shadows.

Princess Margretha of Sweden and Norway was born on 25 June 1899 at her parent’s white-washed summer home, Villa Parkrudden, in Stockholm’s exclusive Djurgården. She was the eldest child of Prince Carl of Sweden and Norway, Duke of Västergötland (the third son of King Oscar II) and his wife Princess Ingeborg, sometimes referred to as “the happiest Princess”, the eldest child of King Frederick VIII of Denmark. The couple went on to have three more children, Martha (born in 1901), Astrid (1905) and Carl (born in 1911 and known in the family as ‘Mulle’.)

There was a brief flurry of excitment, in 1905, with the news that Prince Carl was being considered as a prospective ‘candidate’ for the Norwegian throne. However, that honour finally fell to Ingeborg’s brother, Prince Haakon of Denmark, who reigned for 52 years as King Haakon VII of Norway and earned the lasting respect and admiration of his subjects.

Margaretha had a happy upbringing in Stockholm and, with her sisters, spent the summers (and often Easter and Christmas too), from 1909 onwards, at the family’s newly-constructed Villa Fridhem, overlooking Lake Skiren, near Bråviken in Östergötland. One of the main features was a purpose-built solid brick “Wendy House” which featured chintz wallpaper, a scaled-down kitchen with impliments and white furniture. Visitors at Fridhem included Margaretha’s Swedish-born maternal grandmother, Queen Louise of Denmark and her daughter Thyra.

The three sisters became something of a public relations draw for the Swedish royal family, with their images featuring regularly on postcards and in magazines. The Swedish Court photographer Jaeger also produced wonderful photographic portraits of the family, both individually and in groups. The family often joined other members of the Swedish royal family at events such as the 60th birthday celebrations of King Gustav V, held at his summer residence, Tullgarn Palace, in 1918. This would be one of the final royal family gatherings for Margaretha before she departed her homeland.

Although Margaretha’s named had been linked with the Prince of Wales (‘David’), the Princess was already in love with Prince Axel of Denmark, a cousin of Princess Ingeborg. The couple married on 22 May 1919 at Stockholm’s historic Storkyrkan (Great Church). The newlyweds made their home at the Villa Bernstorffshøj (a wedding gift) in the shadow of Bernstorff Palace, at Gentofte. The royal duo had two children-both sons-Georg (born in 1920) and Flemming (born in 1922). Although Margaretha was now a Princess of Denmark, the family photographic portraits continued to be taken by the trusted Mr Jaeger from Stockholm.

Meanwhile, back in Sweden, Prince Carl and Princess Ingeborg were beset by financial problems when the Danish bank, Landmandsbanken, who managed Ingeborg’s private capital, crashed. For reasons of economy, Prince Carl moved his family from the Djurgården into an apartment in Stockholm’s Villagatan in the autumn of 1923. Fortunately, Fridhem remained in the family and truly became “home” to all of Prince Carl’s family, including Margaretha who was a frequent visitor there with her sons. However, this change in family circumstances did not deter Margaretha’s sisters from making excellent marriages. In 1926, Astrid married the wealthy Prince Leopold, the Duke of Brabant and heir to the Belgian throne; while, three years later, Märtha wed her cousin, Crown Prince Olav of Norway.

The sudden death of her youngest sister, Queen Astrid of the Belgians, in a car accident in Küssnacht, Switzerland, in August 1935, at the tender age of 29, proved to be a devastating blow for Margaretha. Astrid had been flung from a Packard convertible car, driven by her husband King Leopold, and tossed against a tree, resulting in a fatal blow to the head. Margaretha and her mother Ingeborg remained in Brussels, following the funeral, to help the widowed King Leopold care for his children, Josephine-Charlotte, Baudouin and Albert. This trio often visited Villa Fridhem in the summer and would have encountered their Aunt Margaretha, along with their teenage cousins Georg and Flemming, during these Swedish sojourns.

In 1936, Margaretha was shaken by another event: her beloved Villa Bernstorffshøj was severely damaged by fire. Prince Axel rose to the challenge and commissioned the architect Helweg Møller to design a new and much enlarged white-washed residence featuring wide, expansive windows, a charming library, a large drawing room (in which Margaretha hung family portraits) and a long, sweeping terrace. Large vases of flowers arranged artistically throughout the main public rooms added a welcome feminine touch. Each time the Princess travelled out to her home via the coast road from Copenhagen, she was afforded wonderful views of her native Sweden, so temptingly near across the sea.

Margaretha’s husband, Prince Axel, who had intially served in the Danish navy, now enjoyed a busy and varied business career: In 1921, he began working for the Copenhagen-based East Asiatic Company, which operated shipping services to Bangkok and the Far East. In 1937, he rose to the rank of Chairman and Managing Director. The Prince was also a member of the International Olympic Committee and Honorary Chairman of Scandinavian Airlines. While he zipped in and out of Copenhagen in his Bentley, usually accompanied by his latest pet dog, Margaretha preferred to remain at home and dedicated herself to raising her family. An avid letter writer, she also corresponded with her extended family in Sweden, Norway and Belgium. The Princess also undertook charitable work and was Chairperson of the children’s charity, Gentofte Børnevenner. Margaretha also accompanied her husband on some of his official and business trips overseas, including an extensive tour of Asia, in 1930, also in the company of Crown Prince Frederick of Denmark and his younger brother, Prince Knud. Yet the Princess was also a familiar sight in Copenhagen, her tall, angular frame invariably offset by a neat hat with a small veil, as she rushed to a lunch engagement or to take tea at the Amelienborg.

The period of the German occupation of Denmark in World War II was a difficult and risky time for the Princess. Her husband was an avowed Anglophile and he was said to have kept in touch with British intelligence sources in Stockholm. Furthermore, the Villa Bernstorffshøj was used as a meeting place for members of the Danish resistance, while weapons for use against the German occupiers were concealed nearby. This led to Prince Axel being placed under house arrest for a period. It also did not help that Margaretha’s sister, Crown Princess Märtha, had become an iconic symbol of Norwegian resistance against the Nazi cause, particularly in the United States, where she lived in exile with her children, throughout most of the war, under the benevolent protection of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Observers, and in particular the writer James Pope-Hennessey, described the Princess as ‘stiff’, while others found her to be very conscious of rank, precedence and court etiquette. Margaretha would therefore have enjoyed attending the wedding, in London, in November 1947, of Britain’s Princess Elizabeth (a great-great granddaughter of King Christian IX of Denmark) to Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten RN (born a Prince of Greece and Denmark and, like Margaretha, a great-grandchild of King Christian IX). This was the first major gathering of European royalty since before the outbreak of World War II. What she made of the marriage, in May 1949, of her younger son Prince Flemming to a commoner, Alice Ruth Neilsen, is best left to the imagination. Nevertheless, it must have been a bitter blow to the status-conscious Margaretha, as Flemming was required to relinquish the title of Prince of Denmark and was henceforth known as Count of Rosenborg. Then, in September 1950, her elder son, Prince Georg, married the British Queen Consort’s divorced niece, Lady Anne Bowes-Lyon. Unlike his brother Flemming, Georg cared deeply about his royal title and was able to remain a Prince of Denmark thanks to his successful plea to King Frederick not to revoke his royal status. It helped that Britain’s King George VI had also approached Frederick over the matter, probably at the urging of his wife Elizabeth. Although Georg’s new wife was now able to take the title of Princess Georg of Denmark, unlike ‘Lilibet’ and Philip’s marriage, this was certainly not a union of royal equals. Margaretha’s association with the British Royal family continued when she and Prince Axel officially represented the King of Denmark at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, in Westminster Abbey, in June 1953.

After the death of her sister, Märtha in 1954 , “Aunt ‘Tha” became an important support to her nieces Ragnhild and Astrid, as well as to her nephew Harald. Indeed, following Prince Axel’s death in July 1964, the Princess invariably spent Christmas with her brother-in-law, King Olav of Norway, in Oslo. As the sole surviving sister of Crown Princess Märtha, in August 1968, she was seated in pride of place next to the bridegroom at the banquet to celebrate the nuptials of Crown Prince Harald to Sonja Haraldsen. In 1971, she attended a Gala dinner at Akershus Castle in honour of King Olav’s 70th birthday. Later that year, Crown Prince Harald asked his beloved Aunt to act as sponsor (godmother) to his daughter, Princess Märtha Louise, at her christening.

Margaretha had often visited Sweden over the years, particularly to celebrate the milestone birthdays of (or mourn the deaths of) members of the Swedish royal family. In widowhood, she usually attended the annual presentation of the Nobel Prizes in Stockholm’s Concert Hall on 10 December, the anniversary of Alfred Nobel’s death. This ceremony was followed by a sumptuous banquet in the City Hall, where the press invariably captured the Princess in animated conversation with one or other of the winning Laureates. Another date in her Swedish calendar was attending a performance of Handel’s “Messiah” at the Storkyrkan on the first Sunday of Advent.

Princess Margaretha survived her husband by 12 years. Following a stroke in December 1974 ,the Princess was obliged to make use of a wheelchair. She died after suffering another stroke on January 4, 1977, aged 77 at Tranemosegård in Zealand. She is buried beside her husband Axel in the grounds of their beloved home at Gentofte.

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 to purchase now as a hardback or e-book through Amazon or other on-line outlets.

King George of the Hellenes Wartime Escape…

As April 1941 dawned, King George II of the Hellenes had much to contemplate from his country home at Tatoi, some twenty miles outside Athens. Although Greek forces had successfully beaten off an invasion by Mussolini’s Italy from occupied Albania, in late October/November 1940, and had subsequently gained control of most of the northern Epirus, an even greater Axis power now posed a very real threat: Following Bulgaria’s signing of the Tripartite Pact on 1 March, German forces moved up to Bulgaria’s frontiers with Greece and Yugoslavia. On 6 April 1941, these troops invaded Greece from Bulgaria, both directly and via the south-eastern corner of Yugoslavia. Although the invaders initially met with stiff opposition from both Greek soldiers and a recently-arrived Allied expeditionary force (composed of British, Australian and New Zealand troops), by 18 April the Axis troops were marching towards Athens where the Prime Minister Alexandros Koryzis (who had only lately succeeded as premier following the death of General Ioannis Metaxas on 29 January), weighed-down by this recent turn of events, committed suicide. The King now assumed the Presidency of the Greek cabinet and, in a radio broadcast to his people, appealed to all Greeks to ‘remain united and steadfast’.

On 21 April, George II appointed Emmanouil Tsouderos, an Anglophile Cretan with links to the late Eleftherios Venizelos, as Prime Minister. Tsouderos was perhaps an apt choice as, on 22 April, to avoid capture by advancing Axis forces, Crown Princess Frederika and her children, Constantine and Sophia, flew in a Sunderland Flying Boat from the mainland to Crete. They were followed, next day (his name day) by King George, Crown Prince Paul, other royal family members and the government. Some have posited that the King appointed Tsouderos to act as his ‘protective shield’ for Crete was deemed to be a republican stronghold. On 27 April, German forces occupied Athens and Allied forces and Greek militia were evacuated to Crete.

Meanwhile, diplomatic circles in Germany let it be known that King George was ‘not recognised now as a representative of Greece. He is regarded as an ordinary fugitive.’ The Germans were now looking to work alongside the collaborationist ‘Hellenic State’ government of General Georgios Tsolakoglou, an avowed republican, who seemed more than happy to declare that his country was no longer a monarchy. President Roosevelt certainly disagreed with this view, for he arranged for his son, Captain James Roosevelt, a US air observer, to deliver a friendly note to the King in Crete praising the ‘magnificent fight the people of Greece are putting up’ and adding, ‘I wish you could get more help from us, and more quickly. I can only say I am using every effort.’

However, on 20 May, Crete was subjected to an airborne invasion by German paratroopers and mountain soldiers, who eventually wrestled control of defensive positions in the north, despite determined resistance on the part of the local populace, as well as Greek and Allied forces. Indeed, the King and Prince Peter narrowly escaped capture when the house they were inhabiting at Perivolia was attacked by a squadron of Messerschmitt planes. Later, large gliders landed nearby and German paratroopers engaged the Greek gendarmes and a platoon of New Zealand soldiers who were guarding His Majesty. Although King George avoided capture, he soon lost contact with his cabinet (and the Allied command) during a 72-hour dash over the mountains, with only a faithful squad of 16 New Zealand soldiers to protect him. Indeed, the second night of his adventure was spent at 8000 feet atop a snow-topped mountain range. On another occasion, the King sheltered in a cave alongside shepherds and ate mutton provided by them. The final day of this adventure was spent travelling knee-deep in water along a rocky river bed to evade detection.

The King was evacuated to Alexandria in Egypt from the southern Cretan port of Agia Roumeli, on 23 May, aboard the British destroyer, HMS Decoy. The government-in exile also joined King George there, but it was now much reduced in size, with the Prime Minister also assuming the portfolios of Foreign Minister and Finance Minister.

Although the Greek War Minister, Panagiotis Kanellopoulos, was to remain behind with evacuated Greek troops in Egypt, by early July, the King and his government had moved on to South Africa. There, His Majesty was greeted with all the ceremony and decorum due to a visiting Head of State at Pretoria Station: The King of South Africa’s personal representative, the Governor-General, Sir Patrick Duncan, introduced King George to the South African Prime Minister, General Jan Smuts while, in the background, a 21-gun salute rang out. The King was later feted by women from the Greek community, in national dress and carrying Greek flags, who strewed rose petals before him as he walked-by. However, although the King George did not remain long in the Union, a large swathe of the Greek royal family decided to take refuge there for the duration of the war. They included Crown Princess Frederika and her children, Princess Catherine, Prince George and his wife Marie Bonaparte, as well as their daughter Eugenie. Smuts had a particular soft spot for the Greek royals and soon took to referring to them as ‘my children’ regardless of their age and rank.

King George, meanwhile, was about to depart for London using a long, circuitous route, when Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minister, telegraphed him, on 20 July, to say: ‘I have been thinking a great deal about Your Majesty in these months of stress, danger and sorrow and I wish to tell you how much Your Majesty’s bearing amid these vicissitudes has been admired by your many friends in England, as well as by the nation at large.’

The Greek King arrived at the sea port of Liverpool, on 22 September, where he was greeted by the Duke of Gloucester and Lord Derby. He subsequently inspected a Naval Guard of Honour. The King then travelled southwards by train to London and received a right royal greeting at Euston Station from King George VI (‘Bertie’), Queen Elizabeth and his cousin, Marina, the Duchess of Kent. Winston Churchill also made an appearance and was seen to doff his top hat to the Hellenic monarch. The King of the Hellenes was accompanied by a party of forty, who included Crown Prince Paul, Princess Alexandra (the daughter of the late King Alexander of the Hellenes) and her mother Princess Aspasia. Prime Minister Tsoudoros and the government-in-exile were also much in evidence.

The Times, England’s establishment newspaper of choice, carried a positive article: ’London is proud to welcome King George, who is joining the honored band of national leaders who have fought and endured incredible personal hardships, but have never for a moment despaired of ultimate victory. He shared the dangers of the troops during the fighting in Crete which was a delaying action of the utmost value.’ For his part, King George II stated in a radio broadcast that ‘We have come here (to London) the better to direct the interest of the [Greek] nation, for here it is that, in common with our Allies, we shall take decisions regarding our participation in the war. This will be carried on until final victory is won.’

The writer of this blog, Robert Prentice, takes a keen interest in the fate of royalty during World War II. He is the author of the new biography Princess Olga of Yugoslavia Her Life and Times which inter alia relates the involved story of Olga’s wartime adventures in Africa. Available through Amazon and at other on-line and local bookshops.

Princess Olga of Yugoslavia: January 1941, The Gathering Storm.

As January 1941 dawned, Princess Olga of Yugoslavia was enjoying a visit from her sister Elizabeth and her family from Munich. There were also lots of official engagements to undertake including the distribution of coats, sweets and toys to underprivileged children in Belgrade (under the auspices of the ‘Winter Help” charity of which the Princess was patron) as well as a charity concert at the local Y.M.C.A. Much to Olga’s relief, a new Lady-in-Waiting, Madame Babic, had agreed to assist the Princess with her increasing round of duties and audiences.

However, always in the background was the deteriorating situation in the Balkans, and in particular, the expansionist desires of Mussolini. Italy occupied Albania in the spring of 1940, from there it led air attacks on Greece on 28 October. As a Greek, the Princess was encouraged by her homeland’s successes over the Italians during a counter-offensive which saw them penetrate deeply into Italian-held Albanian territory. The recent capture of the strategically vital Klisura Pass was particularly welcome. However, as the Consort of the Prince Regent (Paul) of Yugoslavia, Olga was increasingly anxious over her adopted country’s future. As Head of State of a neutral country, Prince Paul was having to balance an increasingly difficult tight-rope of not provoking the Germans (who had already ‘persuaded’ Yugoslavia’s neighbours of Hungary and Romania to join the Axis Tripartite Pact), while at the same time keeping relations with Britain and the Allied powers on an even keel. The Regent had little room for manoeuvre. Unlike her anxious husband, the Princess could at least relax by skating on an ice rink near her home, the magnificient neo-Palladian style Beli Dvor (White Palace) or take drives to nearby Avala. When all else failed, there were five dogs to be walked!

On 12 January the British MP, Henry ‘Chips’ Channon, arrived in Belgrade. He was an old friend of Prince Paul’s from Oxford University days and part of the Anglophile Prince and Princess’ social circle in London. However, this was no mere social visit but rather one for taking ‘soundings’, as his arrival coincided with the British Minister, Ronald Ian Campbell, informing Paul that Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minister, was intent on sending a mechanized force into Greece. Campbell also indicated that Yugoslavia’s current policy of neutrality was no longer enough, for Churchill now wanted the Slavs to join the war on the Allied side and assist British, Greek and Turkish troops in the southern Balkan peninsula (often referred to as ‘ forming a United Balkan Front’). The Prince told the American Minister, Arthur Lane, that he simply could not agree to this as Yugoslavia would be overrun in a matter of weeks by militarily superior Axis forces. Such an action might also precipitate a civil war in this ethnically diverse country.

Meanwhile, Olga ploughed on with a batch of official audiences in what she descibes as ‘anxious days’. A visiting Greek diplomat came to lunch, on 16 January, and this provided the Princess and her sister Elizabeth with the ideal opportunity to catch up on fresh news from Athens. Olga also found time to give Chips Channon a tour of the royal air raid shelter. When he departed for Athens, on 20 January, carrying a large pile of Christmas cards and presents from the Princess to her Greek relatives, Channon was in tears as he truly feared for the future wellbeing of the Regent and his wife. Bidding her Bavarian-based sister Elizabeth farewell, on 26 January, was also a heartrending ordeal for Olga, as neither of them could be sure when they might see each other again. At least the Princess had all her children for company, as Nicholas and Alexander had not returned to their boarding schools in England following the summer 1940 recess. They were currently attending the Second Gymnasium School in Belgrade. King Peter was also close to his ‘Aunt’ Olga. He was due take over full powers as Head of State from the Regency Council on reaching his majority (at the age of 18) in September.

But as I will reveal in a later instalment, things were to take a different course……

A new biography Princess Olga of Yugoslavia: Her Life and Times by Robert Prentice was published on 1 April 2021 by Grosvenor House Publishing. This is now available to purchase on Amazon in hardback or as an e-book.

Princess Elizabeth’s 21st Birthday Speech.

Princess Elizabeth, the daughter of King George VI, was due to turn 21 on 21 April, 1947. The Royal Family were on a tour of South Africa at this time and it was decided that the young princess should make a ‘dedication’ broadcast to the Empire from Government House, Cape Town on the evening of her birthday. There was, however, a problem. The beam radio link between Cape Town and the BBC in London was unreliable and often subject to extreme interference. Frank Gillard, a former BBC Wartime Correspondent, was covering the tour and sent a memo expressing his concern to Sir Alan Lascelles, the King’s Private Secretary. What if, he queried, the Empire were waiting patiently for the broadcast and nothing happened? It would look ridiculous.

Fortunately, Gillard and his colleagues came up with an excellent solution. The Princess could pre-record her broadcast on high-quality discs which could then be flown to London to be used as a fail-safe should the ‘live’ broadcast from Cape Town fail to materialise or be interrupted in any way. The ‘stand-by’ version was pre-recorded on the evening of Sunday, 4 April at the Victoria Falls Hotel in Southern Rhodesia, where the royal family were enjoying a brief stay on their current leg of the tour. The King emphasised to an already nervous Gillard that ‘this will probably be the most important broadcast of my daughter’s life.’ No pressure then!

There was another useful aspect to this exercise: When Gillard had perused the prepared script with the King and Queen, all were horrified by the ‘pompous platitudes’ expressed within it. They and Princess Elizabeth subsequently sat down together and spent two hours completely revising the text. Shortly after sundown, the Princess sat at a table with a large BBC microphone atop to pre-record the broadcast. Gillard remembers that she was ‘composed, confident and extremely cooperative.’ Within hours, the discs bearing the recording were being flown to London for use if required.

As it happened, the beam radio signal to London was working a treat on 21 April and a ‘live’ broadcast was possible from Government House, Cape Town. The words, ‘I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great Imperial family to which we all belong’ rang out over the airwaves and are remembered to this day, with great affection, by those listening. It is not surprising that South Africa has a special place in the Queen’s heart. It must also be remembered that she was the last monarch of the Union of South Africa prior to the country becoming a republic in May,1961. However, she returned to make two State Visits, in 1995 and 1999, the former at the invitation of President Mandela.

The Queen’s State Visit to Norway June 1955.

Late on the evening of June 23, 1955, a flotilla of ships sailed up the Oslofjord to the delight of watching crowds from the shore. Fireworks were set off and bonfires pricked the gloom near the island of Maerdøy. At the front of the flotilla, which was otherwise composed of British Royal Navy frigates and the Norwegian destroyers, Oslo and Stavanger, was the Royal Yacht Britannia which had sailed from Rosyth in Scotland on 21 June. Faintly visible on deck were the ‘yacht’s’ principal occupants: Queen Elizabeth II and her husband the Duke of Edinburgh, who were about to commence a State Visit to Norway next day (the first of the Queen’s reign to a country outside of the British Commonwealth).

After anchoring overnight in the Fjord, at 11 a.m. on 24 June, the Britannia entered the inner harbour at Oslo and the guns on the ramparts of historical Akershus Fortress roared out in greeting. By now, the Royal Yacht was surrounded by a selection of small craft, all jostling in the waves so their occupants might better obtain a sighting of the royal couple. Similarly, the surrounding quaysides were filled with curious onlookers. Crown Prince Olav, a first cousin of the Queen’s late father King George VI, set off from the quay in his launch for the Britannia to welcome the distinguished guests to Norway on behalf of the King and bring them safely ashore. Later, at the Quay of Honour (Honnorbrygga), 82-year-old King Haakon carefully descended the steps to greet the Queen (who also happened to be his Great-Niece) with a courtly bow and a kiss of her hand. The Duke of Edinburgh, sporting the ribbon and the star of the Grand Cross of the Order of St Olav on his Admiral’s uniform, received a firm handshake.

After a ceremonial drive up Carl Johan, Oslo’s main thoroughfare, which was packed to bursting with spectators (including 400 British schoolchildren) the royal party reached the Royal Palace. Although not on the official schedule, the British royalty made an appearance on the balcony with their Norwegian counterparts, who included Princess Astrid (acting as official hostess, a role she had assumed following the death of her mother, Crown Princess Märtha, the previous year) and her elder sister, Princess Ragnhild, who had made a special journey from her home in Brazil.

The Queen’s first engagement was a visit to the fortress of Akershus, accompanied by the Duke and King Haakon, to pay her respects to Norway’s war dead and lay a wreath of white lilies and roses at the War Memorial. The royal party then moved on to the City Hall where the Mayor, Brynjulf Bull, led them on a tour of the magnificent murals, sculptures and tapestries. It is fair to say Her Majesty was greatly interested in what she observed and asked many questions of her host. However, the commemoration of those who had perished in battle was once again the focus when the Queen and Duke visited the British War Graves section at Vestre Gravlund cemetery. This was a very British occasion, with the Royal Marine’s band (from Britannia) playing the British National Anthem and the Queen laying a wreath of white roses at the British War Cross, followed by buglers sounding the Last Post and Reveille. Her Majesty subsequently made a point of inspecting the graves and meeting with Mrs Inga Kristoffersen who tended the grounds.

From there, the royal party drove out to Holmenkollen to observe the ski jump ‘in summer dress’ with empty stands and a distinct absence of snow. Earlier, they had taken tea nearby with the Canadian Minister to Norway, Mr Chester Rønning, at the Canadian Legation (for it must be remembered that Her Majesty is also the Queen of Canada). Then came the climax of the first day, the State Banquet at the Royal Palace, where the British visitors shook hands with the guests in the Red Room, to the accompaniment of tunes played by the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation band. In the Banqueting Hall, the tables had been dressed with red, blue and white flowers as a nod to the colours of the British Union Jack flag. In his welcoming speech, King Haakon referred to the many Norwegians who had spent time in the Britain during World War II and emphasised his belief that there ‘will always exist the strongest bonds of friendship’, between the Britain and Norway. The Queen replied by stating that ‘we were truly happy to have so many gallant Norwegians with us’ and noted that King Haakon had ‘sustained and uplifted’ her parents, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, during the Second World War by his ‘courage and resolution.’

On their second day in Norway, a Saturday, the Queen and the Duke visited the Bygdøy Peninsula. The couple first paid a visit the Folk Museum, where they were much impressed by the 12th century wooden Stave Church from the village of Gol in Viken county, which had been painstakingly re-erected on the present site, in 1884, thanks to funds provided by King Oscar II of Sweden and Norway. The duo also toured a traditional Norwegian farmstead and a selection of rooms in townhouses furnished in the style of different historic periods. The inspection ended with a display of folk dancing accompanied by fiddle music. Just as exciting was Her Majesty’s meeting with the adventurer Thor Heyerdahl as she arrived to inspect the Kon-tiki raft in which he had sailed 8,000 kilometres across the Pacific Ocean from South America to the Tuamotu Islands. Thor kindly presented the Queen with a model of the raft. The nautical theme continued when the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh subsequently visited the polar exploration vessel ‘Fram’ used by the Norwegian explorers Fridtjof Nansen and Roald Amundsen on their Arctic and Antarctic expeditions. The Viking Long Ships-the oldest relics of Norway’s maritime tradition-were also examined.

Around 4pm, the British royalties arrived at the British Embassy to preside over a garden party attended by 1500 invitees, the majority being from the British community in Norway. The Queen, dressed in a floral print dress, was escorted throughout by the British Ambassador, Mr Peter Scarlett. They made a wide sweep of the gardens as Her Majesty was anxious to speak to as many of her guests as possible and she questioned them about where they lived and what had brought them to live in Norway. The Queen later planted a cherry tree as a memento of her visit.

In the evening, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh joined King Haakon, members of the Norwegian royal family, government ministers and members of the diplomatic corps for a performance of Ibsen’s Peer Gynt at the National Theatre. Her Majesty made an impressive sight as she took her seat in the dress circle wearing an ice blue evening dress accessorised with a diamond tiara and necklace. The red ribbon and the star of the Grand Cross of the Order of St Olav-with which the Queen had just been invested-provided a striking contrast.

Despite the lateness of the hour the previous evening, the British royal duo were up bright and early to attend Divine Service at St Edmund’s Anglican Church, the neo-gothic style church of the British community in Oslo (and once frequented by the Queen’s late Great-Aunt, Queen Maud, the British-born Consort of King Haakon). Inside, the altar was decorated with pink carnations as this was known to be one of the Queen’s favourite flowers. The Bishop of Fulham-who has episcopal oversight over Anglican churches in Norway-presided, assisted by the British Embassy Chaplain.

Thereafter, the Queen and the Duke drove out to the village of Asker, twelve miles south-west of Oslo, to have lunch at Crown Prince Olav’s private home on the Skaugum estate. Princess Astrid, Olav’s youngest daughter, again acted as hostess on this semi-private occasion where other guests included the British Foreign Secretary, Harold Macmillan. Then all too soon it was time for the British royal party to leave for Oslo.

When the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh’s car arrived at the Quay of Honour at 6.25pm, the Norwegian and British vessels which would escort Britannia out to sea were already departing. King Haakon had preceded the Queen to the Quay and the farewell ceremony between the two Sovereigns was brief. The King of Norway, in a sombre suit, conducted Her Majesty to the bottom of the steps to her waiting launch, bent down and kissed her hand. To the delight of the watching crowd, the Queen impulsively stroked His Majesty’s cheek before joining the Duke on board. Suddenly, the watching crowd erupted,’ Come Back! Come back again soon!’ Meanwhile, in the background, the guns of Akershus Fortress echoed across the Oslofjord.

At 7.25pm the Norwegian royal family and some other notables, were taken out to the Britannia for a final dinner. Then, as the Royal Yacht prepared to get up steam, King Haakon and his party boarded the Norwegian Royal launch, Stjernen, which then proceeded in the direction of a small reef south of Bygdøy, on which stands the Dyna lighthouse. At 9.41pm the Britannia slipped her moorings and slid gracefully down the fjord passing the launch and the lighthouse. The Norwegian State Visit of 1955 had now ended in the most delightful fashion on an evening of pale blue sky and pink clouds.

Crown Princess Märtha-Norway’s Wartime Weapon .

Although the German invasion of Norway had led to the flight of Norway’s Crown Princess Märtha and her three children (Ragnhild, Astrid and Harald) across the border into ‘neutral’ Sweden, to avoid capture, in the early hours of 10 April 1940, it was not a situation with which Crown Prince Olav was happy. From his current refuge at Trangen, Langvatnet, Olav wrote to his friend, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, on 10 May, recalling a conversation between the two at Roosevelt’s Hyde Park country estate, in April 1939, during which the President offered sanctuary to Olav and Märtha’s children in the event of war reaching Norway. In his letter, the Crown Prince also questioned how safe his children actually were in Sweden. Certainly, even though the Crown Princess was Swedish, some in Sweden believed that her and her children’s presence compromised the country’s neutrality. Olav certainly had reason to be fearful for Märtha, who was now staying at Ulriksdal Palace in Stockholm, and was under constant political pressure from both the Administrative Council in Oslo and her Uncle, King Gustav V of Sweden, to embrace a ‘Norwegian Regency’ model whereby Harald would be proclaimed king, although his Swedish-born mother would act as regent until the Prince reached his majority. Those who held to this viewpoint, promoted it on the basis that it offered the only opportunity to save the Norwegian monarchy. The plotting had reached a crescendo following the departure of King Haakon and Crown Prince Olav from Norwegian soil on 7 June for exile in London and caused the Crown Princess to send a telegram to London warning her husband and father-in-law of the situation.

There was now the very real danger that Prince Harald might be kidnapped and taken to Oslo. This must have crossed the mind of Crown Prince Olav for, on 22 June, he wrote again to President Roosevelt, from Buckingham Palace, asking him to make good on his offer of sanctuary for his children, while also requesting that it be extended to include the Crown Princess. Roosevelt would be as good as his word and more, for on 13 August, the royal children and the Crown Princess left Ulriksdal and travelled northward through Finland to Petsamo (now Petsjenga, Russia) where, on 15 August, they embarked the USS American Legion which transported them and other refugees across the Atlantic Ocean to New York. The Crown Princess-who was given accommodation in the Captain’s cabin-appeared on the ship’s manifest as ‘Mrs Jones.’ Other members of the royal party included her Chief of Staff, Peder Anker Wedel Jarlsberg, Lady-in-Waiting, Mrs Ragni Østgaard and the children’s nurse, Signe Svendsen.

Märtha and the children arrived in New York on 28 August, after a stormy journey. From the quayside, the Crown Princess and her party went immediately to the Waldorf Astoria hotel where a room full of dolls and toys had been arranged to amuse the children. As the Crown Princess had not spoken to her husband in over four months, her first request was for an international call to be put through to Crown Prince Olav in London. Aside for the usual romantic endearments, Olav was able to give his wife some useful advice on ‘official lines to take’ with the US press.

The family’s suite at the Waldorf Astoria was luxurious and spacious and was being paid for by the Boomer family, who owned the hotel and had strong dynastic links with Norway. Märtha chose to give her press conference in the sitting room. She emphasised that her presence in America was temporary, stating that, ‘All we Norwegians look forward to the day when we shall return to a free and independent Norway.’ It was not an altogether pleasant experience and the Crown Princess would later confide to a friend that she ‘would rather submit to an operation’ than go through the ordeal again.

The Crown Princess’ next stop was to the private home of her host, President Roosevelt at Hyde Park. At the President’s informal retreat on his Springwood estate, Top Cottage, the children played happily in the swimming pool, while Märtha took the chance to have a long chat with the President about her situation. They also discussed where she might live. Within days, the Crown Princess was heading to the White House in Washington D.C., from where the President took her for a ride in his official car to view a large twenty-four roomed property, set in 105 acres, at Pook’s Hill, Maryland. This is subsequently leased by the Norwegian government-in-exile for the royal family’s use. While the house was being made ready, the Princess stayed at the White House in the Rose Guest Bedroom.

America was a whole new way of life, both for the children and their mother. Although Märtha was already proficient in English (albeit with a strong Scandinavian accent) the three children-who all attended local schools-were soon completely fluent in English. Nevertheless, their mother insisted that only Norwegian was spoken at home. The Crown Princess’ initial focus was on providing the children a secure upbringing. However, her charm and beauty, allied to her ability to listen, soon made Märtha a hit with the President and his family. Roosevelt would often drive out to Pook’s Hill to take tea with the Norwegian royals; in turn they were often asked for lunch, tea, dinner or a swim at the White House or even to take a sailing trip on board the Presidential Yacht USS Potomac. The friendship became so close that by August 1941, the Crown Princess was included in a party that sailed from New London on the Potomac to Martha’s Vineyard, before transferring to the heavy cruiser USS Augusta which then sailed to Newfoundland where a clandestine bi-lateral meeting took place between the President and Winston Churchill. Norwegian author Tor Bomann-Larsen recently stated that Roosevelt had became ‘infatuated’ with Märtha. If he was, it was to the ultimate benefit of the Princess’ adopted homeland as it helped to establish close relations between Norway and the US, as well as to boost Norway’s standing amongst the Allied powers. Roosevelt was certainly a willing participant in this regard and, in September 1942, during the handover ceremony, at Washington’s Navy Yard, of a submarine chaser to the Norwegian Navy, the HNoMS King Haakon VII, President Roosevelt, with the Crown Princess strategically seated by his side, implored Americans to ‘look to Norway’ and its resistance movement for inspiration to win the war. Märtha thanked the presence effusively for his ‘beautiful and generous words’ adding that ‘your words will bring hope and renewed faith and deliverance from the yoke of the barbarians.’

In fact, Roosevelt might also have added ‘look to Märtha’, for the Princess can now be regarded as a key figure in the Norwegian war effort, particularly in the USA, as she patriotically toured hospitals, churches and schools with links to Norway, dressed in her wide trademark hats with a jewelled Flag of Norway brooch on her lapel. Nor was she averse to enrolling her family to further the cause, as is exampled with the royal foursomes’ regular visits to ‘Little Norway’, the Norwegian Air Force training camp at Muskoka Aerodrome in Ontario. The propaganda value of five-year-old Prince Harald, pictured for the first time in military uniform, patriotically saluting the Norwegian flag or sitting in a flight simulator was immeasurable, all the more so if these pictures somehow found their way into the hands of Norwegians in their occupied homeland. The Crown Princess also regularly invited the press into her Maryland home for charming photographic opportunities, featuring the children on their bicycles or posing with their mother in the drawing room. These were subsequently released to the US and international press. Sometimes the children were also photographed with President Roosevelt and, in the case of Prince Harald, with the President’s photogenic Scottish Terrier, Fala. It all made for good publicity, as did Märtha’s radio broadcasts at Christmas to the people of Norway in which she stated with emotion, ‘We think of you with sadness in our heart but also with unspeakable pride.’

Were the Crown Princess and the President involved in a romantic relationship? The evidence is very much to the contrary. It is no secret that Roosevelt was involved in a long-term relationship with Lucy Rutherfurd, who had once served as Social Secretary to Eleanor Roosevelt. Furthermore, in the Crown Princess’ letters to the President, such as one thanking him for a ten-day family break at Hyde Park, Märtha uses the introduction, ‘My dear Godfather…’, hardly a term of romance. The Norwegian historian, Trond Norén Isaksen is of the opinion that the Crown Princess fulfilled a political role, during her US sojourn, in that she passed on a plethora of information to the President about the war in Europe sourced through the Norwegian Embassy in Washington. As she now had the President’s ear, Märtha was also perfectly placed to advance Norway’s cause. Yet, there is no doubt that the President was taken by the Princess’ teasing good humour and lively manner. There is also the sense that Märtha was captivated by this powerful elder statesman, from a completely different milieu and culture, serving out the final years of his political career. Indeed, she liked nothing better than taking colour 16mm ciné films of their encounters, whether it be during their regular afternoon drives in the President’s car or in the White House or at Hyde Park or even aboard the Potomac (where there is a charming frame of Roosevelt lifting his hat to the Princess in a friendly greeting) using her Bell, Duck and Howell ciné camera, a 40th birthday gift from the staff of the Norwegian Embassy. However, there is one common denominator that features in each of these images: The President was constantly surrounded by Secret Service men or secretaries or chauffeurs, while Märtha was invariably accompanied by a Lady-in-Waiting or her children to whom the President was particularly kind. Indeed, to Prince Harald he was almost a surrogate grandfather figure, sharing interests in common, such as collecting postage stamps. Nevertheless, despite her endeavours on behalf of Norway, Märtha was, at times, almost guilt-ridden that she and her children were enjoying such a good life in the States, ‘while my compatriots are suffering at home. I really feel rather miserable about it.’

Following President Roosevelt’s fourth inaugural in January 1945, Märtha and Crown Prince Olav were part of the ‘inner circle’ who joined him afterwards for a private lunch in the Red Room of the White House. Next day, the President toasted the Norwegian royal’s good health prior to setting out for the Yalta Conference in Russia, for he surely realised that the time was fast approaching when Märtha and her children would return home to Europe permanently. One of the Princess’ final engagements in Washington was to attend a Girl Scouts of America reception at the Norwegian Embassy on 11 March during which she received a selection of gifts for a Norwegian Girl Scout group currently located at Drumtochty Castle in Scotland. The 300-strong American contingent present that day also pledged to ‘adopt’ the first Norwegian Girl Scout troop to be re-established in Norway following the liberation from German occupation.

On 24 March, Märtha and Olav dined at the White House with President and Mrs Roosevelt. It was to be their final meeting with Roosevelt. Thereafter, the somewhat fatigued President left for a two-week period of rest at the Warm Springs Resort in Georgia. He died there suddenly of a cerebral haemorrhage on 12 April, at his beloved ‘Little White House’. Lucy Rutherfurd was present at the time. Roosevelt’s death was a bitter blow to the Crown Princess. Crown Prince Olav-who always met up with the President during his wartime visits to Washington (indeed Roosevelt had once been personally responsible for arranging Olav’s visit to the capital, as a surprise Christmas present for the Crown Princess)-gave an indication of the depth of his family’s feelings for the late President during a radio broadcast the following day: ‘It is as though I have lost a near relative and dear friend whom it was always a great joy to meet and from whom one never took his leave without feeling enriched by his exuberant personality.’

Following Germany’s capitulation on 8 May 1945, the Crown Princess and her children crossed the Atlantic once again–this time by air–to land at Prestwick in Scotland. There they were briefly reunited with Crown Prince Olav, prior to his return to Oslo on 13 May, sailing from Rosyth aboard HMS Apollo. It had already been decided that Märtha and her children would also return to Oslo by sea from Rosyth, accompanied by King Haakon, as soon as the 300,000 German Prisoners-of War in Norway had been rounded-up and disarmed.

On 5 June the King, Crown Princess Märtha and the children received a wonderful send-off from the naval top brass at Admiralty House, North Queensferry. They then boarded HMS Norfolk for the two-day journey home to Oslo. On entering the Oslofjord, on 7 June, the royal party (which now included Crown Prince Olav who had embarked the Norfolk at Moss) went out on deck to wave to the well-wishers who congregated both on the shore and also aboard a varied selection of flag-bedecked sailing craft. The royal party were then piped off the Norfolk by pipers from the Scots Guards.

After greeting the members of the Honour Guard and standing to attention for the Norwegian National Anthem, the King and Crown Princess drove together in the King’s limousine (which had survived the occupation intact), right up the city’s main boulevard, Karl Johan Gate, to the Royal Palace. After a while, all of the royal family appeared together on the palace balcony. Flying from the flag post was the very same Royal Standard which had been hidden from the Germans on the King’s instruction when he departed the Palace early on the morning of 9 April, 1940. Aftenposten, a respected Norwegian newspaper, headlined the occasion as ‘The biggest and most beautiful day in the history of free Norway’.

In sum, the role of the Crown Princess during World War II should not be underestimated. She was tireless in her promotion of Norway both in the United States and throughout the Allied nations. Furthermore, she deftly gained the confidence of the most powerful man in the world in a way that many-including the world leaders of the time-could only have dreamed off. She may have been born Swedish but she was ultimately Norway’s greatest wartime asset.

Robert Prentice has a keen interest in the fate of the various royal families during World War 2. He 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.

King Gustav V of Sweden: Nazi Sympathiser?

King Gustav V of Sweden was an avowed Germanophile, as was much of his family. His late wife, the strong-willed Queen Victoria of Sweden, had after all been born a Princess of Baden and was both the granddaughter of Emperor Wilhelm I as well as a cousin of Emperor Wilhelm II. Furthermore, the marriage was primarily a political alliance organised by Gustav’s father, King Oscar II, who was keen to forge strong ties with Germany. Victoria’s influence over her rather hesitant husband was considerable and was still evident in the years following her death in 1930. Gustav continued to be a frequent visitor to Berlin where he entertained the President of Germany and the newly-elected Chancellor, Adolf Hitler to lunch at the Swedish Legation in 1933. As recently as February 1939, the King paid another visit to Berlin, during which he conferred on Field Marshal Hermann Göring, a Commander Grand Cross of the Royal Order of the Sword, a distinguished Swedish military award.

However, when World War II commenced in September 1939, the Swedish government of Per Albin Hansson adopted a neutral stance, a view endorsed by King Gustav. Nevertheless, this would prove a difficult position to maintain and was to come at a price. The first challenge was when Germany invaded Sweden’s neighbours of Norway and Denmark on 9 April 1940. Gustav received news of this by telephone, just after 5am, from his Foreign Minister, Christian Günther. The latter had been informed of the dual invasions in person at his home on Ymervägen in Djursholm, only a few minutes earlier, by the German Minister in Stockholm, Prince Victor of Wied. The Prince (who was a second cousin of the late Queen Victoria of Sweden) had been at pains to reassure Günther that Sweden would not be invaded (subject to certain conditions) and that he would soon be in a position to hand over an official communication from Berlin which would elaborate on the German government’s position. Wied was as good as his word and, by 9am, a collection of notables, including the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister and the Crown Prince, joined the King in his study at the Royal Palace to discuss Germany’s demands. It made uncomfortable reading: Firstly, Sweden was not allowed to mobilise its forces. Secondly, the Swedish navy must at all times not hinder German naval operations nor travel further than three miles from the Swedish coast. Neither was Sweden to impede German telecommunications traffic. Of particular importance to the German war effort, deliveries of Swedish iron ore were to continue unhindered, with the mines protected against Allied sabotage attempts.

It would be fair to say that each person sitting round the table was fearful of the Nazi menace. They had no reason to doubt that if they did not agree to these terms, Hitler’s troops would soon be marching down the streets of Stockholm. Indeed, only the sceptical Crown Prince-who had previously been married to Britain’s Princess Margaret of Connaught and was currently married to the British-raised Louise Mountbatten (who outspokenly compared Nazism to Barbarism) -spoke out against acceptance of these conditions. Eventually, it was agreed to accept the German’s demands with one exception: Sweden would not agree to being prohibited from mobilising its forces. On April 19, King Gustav V wrote a personal letter to Hitler assuring him of Sweden’s neutral intentions.

However, this decision did not mean that Gustav V was now able to sit back and let matters take their course. On the contrary, he would immediately be faced with numerous dilemmas. The first was when his niece, Crown Princess Märtha of Norway, seeking to avoid capture by German occupying forces, travelled from Elverum across the border into Sweden with her three children in the early hours of 10 April. None of the party had passports but eventually the border guards let them through. Unsure of the reception she would receive from her Swedish relations, the Crown Princess then proceeded to the Högfjällshotell in the ski resort of Sälen where she was joined by her mother, the Danish-born Princess Ingeborg, who was no fan of the Germans.

No sooner had Gustav received word of Märtha ’s arrival when another crisis crossed his desk. An exhausted King Haakon and Crown Prince Olav, who had remained in Norway but refused to cooperate with the Nazis, were currently being hounded by a crack group of 120 German commandos bent on their capture or death. They had reached the Swedish border post near Flötningen, on 12 April. The Norwegian Foreign Minister, Halvdan Koht, telephoned his Swedish counterpart, Christian Günther, seeking a guarantee that King Haakon might be allowed to cross over into Sweden and cross back safely after a night’s rest at a hostel. Günther discussed the matter with King Gustav. The reply was brisk and uncompromising: ‘The Swedish government does not want to provide guarantees regarding return travel in advance.’ It was also indicated that under international law, if the Norwegian King and his party crossed the border in military uniform, they would be interned. This response was to earn Gustav the lasting enmity of King Haakon.

Meanwhile, the situation with Crown Princess Märtha was also badly handled by King Gustav. Märtha was moved on from Sälen, as it was feared her presence so close to the Norwegian border might provoke the Germans, but as to doing exactly what remains unclear. Uncle Gustav eventually offered her accommodation at Ulriksdal Palace in Stockholm. However, during this period the Crown Princess (who received little news of King Haakon and her husband Olav) was subject to constant political pressure from the Administrative Council (among others) in Oslo, who indicated that they wished both her and Prince Harald to return to Norway and cooperate with the occupying power. The ‘bait’ was the possibility that Harald might be made King. King Gustav then chose to become involved and in a telegram to Hitler, on June 16, he openly encouraged the Germans to adopt the ‘Norwegian Regency’ model whereby Harald would be proclaimed king, with his Swedish mother acting as regent until the Prince reached his majority. Ironically, Hitler would interpret Gustav’s involvement as a Norwegian-inspired attempt to put pressure on Germany. Märtha was clearly aware of the growing danger and sent a telegram to London warning her husband and father-in-law ( who had fled there, in early June, to set up a government-in-exile) that her Swedish family (i.e. King Gustav) and Hitler were conspiring to remove King Haakon and set up a Regency. Crown Prince Olav had never felt his family were safe in Sweden and in a letter from Buckingham Palace dated 22 June, he appraised his old friend President Franklin D. Roosevelt of the situation. The President soon came to Märtha’s rescue and offered her and her children the chance to relocate to the United States as his ‘personal guests.’ They departed Ulriksdal on 12 August and sailed from the Finnish port of Petsamo (now Petsjenga, Russia) aboard the USS American Legion on 15 August. Olav’s intervention, of course, thwarted the regency option much to the annoyance of King Gustav who had telegraphed King Haakon, on 24 July, stating that he objected to the American trip as it might undermine the future of the Norwegian monarchy, a viewpoint Haakon quickly dismissed.

Not content with concerning himself with Norwegian matters, Gustav V turned his hand to acting as a peacemaker between Germany and the United Kingdom. He wrote personally to Britain’s King George VI, as well as to Hitler offering his services as an intermediary. What the Fuhrer replied is unclear but George VI handed a note to the Swedish Ambassador in London on 12 August which courteously but firmly rejected Gustav’s offer, pointing out that ‘the intention of My Peoples to prosecute the war until their purposes have been achieved has been strengthened’ as a result of the felonious behaviour of the Germans in the war so far.

Meanwhile, King Gustav was also faced with an even more pressing problem: A German request to transport food, medical staff and nursing supplies through Sweden by train to Narvik in northern Norway. This port was the primary outlet, particularly in winter, for transporting the Swedish ore by sea to Germany. The Swedish government agreed to this request on 17 April. It was a decision they would soon come to regret, as over time the Germans would push for further concessions. The most debated was during the so-called midsummer crisis (Midsommarkrisen) in 1941, when Germany-who had by now reached an accommodation with Finland and was planning an invasion of the Soviet Union-asked to transport a battle-equipped division of military personnel belonging to the Wehrmacht’s 163rd Infantry Division from Oslo to Haparanda, near the Finnish-Swedish border in Northern Sweden, for further transportation eastward. The Swedish cabinet was divided on the issue and the Prime Minister was initially against granting the request, on the basis that it was a violation of Sweden’s neutrality. However, the government executed a volte-face when King Gustav declared that he would abdicate unless Germany’s application was granted. Thus, on June 25, the Prince of Wied had a long conversation with King Gustav who was able to assure him that the transit of the Division would be permitted. It was emphasized, however, that this was to be a one-time concession. The same afternoon the train carrying the German troops left Oslo and on June 26, crossed the Swedish frontier. According to Sweden’s Expressen newspaper, over the ensuing wartime years 2,140,000 German soldiers and 100,000 tons of weapons and equipment were transported into Norway through ‘neutral’ Sweden.

This period sees Gustav and some of his family at their most fawning where Germany is concerned. In September 1941, Princess Sibylla, the German-born wife of Prince Gustaf Adolf, Duke of Västerbotten was spotted serving coffee and cake to a group of wounded German soldiers, travelling homeward from Norway, at the Krylbo railway station northwest of Stockholm. It is inconceivable that this was done without the King’s permission; while in February 1942, Gustav would also permit a visit to Stockholm by Sibylla’s father, the Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, an avowed Nazi and Obergruppenführer in the SA. In addition, in October 1941, Gustav attempted to send a personal letter to Hitler ‘about a matter that is close to my heart…’ i.e. Bolshevism and offering his ‘sincere thanks to you for deciding to strike at this plague..’ and congratulating the Fuhrer ‘on the results you have already achieved.’ However, the Prime Minister got wind of it and would not allow the letter to be sent. That the King was a devious operator is evidenced by what he did next: Gustav merely sent for the Prince of Wied and read the letter out aloud to him. The Prince took notes and that very evening, the German Foreign Ministry in Berlin received a copy of the text from the German Embassy in Stockholm. Of course, Wied was more than just a diplomat. As a second cousin of Gustav’s late wife, the King treated the Prince ‘like family’ and he was often invited on summer retreats. It is no wonder that Winston Churchill now viewed Gustav as being, ‘absolutely in the German grip.’

Gustav V and his government were also afraid of the Swedish press upsetting the Germans. Academics have reported that there was ‘very limited reporting’ on the Jewish question in 1940 and 1941 compared to the pre-war years. This self-censorship also extended to at least sixteen Swedish newspapers being prevented from reporting abuses in Norwegian prisons. Expressen cites a case which illustrates that the Swedish King took a personal interest in such matters. When the Gothenburg Trade and Shipping Magazine featured an article by Torgny Segerstedt (an avowed critic of Nazism and Sweden’s policy of appeasement to Hitler) which mentioned Nazi atrocities, Gustaf V summoned the magazine’s editor to the Royal Palace and urged him to stop writing negative articles about Hitler and his regime.

It is easy today to criticise the actions of King Gustav. However, he and his government were clearly under constant pressure for although Sweden remained unoccupied, it remained cut off from the West by German-held territory and was dependent on Germany for her necessary imports. Furthermore, the possibility of a German invasion of Sweden was ever-present. At times, the King’s intervention may even have prevented a German incursion, as when he wrote to assure Hitler that ‘Sweden will defend itself against all invaders, even against an English attack…’ This was in response to Hitler’s grumblings that Sweden would not protect itself against a British invasion thus threatening the supply of iron ore on which Germany so desperately relied. Certainly, in April 1942, Hitler decided to strengthen German forces in Norway by 70,000 men. The 25th Panzer Division was strategically stationed in Oslo and was Germany’s way of intimidating the Swedish government into continued cooperation. By contrast, with the weakening of the German military position in the latter part of 1943 onwards, Gustav’s fear of German reprisals seemed to have diminished and he appeared more accommodating, although cynics would say that was merely repositioning himself in preparation for an Allied victory. Nonetheless, during this period, the King has been credited with helping save Jews deported from Nazi-occupied countries such as Denmark by authorizing measures including the distribution of Swedish passports. Furthermore, in June 1944, at the urging of the Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg and the Chief Rabbi in Sofia, Gustav sent a telegram to the Hungarian ‘Regent’, Miklós Horthy, protesting the deportation of Jews from Hungary.

The author of this blog takes a keen interest on the fate of royalty during World War II. He narrates the wartime adventures of the Greek-born Princess Olga (onetime Consort of Prince Regent Paul of Yugoslavia) in Africa (and much else besides) in a 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, and other book outlets, in hardback or e-book.