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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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, 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.