Norwegian Royal Visit to the US.

Crown Prince Olav and Crown Princess Märtha of Norway undertook an extensive ten-week, 15000 mile tour of the United States in the Spring and Summer of 1939 with the aim of strengthening ties between Norway and the United States. The royalties reached New York on 27 April aboard the Norwegian-American liner Oslofjord which unfortunately rammed and sank a pilot boat as it entered the city’s port in foggy weather. Nevertheless, thousands of New Yorkers were on hand to greet the royals with a traditional ticker tape parade down Broadway.

However, the tour truly kicked off, on 28 April, with a two-night stay with President and Mrs Roosevelt at their country estate, at Hyde Park, some ninety miles north of the ‘Big Apple’. Olav and his wife came ashore at Poughkeepsie at 4pm having travelled up the Hudson River aboard the presidential yacht Potomac from New York. The following afternoon, Märtha and the Prince were treated to an informal picnic lunch of hot dogs and apple pie at Top Cottage and a good rapport was struck up between the President and his guests by the time they departed on 30 April. In commemoration of the visit, the royal couple would later send the Roosevelts a gilded coffee service by the renowned Norwegian designer, David Andersen.

On 1 May, the royals paid a visit to the World’s Fair at New York’s Flushing Meadow to inspect the Norwegian Pavilion. The New York Times noted that the Crown Prince made a speech in which he saw no sign of peace in the world of tomorrow. The following evening, Olav and Märtha attended a Fleet Ball at the Waldorf Astoria given in honour of naval officers from over thirty nations whose battleships were currently moored in or near the city. On 3 May, the couple were the guests-of-honour at a ‘State Banquet’ given by the Official Committee for Norway’s Participation in the New York World Fair.

Thereafter, the royal couple’s duties through thirty-four states varied considerably but the focus was on visiting areas with close dynastic connections to Norway, particularly in the Mid-West. During three days spent in Chicago, Illinois, in early May, the Crown Prince and Crown Princess toured the Norwegian-American Hospital and Nurses’ Home, were guests-of-honour at a grand dinner attended by 1500 guests at the Loop Hotel, paid a visit to the University of Chicago and were feted by a crowd of 4000 during a visit to the United Evangelical Lutheran Church at Oak Park. Märtha even managed to sneak in a private visit to a nearby department store by ditching the flags on the official car so as to travel relatively incognito. The royal duo then travelled westwards by rail to La Crosse in Wisconsin where, on 6 May they were swept in a Cadillac with an outrider escort to the home of Mrs. Helga Gundersen for lunch. This was followed by an impressive street parade through the town featuring a marching band and cheerleaders. At the post-parade reception at Riverside Park, the Crown Princess was presented with an enormous bouquet of red roses, while the Crown Prince received a walking cane and a silk top hat. Olav and Märtha then departed by train for an overnight stay in Decorah, Iowa where they dined with Dr Sabo, the Norwegian Vice-Consul, opened a gymnasium and the Crown Prince presented gifts to the local Norwegian-American Historical Museum from the National Association of Museums in Norway.

The royalties reached Los Angeles in time for the Norway Independence Day celebrations on 17 May which were held at Sycamore Grove Park. The event included a display of traditional Norwegian dancing and a male choir singing a hearty rendition of the Norwegian National Anthem, ‘Ja, Vi Elsker Dette Landet.’ Olav and Märtha had previously been introduced to fellow countrywoman and Olympic figure skater turned movie star, Sonja Henie, who was part of the official welcoming committee. However, the royal party had little time to catch their breath as they were scheduled to be in San Francisco next day, to act as host and hostess at the Norwegian Pavilion at the Golden Gate International Exposition on Treasure Island. The couple were much impressed by the Pavilion which was in fact a massive log cabin in the shape of a horseshoe with a large raftered lounge at the centre. The Prince and Princess remained in the city for several days.

Although it was late Spring, the Norwegian visitors must at times have felt they had been transported homewards. During a subsequent visit to Oregon, a snow storm required the royalties to shelter under a tarpaulin while dedicating a new ski lift at Mount Hood. Fortunately, the recently-constructed Timberline Lodge Hotel nearby offered the sort of comforting facilities necessary for a good warm-up as the Princess was dressed in a flimsy black crepe dress more suitable for summery climes. Then, on 24 May, after a formal lunch at the Paradise Inn in the resort of Paradise, the royal couple went on a skiing trip down Mount Ranier. The Seattle Times noted cheekily that Olav’s ski attire ran to a ‘cap that had seen better days and a battered leather jacket.’ However, the Crown Prince proved to be an accomplished skier and soon left the majority of his party (including his wife Martha) lagging a good quarter-of-a-mile behind. On their return to Paradise, a banquet was given at the Inn, where the royal guests of honour, dress in their best evening finery, dined on crab cocktail, steak, asparagus, potatoes and fresh strawberry pie.

On 27 May, the royal duo attended one of the most moving events on their schedule: the dedication of a Memorial to Zakarias Martin Taftezon, the first Norwegian settler to traverse North America to Puget Sound, at the Stanwood Lutheran Cemetery in Washington State. The Crown Prince and Princess departed the next day for Seattle (with ninety pieces of luggage) to attend a festival at the Seattle Civic Auditorium. Olav also paid a solo visit to a Seattle lumber mill and was later intrigued to inspect the construction site of the Grand Coulee Dam over the Columbia River. The month of May ended with a visit to the city of Spokane where a civic welcome had been arranged at the Pavilion on Bernard Street. This stop was apt choice as Norwegian settlers had settled nearby in “Little Norway” in the mid-19th century. As with many of the stops, the city had an active Sons of Norway branch.

As June dawned, the Crown Prince and Crown Princess had moved on eastwards into Montana where several days was spent in the scenic but icy Glacier National Park. For fun the couple were given (and gamely wore) a matching pair of ‘his and hers’ cowboy outfits prior to taking to the local trails on horseback. A sightseeing tour of the Grand Canyon was another highlight as was observing the geysers and wildlife (including a family of bears) from an open-topped car in Yellowstone National Park.

On occasion-such as the visit to Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota on 8 June (where the Prince received the College’s first honorary doctorate at a specially delayed graduation ceremony)-the royal couple would stay overnight in a local private home (on this occasion that of Congressman L.B. Hanna). This was convenient as it allowed the duo to carry out three further engagements in the neighbouring town of Fargo the following day before moving on to Fergus Falls. Before departing Minnesota the couple attended an event hosted by the Governor at the State Fair grounds in St Paul’s, the State Capital.

The tour reached Sioux Falls in South Dakota on 14 June where Olav and Martha again received a rousing welcome as they drove down South Phillips Avenue. A visit to Madison, the State Capital of Wisconsin followed with yet another State Dinner appointment, this time hosted by the Governor, Julius P Heil. The royal duo then motored, next morning, to Heg Memorial Park in Racine County to join in celebrations for the centenary of the foundation of the Norway-Moskego settlement. This was a true family event for thousands came from surrounding communities to picnic and listen to music from a Drum and Bugle Corps and the Waterford High School Band. Crowds also turned out in force in Milwaukee, on 21 June, when the Prince and Princess were feted all the way down Wisconsin Avenue to a Norwegian-American cultural event at Juneau Park.

Honorary degrees were also still very much on the itinerary as is evidenced when the duo subsequently paid a visit to the historical College of William and Mary in Williamsburg (founded in 1693 by British Royal Charter). On this occasion Olav was awarded a Doctor of Laws degree (LL.D.). The state of Virginia was also the setting for a spell at the celebrated West Virginia Resort in White Sulphur Springs. A rest must have been badly needed for a full examination of the tour schedule reveals that the majority of the couple’s time had been spent in a repetitive cycle of meeting and greeting, listening to speeches, replying to said speeches, watching dance displays, attending official lunch and dinners, in addition to the receiving of Honorary degrees.

Märtha and Olav arrived in Washington D.C., on 27 June, to a warm greeting at Union Station from the Secretary of State and Mrs Cordell Hull. Two days later, they and the Norwegian Minister were treated to tea with the President in South Portico of the White House. The Prince had earlier met with the Vice-President at the Capitol and lunched with members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The royal party also undertook a private tour of Mount Vernon, the home of the first President of the United States. The final day of June was spent in Philadelphia where the Crown Prince and Crown Princess paid a visit to the Independence Hall to sign the visitor’s book and were praised in the local press for their ‘democratic manner’. The Philadelphia Inquirer also noted that the couple had-to date-travelled to 35 cities (the number of towns and outposts being too numerous to cite with accuracy) and that the Prince had delivered 264 speeches or words of thanks.

Following a visit to Boston on 1 July, Crown Prince Olav celebrated his 36th birthday on 2 July with his wife as a guest of William A. Coolidge, a fellow graduate of Balliol College, Oxford, at his estate in Topsfield, Massachusetts. Coolidge was a well-known lawyer and financier and had laid on a surprise for his Nordic friend: a huge birthday cake (weighing 75 pounds) bearing the armorials of the Crown Prince set between two Norwegian flags and with 36 candles set around the base.

The royal duo ended their tour back in New York, from where they set sail aboard the Norwegian-American Line liner Stavangerfjord for home on 6 July. Addressing a crowd earlier in the day at the unveiling of statue of the Norwegian explorer Leir Erikson, Crown Prince Olav stated, ‘We carry with us today a chest of memories that we will treasure as long as we live.’ Interestingly, although Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark and his wife Ingrid had been undertaking a similar tour of the States, it is the tour by the Norwegian royal couple that has truly enthralled readers over the decades.

Queen Wilhelmina Flees…

In my latest published article in May’s ‘Majesty’ Magazine, I describe how Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands is forced to seek refuge in London following the German invasion in May 1940. My account commences by chronicling how the Dutch Royal Family flee from one palace to another in an attempt to avoid capture by German occupation forces and Dutch Fifth Columnists. Although Wilhelmina then intends to join her troops in Zeeland and lead resistance efforts from there, I reveal that the British government unexpectedly orders the Royal Navy destroyer transporting her there to change course for Harwich. Despite the Queen’s fury at being double-crossed in this manner, I find that she soon recovers her equilibrium and receives a warm welcome from King George VI on her arrival in London. Wilhelmina then sets up a Secretariat in the Blitz-ravaged capital and quickly establishes herself as the symbol of the Dutch Resistance thanks to her patriotic broadcasts over Radio Oranje and warm welcome to loyal Engelandvaarders. I also divulge that she play a useful diplomatic role during visits to Canada and the United States (where she meets President Roosevelt at Mount Vernon).

The full article is contained in May’s edition of Majesty Magazine is available from Pocketmags. The link is below:

https://pocketmags.com/majesty-magazine

King Haakon’s Courageous Fight.

With the outbreak of war in western Europe in September 1939, the Scandinavian Kingdom of Norway decided to adopt a neutral stance. Nevertheless, the country’s monarch, King Haakon VII, had strong links to the British Royal Family: his late wife (and first cousin) Queen Maud was the youngest daughter of Britain’s King Edward VII; while Haakon and Maud’s son Crown Prince Olav had been born and spent much of his childhood at Appleton House on King Edward’s Sandringham estate in Norfolk.

Despite Norway’s neutrality, both the Allies and the Germans were quick to grasp the strategic importance of King Haakon’s northern kingdom. The port of Narvik, in particular, possessed both useful rail transport links to Sweden and all-year-round access to the sea. Whoever controlled this harbour would be well-placed to control the flow of high-grade iron ore (so necessary to Germany, specifically, for the success of the war effort) from northern Sweden to the western coast of Norway. Furthermore, whichever power controlled the ports of Bergen, Trondheim and Stavanger would effectively control access to the North Sea and have a distinct advantage where the vital supply lanes of the Atlantic were concerned.

Germany had long feared that the British would seize the initiative and launch a pre-emptive invasion of Norway. Contemporaneous diplomatic ‘traffic’ as well as the recent boarding by the British, in Norwegian waters, of a German ship, the Altmark (to rescue 299 Allied prisoners-of war), only served to galvanize this view. Thus, on 1 April, Hitler made the decision to invade Norway and, by 3 April an advance group of German supply vessels was heading northwards. This was followed, on 7 April, by a main force which included the heavy cruisers Lützow and Blücher. The latter would reach the Oslofjord on the evening of 8 April.

Britain, meanwhile, was indeed eyeing this Nordic country with interest. Neville Chamberlain’s government had decided to mine several areas of the West coast in advance of landing troops at Narvik, Trondheim, Bergen and Stavanger. However, due to the combination of a disagreement with the French and bad weather, this operation was postponed from 5 April until 8 April. Only Vestfjord, the channel of water that leads to Narvik, was actually mined. By this time, word had already reached the British Admiralty of a concerted movement of German military shipping traffic travelling northwards. Almost immediately, several dozen battleships and a group of destroyers belonging to the British Home Fleet set sail from Scapa Flow and Rosyth towards western Scandanavia.

In Oslo, Crown Prince Olav informed his father, King Haakon, on 8 April, that a transport ship sunk off Lillesand that morning had been transporting German soldiers. In the interim, the German envoy to Norway, Curt Bräuer, now received instructions from Berlin to persuade the Norwegian government of Johann Nygaardsvold to allow German troops into the country, under the pretext of defending Norway from a British invasion. The German request was subsequently rejected on the basis that Norway was a sovereign nation responsible for its own defence.

Nonetheless, during the night of 8-9 April, German troops invaded Norway by air, land and sea, targeting Moss, Oslo, Horten, Arendal, Kristiansand, Egersund, Stavanger, Bergen, Trondheim and Narvik. At around 4am at Oscarsborg Fortress, near the coastal town of Drøbak (some twenty-eight miles from Oslo), Colonel Birger Eriksen spotted the German heavy cruiser Blücher entering Drøbak Sound. Despite having received no official instructions from Oslo to engage, Eriksen gave the order to fire, and the fortress’s guns and torpedo battery succeeded in sinking the cruiser.

The King was informed of the impending invasion around 1.30am by his Prime Minister over the telephone. Nygaardsvold advised Haakon and his family to flee Oslo or risk capture. Norway’s Foreign Minister Halvdan Koht, who had first heard of the German military operations around the same time as the King, held a meeting with Curt Braüer at the Foreign Ministry (Victoria Terrasse) but firmly rejected a German ultimatum to surrender and cooperate with the occupation forces. This was hardly surprising since Koht was a firm believer in maintaining Norway’s neutrality.

As soon as Crown Prince Olav received news of the invasion at his official abode at Skaugum, twelve miles south-west of Oslo, he quickly roused his wife and children. After partaking of a makeshift breakfast, Olav drove his family in his American Buick straight to King Haakon’s residence at the Royal Palace. The Crown Prince later recalled, “I had decided to run down anyone who tried to stop or hinder the car”. Nor did he trust anyone else to drive.

Meanwhile, at 7am (just as Luftwaffe planes were landing at Oslo’s main Fornabu Airport), the Royal Family boarded a special train (swiftly organised by the President of the Storting, Carl Hambro) at Østbanen Station and headed eighty miles northwards to Hamar. On board, they were joined by around 100 government officials and members of the Storting (Parliament). However, the royal train had only made it as far as Lillestrøm, just northeast of Oslo, when Luftwaffe aircraft began bombing the local airport at Kjeller. The train was evacuated and everyone on board temporarily sought refuge in a railway tunnel. The official party eventually arrived at Hamar just after 11am. The Prime Minister, who had travelled north by car, was waiting at the station to greet them.

Thereafter, the elected officials convened at the nearby Festival Hall to discuss what course to take, while the King and his son travelled to a farm at Sælid. Later that day, Nygaardsvold sought an audience with his Sovereign and offered his resignation ‘in order to make way for a government of national unity’. However, during a subsequent meeting of the Council of State, the Prime Minister was persuaded to remain in post as it was felt that to do otherwise might precipitate an unwanted political crisis. Back in Oslo, Curt Braüer held a meeting with the capital’s police chief, Kristian Welhaven, who now agreed to act as an intermediary between the occupying forces, the government and the local authorities. Welhaven would also subsequently help to arrange a meeting-at Bräuer’s request-between the German envoy and King Haakon.

At 7.30pm, the Nazi sympathiser and leader of the right-wing Nasjonal Samling, Vidkun Quisling, taking advantage of the power vacuum created by the departure from Oslo of the legitimate government, entered the studio of the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation and proclaimed himself Prime Minister. He also called upon the Norwegian people to cease all resistance against the occupying forces and accused the British of violating Norwegian neutrality. It was around this time that Bräuer received instructions from Hitler to meet with King Haakon and convince him to recognise the Quisling government.

Meanwhile, enemy forces (including a crack force of German commandos under the command of a Captain Eberhard Spiller) were already closing in on Hamar with the aim of capturing the King and Storting members. When the alarm was raised, the politicians (who were still ‘in session’ at the Festival Hall and had just been updated on the fall of four of Norway’s largest cities) immediately boarded a train to travel eastwards to Elverum. The Royal Family, meantime, were just sitting down to dinner at Sælid, when word was received from the local police chief of the impending arrival of German troops. The little group immediately set out by car towards Elverum, arriving at 10.30pm. It was at this juncture that a decision was made to send Crown Princess Martha and the three royal children over the border to Sweden. This made sense as Martha was Swedish and her parents, Prince Carl and Princess Ingeborg, were more than happy to come to their daughter’s aid. In August, the four Norwegian royals would relocate to Washington at the invitation of President Roosevelt.

Despite Crown Prince Olav’s objections and fears over his father’s safety, King Haakon agreed to a brief meeting with Bräuer at Elverum on 10 April. The German emissary urged Haakon to follow the example of his elder brother, King Christian of Denmark, and call a halt to any further resistance. The King should also recognise the new government headed by Quisling. Haakon relayed the German demands to his ‘legal government’ in an extraordinary meeting of the Council of State at Nybergsund. His Majesty also made it clear that although he would not attempt to influence the Government in this matter, he could never accept Quisling as Prime Minister. Indeed, Haakon indicated that he was prepared to abdicate both for himself and for his family if the Cabinet decided otherwise. Inspired by the King’s strength of feeling, the Cabinet backed their monarch. Bräuer was later informed of their decision over the telephone by Foreign Minister Koht at 8pm. The German representative then asked Koht pointedly if Norwegian resistance would still continue and was told that it would ‘as long as possible’. The German response was quick and deadly: Luftwaffe aircraft dropped lethal incendiary bombs on both Elverum and Nybergsund and, at one stage, the Heinkel bombers dived to a mere 50 feet to strafe the ground with machine-gun fire, thus forcing Haakon, Olav and government officials to take cover in mud-filled ditches. Forty people were killed in the attack on Elverum alone.

In a ‘proclamation’ to his people in mid-April, Haakon would refer to this incident as a deliberate attempt by the Germans to ‘annihilate all of us assembled for deciding the question for the best future of Norway’. The King also railed against his people being ‘subjected to death and inhuman suffering’ by the Nazis and urged Norwegians ‘to save the freedom and independence of the Fatherland.’

Around this time, a Press Alliance reporter, Elinar Hansen, interviewed the King and Crown Prince over coffee as they took shelter in a farmhouse. Haakon-who was dressed in a mud-spattered uniform- admitted to having only slept fitfully for an hour at a time since the invasion. He was keen to emphasise that the German military action had been launched against himself and his people, ‘at places where no sign of military movement [was] to be found.’

After much confusion at the town of Rena (which resulted in the Prime Minister and half of his government ministers taking a separate route from the others) the King and his depleted party reached the border station with Sweden, at Lillebo, on 12 April. Foreign Minister Koht, who remained with the King, was now very keen for Haakon to seek temporary refuge with Norway’s neutral neighbour. However, this idea proved to be impractical as the Swedish authorities indicated that both the King and the Crown Prince-who both held military rank-would be interned should they attempt to cross the border. Haakon and Olav then travelled on to Koppang and Lake Storsjøen, though this time without the remaining retinue of government ministers. Yet, it was pre-arranged that everyone would reunite, a few days later, in the large valley of Gudbrandsdalen, where Norway’s army chief, General Otto Ruge, had lately established his headquarters. Sadly, Ruge’s plan to block a German land advance northwards out of Oslo was already in tatters as columns of enemy motorized infantry, supported by tanks and air cover easily overcame the Norwegian military’s hastily-constructed barriers.

After another few days trying to keep ahead of the occupying forces, the King and Crown Prince Olav were forced to abandon their cars at Hjerkinn (where the road became impassable due to the wintry weather) and ride in a freight train southward to the town of Otta. The duo then travelled to nearby Heggelund where they spent the night of 14 April at a local inn. This was the first occasion, since leaving Oslo, that the King and Crown Prince were actually able to undress and obtain a decent night’s sleep in a bed. During this stay, the King had an unscheduled visit from his Prime Minister (now taking refuge at Lesjaverk).

However, German troops remained in hot pursuit and General Ruge sent a message to the royal party to seek sanctuary at an isolated mountain farm, Sandbu, near Vågåmo, which belonged to a shipowner, Thomas Olsen. The royals, by now reunited with the party of government ministers, remained there for a period of four days from 17 to 21 April. On 19 April, the Crown Prince briefly journeyed southwards to Øyer to receive a military briefing from General Ruge, for by this time British forces had landed in Harstad and Namsos with the idea of recapturing Narvik and Trondheim from the Germans. From Sandbu the royal party then travelled on to another inn at Stuguflåten, during which the government held several meetings and agreed to the nationalisation of Norway’s merchant fleet. However, with little food available locally, the party was forced to motor on to the town of Molde on the Romsdal Peninsula, which they reach in the early hours of 23 April. This coastal location proved to be far from secure, as Luftwaffe planes were continually bombing the town in anticipation of landings by British forces. Indeed, the King and Crown Prince were forced to abandon their accommodation at dawn each morning and spend much of the day hiding out in the surrounding birch woods.

Towards the end of April, with German forces on the ascendency, the British Minister, Sir Cecil Dormer, invited the King, Crown Prince and government to join a group of British troops who were retreating to Tromsø from their current positions in southern and central Norway aboard the British light cruiser HMS Glasgow. This offer was accepted and, on the evening of 29 April, the Norwegian VIP party gathered at Molde’s key side to embark the ship for the 800-mile journey northwards. Tromsø would now become the seat of the provisional government. An article in the Norwegian newspaper Dagsavisen states that if King Haakon had not accepted the British invitation, he would most likely have been captured and taken to England. However, His Majesty certainly remained full of spirit and pithily declared that the occupiers, ‘are not practising war but murder and arson.’

Thereafter, the appointment of Winston Churchill as Britain’s new Prime Minister, on 10 May, combined with the simultaneous German invasion of the Low Countries, would lead to a change of strategy on the part of the Allies. Subsequent to this, British forces suffered heavy casualties when several British Royal Navy ships were sunk off Norway by the Luftwaffe. Then, on 25 May, (ironically three days before the recapture of Narvik by Norwegian and French forces), Allied commanders received orders to commence a comprehensive evacuation from Norway. This left the King with a difficult decision. Should he remain in Norway (which would mean capture by the Germans) or leave with the Allies? On balance, he decided it would be best to depart Norway and continue the fight for his country’s liberation from Britain.

On 7 June 1940, the Norwegian government held its last meeting on Norwegian soil at Tromsø. A few hours later the King, Crown Prince, members of the government, and the diplomatic corps—a total of 400 passengers—boarded the British heavy cruiser HMS Devonshire for England. Haakon and Olav arrived in London on 10 June and were greeted at Euston Station by King George VI. That same day, German and Norwegian forces signed a cease­fire. However, it is important to emphasise that this cease­fire did not prevent Norway’s legitimate government—now operating out of London—from continuing the struggle against the German invaders.

Subsequently, in Oslo, the German Reich Commissioner Josef Terboven, attempted to establish a ‘legal’, compliant occupation government. However, this would require the King’s abdication. In a speech, delivered over the airways from London on 8 July, King Haakon refused this request and stated that, ‘such action would prevent Norway regaining her freedom and independence.’ The Norwegian monarch also later put up a spirited riposte to those who had criticised his departure from his Nordic Kingdom: ‘If we had stayed in Norway the present rulers of the country would have been able to force us to accept what they wished. It was in order to avoid this that we left the country. From the place where we are now, we can still represent a free Norway.’ Indeed, King Haakon would now become the living symbol of Norwegian patriotism and freedom through his regular broadcasts from London which provided untold comfort to his fellow countrymen.

Certainly, the majority of Norwegians remained loyal to the Crown and did not hesitate to mock Vidkun Quisling and his collaborationist government. Furthermore, the Milorg group (formed in May 1941) which began life as a small sabotage unit, would gradually grow into Norway’s main resistance movement with 40,000 active members. The organisation would go on to play a crucial role in bringing about a German surrender in Norway in May 1945.

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

Princess Pilar of Spain.

The death of Princess Pilar, Duchess of Badajoz, the elder sister of Spain’s King Juan Carlos and Aunt of the present King, Felipe VI, was announced on 8 January. The Princess had been suffering from colon cancer for some time and when her condition deteriorated on 5 January, she was admitted to Madrid’s Hospital Ruber Internacional. Her passing must have come as a shock to many as she had only recently made an appearance at an event for the ‘Rastrillo Nuevo Futuro 2019’ charity.

María del Pilar Alfonsa Juana Victoria Luisa Ignacia y Todos los Santos de Borbón y Borbón-Dos Sicilias (to give her full name in Spanish) was born on July 30, 1936 in Cannes (where her parents, Prince Juan [heir to King Alfonso XIII] and his wife Princess María Mercedes were currently living in exile, as Spain was declared a republic in April 1931). As the firstborn, Pilar would forever have a special place in her parents’ hearts. She was soon joined in the nursery by three siblings, Juan, Margarita and Alfonso.

During the 1940’s, Infante Juan (who following upon his father’s death, in February 1941, assumed the title of Count of Barcelona) moved with his family to Lausanne, to be near his mother, the British-born Queen Victoria Eugenie of Spain. The little family group later settled in Estoril in Portugal, where they inhabited a substantial house, the Villa Giralda. The Princess was initially educated privately at home by a series of Spanish female tutors, although she later attended a private school in Lisbon prior to taking a nursing course at the city’s Artura Ravara Nursing School.

At the age of 21, Pilar travelled to Spain (where she would eventually settle) for the first time to attend the funeral of her maternal grandmother Luisa de Orleans. The Princess was subsequently a bridesmaid at the wedding in Athens of her brother Juan to Princess Sofia of Greece and Denmark in 14 May 1962. She was already acquainted with her future sister-in-law having previously met her during one of Queen Frederika of Greece’s fabled Mediterranean royal match-making cruises.

However, the Princess was to meet her future husband, the Spanish Aristocrat Luis Gomez-Acebo and Duke of Astrada at the Madrid home of the exiled King Simeon of Bulgaria and his Spanish wife Margarita, who was Gomez-Acebo’s cousin. Pilar and Luis were duly married on 5 May 1967 at the Jerónimos Monastery, on the outskirts of Lisbon. Although the Princess was granted the title of Duchess of Badajox by her father at this time, she also automatically forfeited her place in the order of succession by marrying a person of a lower rank . Pilar subsequently gave birth to five children (a girl and four boys) in quick succession.

Aside from motherhood, the Princess undertook many official engagements. She was a regular presence at all major royal events and with her love of all things equine, from 1994 to 2005 she served as President of the International Equestrian Foundation (FEI) and was an active member of the International Olympic Committee and often attended Spain’s National Sports Awards. Pilar was also interested in cultural pursuits and between 2007-2009 she served as President of Europa Nostra which focuses on the preservation of heritage sites in Europe for the enjoyment of future generations.

On occasion, she was photographed shopping for vegetables in a fruit market in the Spanish capital and she was a regular attender (along with her brother Juan and niece Elena) at the annual Corrida de la Beneficencia (charity) bullfight, as well as at the Madrid Open Tennis Tournament.

Pilar’s husband Luis predeceased her, dying of lymphatic cancer in 1991. The Princess’ funeral-a private occasion attended by her immediate family and senior members of the Spanish royal family- took place on 10 January.

A Royal Wartime Christmas in Belgrade.

With war declared throughout most of Europe, Princess Olga of Yugoslavia, the wife of the Prince Regent, Paul, was in a difficult position during that first Christmas of the Second World War. Like many of Europe’s royalty, she had family members on both the Allied and Axis sides. However, as Yugoslavia was still officially neutral, it had already been arranged that Olga’s sister, Princess Elisabeth of Greece and Denmark, who was married to the wealthy Bavarian aristocrat, Count Karl Theodor ‘Toto’ Toerring, would travel from Munich to Belgrade to celebrate the Orthodox Christmas (on 7 January 1940) at Olga and Paul’s luxurious home, the White Palace (Beli Dvor). Elisabeth’s children, Hans Viet and Helen were already in Belgrade having been brought there by their mother from Munich, in early November, at their Aunt Olga’s request. The presence of these extended family members was fortuitous as the Yugoslav royal couple’s sons, Alexander and Nicholas, would not be present in Belgrade over the Festive Season, as both were spending Christmas in England, where they attended boarding school.

Olga had always adored Christmas and was meticulous in her preparations. Her old nurse, Miss Kate Fox, who lived in London, was always sent a detailed list of the Princess’ requirements many months in advance. Christmas puddings from Fortnum and Mason’s were a particular family favourite, as were toys and jokes from Hamley’s celebrated Regent Street toyshop. However, wartime was playing havoc with Olga’s attempts at gift-giving. Hamley’s catalogue had been late in reaching the Serbian capital and the choice was limited. Nevertheless, the Princess soon selected a ‘nice [imitation] Xmas pudding with toys to pull out’ for the entertainment of her two-year-old daughter Elizabeth and the Toerring children. However, when this item failed to materialise, Olga was left with little choice but to scour the local shops for toys with which to fill the children’s Christmas stockings. Her sense of ‘despair’ was only heightened when a luxurious array of gifts arrived, via the diplomatic bag, from her sister, Princess Marina, the Duchess of Kent, in London.

Olga’s gifts were more of a practical nature. When she learned that foodstuffs were scarce in Bavaria, the Princess provided the Toerrings with a Christmas parcel filled with groceries and some soap. Princess Elisabeth and her husband arrived in Belgrade by rail just in time to watch King Peter (who lived in the Royal Palace adjacent to the White Palace at the Royal Compound in the suburb of Dedinje) preside over the traditional Orthodox Christmas Eve Badnjak celebrations. During this event, a troop of the Royal Guard accompanied a decorated gun carriage bearing the large Badnjak (Yule) log which was then carried into the Royal Palace and placed in a large hearth in the hall to burn throughout the Festive celebrations. The Prince Regent and Princess Olga (wrapped up against the cold in a full-length fur coat) accompanied the King throughout the ceremony and then joined him in raising a toast to the good health of his officers. The whole proceedings were captured for the first time on cine film.

In the evening, after Prince Paul had rung the traditional Christmas bell, Elizabeth, Helen and Hans-Veit ‘rushed in’ to the drawing room to gaze at the Christmas tree candles and then open their gifts with the aid of their nurses. The family then ate a traditional Christmas meal rounded off by some good English Christmas puddings. But Olga was soon in despair to receive news by letter that none of her Christmas presents (including those for her sons and a cheque for Miss Fox) had reached England. Clearly, even royal parcels were not exempt from the vagaries of war! Yet, there was little time to mope as Prince Paul and Princess Olga had to leave on a four-day morale-boosting visit to Zagreb.

Queen Helen of Romania-Part 3-Trouble upon Trouble.

When Princess Mother Helen of Romania (as she was styled following the accession of her son Michael to the throne in July 1927) learned that her ex-husband Carol had returned to his homeland as a result of a coup d’état engineered by National Peasant Prime Minister Iuliu Maniu, in June 1930, she was prepared for trouble and turmoil. However, Maniu naively believed that the former Crown Prince was returning as a Regent not as a future king. Yet within 36 hours of Carol’s arrival in Bucharest aboard a chartered plane from France on 6 June, he was being proclaimed king, with the full backing of both the Regency Council and the Cabinet. His son Michael was now demoted to Crown Prince.

Carol then turned his attentions on his ex-wife. Intent on isolating Helen (whom the international press now described as Queen of Romania), he surrounded her home with a police guard who were given firm instructions to report on all comings and goings. The King also refused to allow Sitta (as Helen was known en famille) to undertake public duties and prohibited her from having any contact with politicians. Carol even arranged to relieve Helen of her position as Honorary Colonel of the Ninth Hussars. Perhaps the hardest slight to bear was Carol’s insistence that Michael spend most of the day at the Royal Palace under his care and influence. Mother and son were also separated at Christmas when Michael left to spend the holiday with his father at Sinaia. It did not help that Helen had no homeland to escape to for some respite as the Greek royal family-including her brother King George-were living in exile in Italy.

However, many everyday Romanians sympathised with Sitta’s plight and there were some public demonstrations of sympathy. Sadly, these proved counter-productive as they only succeeded in increasing Carol’s feelings of paranoia. Finally, in July 1931, the situation became so intolerable that Helen boarded a train at Bucharest’s main railway station, without her son, and was waved off by her mother-in-law, Dowager Queen Marie who later admitted to finding the experience ‘unbearable.’ At least Sitta had somewhere to travel to: her brother King George had visited Bucharest in March and negotiated an allowance for his sister (later set at £14000 per annum) as well as sufficient funds for the purchase of a handsome Italian house-the Villa Sparta-at Fiesole, just outside Florence. In November, Helen spent a long spell in Frankfurt to help care for her ailing mother, Dowager Queen Sophie, who was seriously ill with cancer. Sophie died on 13 January 1932.

Thereafter, Helen-who enjoyed access rights to her son and still maintained the use of her home on the Chausee Kiseleff-was able to pay several visits to Romania to see Michael (whom she described as ‘the one bright feature’ in her life). However, Carol was intent on denying her this right of access and eventually succeeded-by means of a new separation agreement formulated in November-in banning Helen from returning to her adopted homeland. Thereafter, Sitta and Michael had to be satisfied with spending holidays together in Switzerland or Italy. Following the restoration of the monarchy in Greece in November 1935, Helen purchased a house in Athens and also spent time at Tatoi with her recently divorced brother King George II. He had a measure of understanding of his sister’s plight having previously been married to Carol’s highly-strung sister, Elisabetha. Sitta and her son Michael were very much in evidence too at the wedding of Crown Prince Paul to Princess Frederika of Hanover in Athens in January 1938. Otherwise, Helen would spend time working in her exquisite Fiesole garden or entertain members of her extended family at the Villa Sparta. She was particularly close to her sister Irene who married Prince Aimone, the Duke of Spoleto (and future Duke of Aosta) in 1939.

Meanwhile, in Bucharest, King Carol had grown increasingly autocratic, manipulating politicians of rival parties to his advantage and focusing on the design of new military uniforms and orders of chivalry with which to adorn himself. To add to his ‘personality cult’, the King also set up a paramilitary youth organisation (the Straja Țării). Following the outbreak of war in September 1939, Carol extended his two-faced approach to his dealings with the Axis and Allied powers. This all caused the American historian Stanley Payne to conclude that the King was “the most cynical, corrupt and power-hungry monarch who ever disgraced a throne anywhere in twentieth-century Europe”. However, in June 1940, Carol ‘s public standing was severely dented when Romania was forced to submit to Soviet demands that the provinces of Bessarabia and North Bukovina be ceded to the Soviet Union. Huge tracts of Transylvania were also given to Hungary under the Second Vienna Award. Amid increasing calls for his removal, the King abdicated in early September 1940 and would soon seek refuge, along with his mistress, Elena Lupescu, in Mexico.

Michael was once again King of Romania. Almost immediately, Helen was ‘respectfully’ invited by the new right-wing Prime Minister, Ion Antonescu, to return to Bucharest ‘to complete the training’ of her son in his role as king. Thousands turned out to cheer the Queen Mother of Romania (a new title bestowed on her by Antonescu) on her arrival. In a subsequent government speech of welcome it was stated that through ‘her modesty and good example’ the Royal Court ‘would again become a symbol of respect and affection’. A Te Deum was later held in the Orthodox Cathedral to conclude the celebrations for her return.

But Helen’s happy return was soon blighted by various developments. Antonescu wielded dictatorial powers even greater than those enjoyed by King Carol prior to his abdication. These were enforced by the Fascist Iron Guard. Then, on 23 November, Antonescu forged closer links to Nazi Germany by signing the Tri-Partite Pact. German troops now crossed into Romania purportedly to protect the country’s oil fields from attack. Meanwhile, Romania’s Fascists waged war on supporters of ex-King Carol and others who had earned their displeasure. This culminated with the execution, on 26-27 November, of over sixty former dignitaries or government officials who were awaiting trial in Jilava prison.

Helen was appalled by the this reign of terror but was absolutely powerless. Yet, she was able to signal her displeasure by leaving Bucharest for Italy ‘at her own request’. The international press siezed on this development and reported that the Queen had departed Bucharest because the Romanian Nazis and the Iron Guard were ‘hostile’ towards her. Michael, however, remained in Bucharest.

Antonenscu now ramped up his right-wing credentials by persecuting the Jewish and Slavic minorities in Romania. One of the most horrific episodes of this period was the murder of 13000 Jews in Jassy, between June and July 1941, at the hands of Romanian forces. Over thirty anti-jewish decrees were issued.

Helen had by now returned to Romania where she tried to keep her personal feelings in check for the sake of her son and the monarchy. Although Antonescu was determined to ensure that she and Michael were mere figureheads, the Queen Mother spent time visiting the wounded in hospital and generally doing what she could to raise morale. With Romania committed, under the Pact, to provide troops for the Axis cause, the injuries and losses were great, particularly during the period of the Battle of Stalingrad, which ended in a defeat for the Axis forces in February 1943. Sitta was also determined to do what she could for the Jewish population and managed to prevent the deportation of the philologist Barbu Lazareanu. Helen also later persuaded the government to allow Jewish organisations to send medical aid, clothing and food to the Jews who were living in ghettos and camps in Transnistria.

Queen Mother Helen ensured too that King Michael developed some backbone. She also guided the King adroitly but firmly through the minefield of Romanian politics. Otherwise, she maintained a polite demeanour and bided her time. When the Axis front in north-eastern Romania collapsed following a successful Soviet offensive, King Michael’s representatives were approached by a pro-Allied National Democratic alliance (composed of communists, Social Democrats and members of the National Peasants Party) and asked to participate in a coup to remove Antonescu. This took place (with the support of the military) on 23 August 1944. Romania now turned against the Axis powers and, shortly thereafter, the country was occupied by the Soviet Army. This sent a shiver down Helen’s spine for she had strong family links to the Romanovs, many of whom had perished at the hands of the Bolsheviks following the 1917 Revolution. However, the Germans still posed a serious threat and in an act of retaliation against Michael’s involvement in the coup, they bombed Helen and Michael’s residence in Bucharest, Casa Nouă. The Queen Mother now fretted constantly over the safety of her son, who was often on military manoeuvres but stoically carried on with her war work. This included the setting up of a soup kitchen in the Royal Palace’s ballroom to feed starving children.

In March 1945, King Michael was forced to accept a communist government headed by Petru Groza. As the communist dictatorship took hold so the position of the King and his mother grew more precarious as they were increasingly marginalised. Sitta complained to her cousin Princesss Olga of Yugoslavia that she and her son were spied on constantly. Helen did manage to obtain permission to travel to Greece for the funeral of her elder brother King George who had died suddenly on 1 April 1947. She was also present at the wedding of her sister Katherine to Major Richard Brandram at the Royal Palace in Athens on 21 April.

Yet air travel was not without its dangers. In October 1947, Helen suffered a severe fright when a private aircraft conveying her from Zurich to Bucharest was forced to land by Soviet fighters on the near the Czech-Hungarian border. Although the Queen was detained for a short period, she was eventually released on the orders of ‘higher Russian officials’. However, she and King Michael later proceeded to London by air to attend the wedding of Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh on 20 November. It was during the nuptial celebrations that young Michael was introduced to Princess Anne of Bourbon Parma. The latter joined Michael, his mother and Aunt Irene on a trip to Lausanne, where the King proposed to this charming French-born princess of Danish heritage. The King and his mother then returned to spend Christmas together at Sinaia. However, it was clear that their presence was no longer welcome and many in authority were surprised that the royal duo had even bothered to make the return journey to Romania at all. On 30 December Michael was deposed from the throne against his will by the Groza government, although it was officially announced that he had ‘abdicated.’ As the year drew to a close, crowds in Bucharest sang the Internationale and called out ‘Long Live the Republic.’ Pictures of the King were removed from public buildings and the royal throne taken from the Parliament chamber. At Sinaia, an emotional Helen looked on as King Michael took the Royal Salute of the Royal Guard for the last time on New Year’s Eve.

On 1 January the international pressed announced King Michael’s abdication. He and Queen Helen arrived in Lausanne by train from Bucharest a few days later . The ex-King was only permitted to take £1000 in cash with him. Helen and her son dutifully posed for the press in their suite at the Beau Rivage. Yet Sitta was already focused on the future and, in February, she proceeded to the Vatican accompanied by Princess Anne’s Danish mother, Princess Margaret of Bourbon-Parma, for an audience with the Pope, Pius XII. The duo were intent on obtaining the Holy Father’s agreement to the marriage between the Orthodox ex-King and Anne, who was a Roman Catholic. The sticking point was that the Roman Catholic Church wanted a written assurance that any children of the marriage be raised in the Catholic faith. Sitta quickly pointed out that such an undertaking could not be given for political reasons. Permission was therefore refused.

In early March, Helen and her son proceeded via Paris to London where, in a display of royal unity, they lunched with King George VI and Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace. The twosome then proceeded to New York where they were accorded the honours due to a reigning king and a queen mother. With royal funds being tight, Sitta and Michael’s expenses were paid for by the US State Department. The purpose of the trip was officially to ‘encourage’ Michael to ‘speak up’ and lay bare the true details of the Communist machinations and threats which had led to his dethronement.

As Michael and Anne’s union could not now be solemnised in a Roman Catholic church, it was arranged, with the help of Helen’s brother King Paul, that the Orthodox Archbishop of Athens, Damaskinos Papandreou would officiate at a marriage service performed under Eastern Orthodox rites , with the reception being held afterwards at the Royal Palace. With Michael now safely married, Helen’s public role was now effectively over for Romania now had a new Queen, albeit one who was required to live in exile for many decades to come. Two final blows were dealt by the communist regime, in the spring of 1948, with the confiscation of all the royal family’s property in Romania and, hardest of all, the withdrawal of their Romanian citizenship.

Queen Mother Helen returns.

On a dark morning at Geneva’s international airport, a coffin, covered in a royal standard, was loaded onto the rear of a Romanian military transport plane. The casket contained the mortal remains of Her Majesty Queen Mother Helen of Romania, Princess of Greece and Denmark and the senior Greek Princess of her generation. Helen is the latest (and probably one of the last) members of a royal family of a former Eastern Bloc country whose remains have been repatriated.

At the time of her death on 29 November 1982, Queen Mother Helen was living in an apartment in Lausanne. Given that Romania was at that time ruled by a communist dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu, who would certainly not have countenanced the interment of a member of the country’s former royal family in his fief, a plot had been purchased in the Boix-de-Vaux cemetery in Lausanne as a resting place for Helen. Yet, she was not to be alone: Helen’s cousin Olga’s husband, Prince Paul of Yugoslavia, had already been interred there following his death in 1976, as had the mortal remains of his son Prince Nicholas who had died in a car accident in England in 1954 (his body had been brought over from the churchyard near his late Aunt, Princess Marina’s former home at Iver and reinterred in Lausanne at the request of Princess Olga). In 1997, Princess Olga was herself buried in the Bois-de-Vaux following her death at the age of 93.

However, following the ‘rehabilitation’ of Prince Paul by the Serbian High Court in 2011, he, Olga and Nicholas’ bodies were exhumed and reburied, with great ceremony, in the crypt of the Karageorge Royal Mausoleum at Oplenac in Serbia, on 6 October, 2012.

Meanwhile, since the fall of the Ceausescu regime in December 1989, the popularity of the former Royal Family was gathering pace in Romania. Much of this can be attributed to the dedicated involvement of Queen Mother Helen’s eldest granddaughter, Margareta (who now lived in Bucharest) and her Princess Margareta of Romania Foundation. Indeed, as early as 2003, Helen’s ex-husband, King Carol II’s mortal remains had been reburied in his homeland (from their original resting place in the Braganza Pantheon in Lisbon) in a side chapel of Curtea de Argeș Cathedral in the Carpathians. On 16 December 2017, his son King Michael I was also buried at Curtea de Argeș, although in a newly-constructed Royal Mausoleum, beside the remains of his late wife, Queen Anne, who died in August 2016.

Yet, all this while Queen Mother Helen’s mortal remains still languished in Lausanne. However, in early September, it was announced that Her Majesty body was to be returned to Romania and reinterred at Curtea de Argeș. Which brings me back to Geneva International Airport on the morning of 18 October: Having obtained the necessary air clearance, the Romanian military aircraft flew to Otopeni Airport, Bucharest where Her Majesty’s coffin was received, just after 11am, by an Honor Party formed by the 30th Guards Brigade and carefully taken out of the plane preceded by a large wooden cross bearing the inscription ‘Elena-Regina 1896-1982’. Looking on were the Custodian of the Crown of Romania (Margareta), her husband Prince Radu and two of Helen’s other granddaughters (Princesses Sophia and Maria.) Also present were a plethora of politicians and representatives of Romanian religious denominations and, particularly apt, of the Greek Orthodox Church.

Following a brief religious service, Her Majesty’s coffin was later taken to the Elisabetha Palace, where it lay in state for a short while in the King’s Hall. The funeral cortege then processed northwards to Curtea de Argeș, arriving in the late afternoon to a warm greeting from a large crowd. The coffin-still draped with the royal standard-was then placed on a bier at the Old Cathedral. The public were subsequently allowed to pay their respects. Touchingly, the President of Romania, Klaus Iohannis, issued a statement describing Queen Mother Helen as ‘ a powerful symbol of dignity, honour and courage and a special figure of moral conduct in the dark twentieth century.’

Just prior to noon on 19 October, members of the Romanian Royal Family and representatives of foreign royal houses (the Earl of Rosslyn represented the Prince of Wales) gathered in the Old Cathedral for the religious service. Thereafter, Queen Mother Helen’s coffin, containing her mortal remains, was borne by soldiers to the new Royal Mausoleum nearby. Her Majesty is buried alongside her beloved son King Michael and Queen Anne. The remains of her former husband, King Carol II, also rest nearby, having been transferred to the new Royal Mausoleum in the spring of this year.

Please read my various recent blogs on the life of this unique and charming Greek Princess and Queen Mother of Romania who surely ranks as one of the royal icons of the 20th century.

Queen Mother Helen of Romania-part 2: Marriage, Motherhood and Divorce.

In October 1920, the engagement of Princess Helen of Greece and Denmark’s brother George to Princess Elisabetha of Romania was announced. Elisabetha’s mother, the ethereal Queen Marie, was delighted with the proposed marriage and decided to invite George and his sisters Helen and Irene (who were currently living in exile in Lucerne) to her summer residence, Castle Pelisor in Sinaia, for a royal get-together. Also present was Elisabetha’s brother, 27-year-old Crown Prince Carol, who had just returned from a world tour, the purpose of which was to help him to overcome his sorrow at the annulment (by the Romanian courts) of his first (morganatic) marriage to his First World War sweetheart, Joanna Marie Valentina ‘Zizi’ Lambrino.

As Carol’s unsuitable union to a commoner had also met with strong opposition from his parents, so it was with some relief that Queen Marie observed that her eldest child was attracted to the tall, slender and charming Princess Helen. Nevertheless, ‘Sitta’ was still somewhat naïve in the ways of the world and seemed totally unaware of Carol’s reputation as a coureur . However, the news that her favourite brother, King Alexander, had died, on 25 October, from sepsis as a result of being bitten by a monkey, left Helen devastated and in an emotionally vulnerable state. She and her sister Irene therefore decided to return to Switzerland to be with their parents, ex-King Constantine and Queen Sophie.

By sheer coincidence, word then arrived that Queen Marie’s mother, the Duchess of Coburg and Edinburgh, had also passed away at the Hotel Dolder Grand in Zurich. Marie therefore joined the Greek Princesses on their journey back to Switzerland as did her son Carol. Although the Crown Prince was supposedly there to support his mother, Queen Marie felt that he and Helen were on the verge of ‘coming to an understanding.’ Indeed, within a few days of their arrival in Switzerland, Carol asked Sitta to marry him. Helen’s father, Constantine, was wary and would only permit the marriage after receiving an assurance from Carol that he had completely finished with Zizi. The couple’s path was somewhat smoothed by the fact that the royal houses of Romania and Greece were already about to be linked in matrimony.

Thereafter, Helen accompanied her parents and siblings back to Athens where there were scenes of public jubilation following the restoration of King Constantine to the Hellenic throne in December. Carol visited Sitta in Athens in the New Year and the betrothed couple motored together through the surrounding countryside. The Crown Prince was a cultured individual with an interest in antiquities and found the architectural sites of classical Greece particularly enthralling.

On 27 February 1921, Helen and Carol both attended the wedding of Elisabetha and George in Bucharest. The royalties of Greece and Romania then reassembled in Athens on 10 March for the nuptials of Helen and Carol. Thousands of Greeks lined the main boulevards as the bride-to-be processed to the Metropolitan Cathedral in a gold coach attired in a white satin dress trimmed with gold and accessorised with a deco diamond tiara rumoured to be worth 1 million French Francs. Queen Marie was ecstatic that her son had married a great-granddaughter of ‘Grandmama Queen [Victoria]’.

After a honeymoon spent at Tatoi and Sinaia, the newlyweds set up a temporary home with the King and Queen at Cotroceni Palace where Helen soon established that she was pregnant. Following a difficult confinement (when she was attended by her old family doctor and nurses from Greece), the Crown Princess gave birth to a son Michael on 25 October 1921. Thereafter, the little family moved into a villa on Bucharest’s fashionable Chausee Kiseleff. It was around this time that Helen noticed that Carol possessed some disturbing character traits: Although he could be caring and kind, the Crown Prince displayed a fiery temper and was often arrogant and dismissive of his wife. Yet, the problem was far from one-sided for Helen loved nothing better than to visit her homeland-often for months at a time-where she enjoyed the familiarity and close ‘cosy’ bonds of her Greek family circle. Meanwhile, Carol was left behind in Romania to amuse himself as he thought fit and rumours soon circulated that he was being unfaithful to his wife. Furthermore, even when in Bucharest, the Crown Princess habitually invited her Greek relatives for extended visits. Indeed, following the death of King Constantine in 1923 (when the Greek royals were enduring yet another period of exile from their homeland), Helen’s mother Queen Sophie and her younger sisters were omnipresent, leaving the couple with little time alone together. Carol had also discovered that his wife was no intellectual, with little interest in reading or music or the arts. Both parties to the marriage began to acknowledge that they seemed to have little in common.

However, Helen had much to offer both to her new family and her new country: She was polite, neat, worthy, well-organised and conscientious. She also took great care over the running of her home and, unlike many royal mothers of that period, showed great concern over the day-to-day care of her son and the running of the nursery. Similarly, the Crown Princess took great trouble over her official patronages, particularly in relation to nursing care. An accomplished horsewoman, Sitta’s skills were highly evident (and favourably commented on) at the many official parades. To her mother-in-law’s surprise, Helen also possessed a highly-developed sense of humour and a gift for mimicry, something she shared with her Greek cousins, Olga, Elisabeth and Marina.

But behind the duty and laughter, by the mid-1920’s the marriage had soured. Sitta was by now all too aware of Carol’s many paramours but, like many royal wives before her, she might have turned a blind eye had it not been for the arrival of a teasing redhead, Elena Lupescu. This gay divorcee with her swaggering gate and cheeky demeanour was the complete antithesis of Helen. She was also ambitious and self-assured, deliberately positioning herself at events attended by Carol so better to attract his attention. The ruse worked and the adulterous Crown Prince was soon coaxed into her tangled web. Sitta reacted by withdrawing into herself and the marriage disintegrated just as her father-in-law King Ferdinand of Romania’s health was waning. Perhaps in a bid to save his son’s marriage, the King momentarily toyed with the idea of banishing Lupescu into exile.

On November 7, 1925 Helen and Carol appeared together in public for the final time at a flower exhibition. Thereafter, the Crown Prince departed for England to attend the funeral of Helen’s Great-Aunt, Queen Alexandra. He later made for Paris and the ample arms of Elena. The duo then journeyed to northern Italy. Carol now decided to renounce his rights to the throne so that he could remain with Lupescu. He informed Sitta and his parents of his intentions by letter, claiming to be ‘misunderstood [and] misjudged’ . Despite a hand-written plea from his mother delivered in person by the Marshal of the Court, General Angelescu, Carol held fast to his decision. Meanwhile, Helen tormented herself over the failure of her marriage and offered to travel to Milan to reason with her husband. However, in a rare moment of decisiveness, King Ferdinand instead held a meeting of the Crown Council and, after revealing the details of his son’s renunciation, proposed that a Regency Council should be formed in the event of his death. The three-man Council would rule until young Michael reached the age of majority. This proposition seemed to meet with general approval and was ratified by the Romanian Parliament on 4 January, 1926. Michael was now officially the heir to the throne in place of his father. Ordinary Romanians were astonished at this turn of events.

While Carol would later profess his ‘highest esteem’ for Helen, both as a wife and mother, the shock and humiliation took its toll on Sitta’s wellbeing. Always in the background lurked the nagging feeling that Carol might still somehow inveigle his way back into the frail King and exuberant Queen Marie’s ‘good books’. This was not such a fantastical notion for there were certainly many Carlists who were only too ready to provide support for the former Crown Prince’s return and reinstatement. Indeed, even Queen Marie, at times, found herself torn over whether she would be able to support such a future bid should it happen.

In the spring of 1927, King Ferdinand suffered a bad attack of flu. As he was heavily weakened by this (as well as an on-going battle with cancer), it was feared that his death was imminent. He passed away at Pelisor on 19 July. The ramifications for Helen were great: She was now the mother of the five-year-old King of Romania and, heavily-veiled in black, accompanied Michael to the Romanian Parliament where he was seated on a throne-like chair to receive the acclamation of the country’s political representatives. However, the power actually lay elsewhere with the Regency Council, one of whom was Sitta’s brother-in-law, Prince Nicholas, who certainly could not be relied upon to champion his sister-in-law’s cause.

Carol received the news of his father’s death at his rented home, which he shared with Elena Lupescu, in Neuilly, a suburb of Paris. He subsequently attended a Memorial Service at the city’s Romanian Orthodox Church, where some devotees greeted him with a defiant ‘Vive Le Roi!’ Thereafter, Dowager Queen Marie continued to correspond with her eldest son and various family members, including Prince Nicholas, visited him. Meanwhile, over time, the Dowager Queen began to resent Helen’s increasing influence and new position as ‘Princess Mother of Romania’, even accusing Sitta of separating her from her grandson, whom she felt was a ‘stranger’ to her. Certainly, Helen-perhaps wary of her in-laws intentions and determined to protect her son at all costs from familial machinations-tended to put her trust, as always, in her extended Greek family. Regular visitors to Bucharest included her cousin Princess Olga of Yugoslavia. As King Alexander of Yugoslavia was married to Carol’s sister, Marie (Mignon), Olga was ideally placed to act as a listening ear and gentle voice of reason. In due course Helen petitioned the courts for a divorce. The formal announcement that the marriage was finally dissolved was reported by the Associated Press on 21 June 1928. However, if Helen imagined that she was now completely free of her former husband’s, she was in for a rude awakening.

Part 3-Queen Mother of Romania-will follow soon.

Queen Mother Helen of Romania.

With the recent news that the mortal remains of Her Late Majesty Queen Mother Helen of Romania are to be brought from Lausanne, Switzerland to Romania, in October, to be reinterred in the New Metropolitan Cathedral at Curtea de Argeș, alongside her son King Michael, I feel the time is right to examine the life of the Greek-born Queen Mother.

Part 1-Childhood into Womanhood.

Princess Helen of Greece and Denmark was born in Athens on 2 May 1896, the third child of Crown Prince Constantine and his wife Sophie (a daughter of the German Emperor, Frederick III). The Greek royal family-a misnomer if ever there was one, as not one member possessed Greek blood-were unusually close and were presided over by Helen’s paternal grandfather, King George I of the Hellenes and his Russian-born wife, Queen Olga. George (born Prince Wilhelm of Denmark and second son of the future King Christian IX) had been ‘imported’ from his native Copenhagen, some thirty-three years earlier, to occupy the vacant Hellenic throne at the request of the Great Powers of France, Great Britain and Russia. ‘Willi’ hated pomp and ceremony and liked nothing better than to walk the streets of Athens, often stopping to talk to his subjects. Unsurprisingly, the Greek Court soon gained the reputation of being the most democratic in Europe.

Helen’s childhood was spent at the newly-constructed Crown Prince’s Palace in Athens. The ‘clannish’ household had some strange habits; lunch was served at 11am while dinner was eaten at 3pm prompt. Each Tuesday, all of the royal family dined together at the home of Prince Nicholas, while on a Thursday it was the turn of the Crown Prince to act as host. As Queen Olga was devout, she ensured that her eldest granddaughter received religious instruction according to the rites of the Greek Orthodox Church. Helen was also required to attend Sunday service in her grandmother’s private chapel at the Royal Palace (during Holy Week and Easter attendance was on a daily basis). This was followed by a stroll through the Royal Gardens in the company of the King and Queen and other family members. Furthermore, from a young age, the Princess was driven in an open carriage, accompanied by liveried footmen, through the streets of Athens, the Evzone sentries ‘presenting arms’ as she passed through the palace gates. Although such excursions may have brought Helen some pleasure, the exercise was also designed to instil a sense of royal dignity in the child, for the tall, elegant and dutiful Crown Princess Sophie was a stickler for protocol and good manners. This extended to instructing her eldest daughter on how to return military salutes and acknowledge the greetings of bystanders.

Yet, the emphasis was also on fun: Summer afternoons were invariably spent swimming with her siblings and cousins at Phaleron or learning to ride under the instruction of an English groom. However, as with all the royal children of her generation, the warm summer months were spent at the royal family’s country residence at Tatoi, a wooded estate some 27 kilometres north of the Greek capital. The estate was far from Greek in character and reflected the heritage of both the King and Queen. The main residence was modelled on the Gothic Cottage at Peterhof Palace, on Russia’s Baltic coast, while the estate also boasted a Danish dairy overseen by a Danish manager. The cattle producing the milk also came from King George’s homeland. However, Helen was more impressed by the roar of the stags in the nearby mountains or the annual feudal feasts attended by local people in native dress to celebrate Queen Olga’s birthday. The Princess also delighted in joining her grandfather for his anniversary festivities. These invariably involved sailing on the royal yacht to a different port each year, where the royal party would then disembark to attend a celebratory Te Deum service at the local church, followed by a reception hosted by the Mayor at the local Town Hall.

War and tragedy also pervaded Helen’s childhood. The Greek nation had fought hard to obtain its independence from Ottoman rule and the King and his advisors were determined to maintain the status quo. As early as 1897, the Greeks had engaged Turkish forces over the future status of the island of Crete which, although under Ottoman rule, had a Christian majority desirous of union with Greece. This contretemps ended in a heavy defeat for Greece. Then, in 1912, there were further clashes with the Turks in the Balkans, over Ottoman oppression of the Christian section of the population in Thrace and Macedonia. Helen’s father was Commander-in-Chief of the Greek military and she could only look on helplessly as he headed northwards to lead his troops into battle against the Ottoman forces. Following a prolonged but successful campaign, Constantine entered Salonika, on 10 November, at the head of his troops. He was joined there, two days later, by a proud and joyful King George, who decided he would take up residence there for a while in a villa overlooking the Gulf of Thermai.

In the spring of 1913, the King was on the cusp of celebrating his Golden Jubilee and contemplating abdicating his throne in favour of Helen’s father. However, on the afternoon of 18 March, while strolling along a street in Salonika, he was shot at close range from behind, the bullet piercing his heart. King George was immediately rushed to a nearby military hospital, where his son, Prince Nicholas (the local Military Governor), arrived to find him lying lifeless on a bed in a private room. Helen’s father, Constantine, happened to be at army headquarters in Janina, and on receiving news of his father’s death, he immediately returned to Athens, as King, to take the oath of allegiance to the Constitution. He then travelled to Salonika in the royal yacht to bring back the late king’s body for burial.

For Helen, the death of her beloved grandfather came as a great shock and it is not difficult to imagine her distress as she watched the late King being laid to rest at Tatoi on 30 March. As a sixteen-year-old, she was sufficiently mature to realise that her family’s life would now change, as the responsibility for the future of Greece lay firmly on the shoulders of her father, aided of course by her mother, Queen Sophie. Following his recent military successes, King Constantine was hailed as ‘Son of the Eagle’ and initially enjoyed a high approval rating.

However, unlike his father, the new King distrusted the Prime Minister, Eleftherios Venizelos. Following the outbreak of the First World War, in the summer of 1914, the two clashed. Constantine was adamant that Greece should remain neutral, while Venizelos wished to enter the war on the side of the Entente powers (France, Great Britain and Russia). It was a difficult time for Helen as her father (who had once served in the German Imperial Guard) and German-born mother (who was also a sister of the German Kaiser, Wilhelm II) were now both accused of being pro-German and face open hostility from many of their subjects for their failure to back the Entente cause. Indeed, such were the pressures on the King, that in the summer of 1915, he succumbed to pneumonia and, for a time, his life was in grave danger from blood poisoning following surgery to remove two ribs. Helen did what she could to comfort her mother who was beset by rumours that she had stabbed her husband during a violent argument over his failure to side with Germany. Then, in October, the King dismissed Venizelos and appointed the seasoned politician Alexandros Zaimis to succeed him as Prime Minister. Yet, for Helen and her family, worse was to follow. On 14 July, 1916 the royal estate at Tatoi was set ablaze by arsonists intent on eliminating the King and his family. Constantine and Sophie (and their youngest child Katherine) were minutes from being consumed by the fire as they fled from the flames. Eighteen people-mostly loyal estate workers-perished in the blaze which also engulfed the King’s residence.

As December dawned, French and British forces landed near Athens. The French government, in particular, were now intent on unseating the King, taking control of the capital and reinstalling Venizelos (who had established a pro-Entente National Defence Government in Salonika in direct opposition to Zaimis’ neutral government) at the centre of power in Athens. To help achieve this, on 1 December, French ships in Piraeus harbour bombarded the Greek capital for three hours. As shrapnel rained down on the adjoining Royal Gardens, Helen, her mother and other family members sought shelter in the Palace basement. However, the Athenians remained stoical and so the French forces imposed a blockade on the city in an attempt to weaken Greek resolve.

In March 1917, Tsar Nicholas II of Russia abdicated after bread riots broke out in Petrograd and the majority of the military garrison mutinied and stormed the Winter Palace. This ‘revolution’ proved a severe blow for the beleaguered Greek royal family who had close family links to the Romanovs. However, for Helen, the greatest worry was the whereabouts and safety of her Russian grandmother Queen Olga, who had earlier returned to her homeland to set up a military hospital at Pavlovsk.

By May, the Entente powers had gained control of most of Greece, including the rail network. The French now sent an envoy, Charles Jonnart, who was tasked with issuing an ultimatum to King Constantine: abdicate or Entente forces will destroy Athens. Constantine could not face further bloodshed and realised that if he did not comply, Greece would be plunged into a civil war between royalists and supporters of Venizelos. He informed a shocked Helen and Queen Sophie of his decision to go. Fortunately, the monarchy was not to be abolished as an agreement was reached with Jonnart whereby Constantine’s second son, Alexander, would be accede as King pro tem.

However, as Helen prepared to depart Athens with her parents and siblings for exile in Switzerland, word of the King’s departure spread like wildfire through Athens and thousands of Constantine’s subjects besieged the Palace in a touching display of loyalty, for they were determined that their King should not leave. After an overnight stand-off, by indulging in a little deceit, involving the use of decoy cars, the royals finally managed to flee the palace. A heartbroken Constantine and his family departed Greece on 14 June from the little East Coast fishing village of Oropos. The new King, 23-year-old Alexander, cut a forlorn figure as he waved off his nearest and dearest. The young monarch was subsequently prohibited from having any contact with his family.

Helen and her family travelled via Italy and crossed the frontier into Switzerland at Chiasso. To her consternation, crowds subjected her parents to jeers and taunts, while in Lugano, ex-King Constantine was forced to seek shelter in the Lloyd Hotel after being recognised and attacked in the street. He later returned to his quarters at the Palace Hotel under police protection. Helen’s family later moved to Zurich where they were joined by Prince Nicholas and Prince Andrew, their wives and children. For Helen this was fortuitous as she was close to all of her Greek cousins, particularly 14-year-old Princess Olga. However, life was not easy: money was tight and, in such a confined environment, petty family squabbles were not infrequent. The royalties were also subject to endless petty humiliations, including the censorship of correspondence. Worse still, the family’s sense of isolation was intensified when former friends openly snubbed Helen’s parents even, on occasion departing a room when they entered. Nor did it help that the international (pro-Entente) press remained hostile and had taken to describing the little group as ‘discarded royalty’ who were ‘hard-up’ and could not pay their hotel bills. Queen Sophie was allegedly even reduced to selling some jewels. Unsurprisingly, Helen’s father’s health suffered and he was fortunate indeed to recover from an attack of pleurisy.

The family were temporarily uplifted by the arrival of Queen Olga in July of 1918. Although this proud Romanov Grand Duchess had survived the revolution (unlike the former Tsar Nicholas who, on 17 July, was murdered along with his immediate family in the basement of a house in Ekaterinburg in the Urals), Helen was horrified to learn that the Dowager Queen-who was ‘a ghost of her old self’-had lived for many months on dry bread soaked in oil at her home at Pavlovsk. The marriage, on 1 February 1920, of her Uncle, Prince Christopher to the rich American heiress Mrs Nancy Leeds (the widow of William Leeds the American “Tin Plate King”) at the Russian Orthodox Church at Vevey was another highlight. But just around the corner further tragedy awaited…

In early October 1920, King Alexander (whose wife Aspasia was four months pregnant) was bitten by a monkey while walking in the gardens at Tatoi. Sepsis sent in and a frantic Queen Sophie (currently in Lucerne) asked permission to travel to Greece to be with her son. Venizelos denied her entry but indicated that Queen Olga could come in her stead. Sadly, rough seas meant that the Dowager Queen arrived in Athens only hours after the King’s death on 25 October. Helen was distraught when she received the news of her brother’s premature death. Her grief was compounded by the fact that neither she nor any of her family were allowed to return to Greece for the funeral on 29 October. Queen Olga represented the family.

In November, Eleutherios Venizelos was defeated in the general election and fled into exile. Soon newspaper reporters were besieging Helen and her family with the news that the fickle Athenians were calling for Constantine’s return. Helen was anxious for both of her parents who were pale of complexion and racked with sorrow. How would they cope with returning to Tatoi which was filled with so many memories of Alexander? Meanwhile, Constantine insisted on a plebiscite to reaffirm his position as monarch and this was held on 5 December. Nearly one million people voted in favour of his return, with just over ten thousand against. Helen was delighted for her father whom she joined aboard the ship Averon at Venice, on 15 December, to sail home to Athens.

The royal family landed in Greece on 19 December. King Constantine’s subjects went wild with enthusiasm. The royal carriage was besieged with cheering well-wishers as it made its was slowly through the streets to the Palace where all of the extended royal family later appeared on the terrace. Yet, for Helen-as for the others-the return was bittersweet. The fact of Alexander’s absence was suddenly brought home, particularly when she observed the grief-stricken face of her mother. Aged 24, Helen also realised that the time had come to settle down and make a suitable marriage. As a tall and attractive brunette with an excellent royal pedigree there was no shortage of suitable candidates. But whom would she settle on?



Greek Princesses in Wartime Europe.

The three daughters of the Russian-born, Romanov Grand Duchess Helen (Ellen) and her husband Prince Nicholas of Greece and Denmark were regarded as the most beautiful and sophisticated in Europe. Marina, Elizabeth and Olga were also extremely close, having been raised together by their beloved, brusque English nurse or ‘nurnie’, Miss Kate Fox, at the Nicholas Palace in Athens, as well as at the Greek royal family’s country retreat at Tatoi, in the wooded foothills of Mount Parnitha. The Princesses made frequent trips to England, where they spent the summer months living in simple hotels or Norland hostels at Westgate-on-Sea or Bognor. Yet, the trio were equally at home amongst the grandeur of the Imperial court in St Petersburg, where their powerful maternal grandmother, Grand Duchess Vladimir, showered them with exquisite gifts and instilled in them a deep understanding of their Imperial Romanov heritage.

The best-known (and youngest) of the trio was Princess Marina. In November 1934, she had made a highly desirable marriage to Prince George, Duke of Kent (the youngest son of Britain’s King George V). The middle sister, Princess Elizabeth, is a more obscure figure. She married a wealthy Bavarian aristocrat (and nephew of Queen Elisabeth of the Belgians), Count Carl Theodor of Toerring-Jettenbach and settled in Munich. However, it was the eldest sister, Princess Olga, who would hold the highest rank as the wife and Consort of the Prince Regent (Paul) of Yugoslavia.

Despite their impeccable royal credentials, the sisters were actually more interested in a ‘cosy’ life en famille, and whenever their individual official or domestic duties permitted, they would meet up in London, Munich, Belgrade or Slovenia for a grand family get- together. When all else failed, long and detailed letters (chiefly concerning domestic matters or news of extended family) flew between England, Bavaria and Yugoslavia on a weekly basis. Grand Duchess Helen encouraged these strong inter-family bonds from her homes in Paris and Athens.

In late 1935, Paul and Olga had purchased a large Slovenian castle at Brdo which was large enough to accommodate all of the extended family for visits throughout August and into late September. The emphasis was firmly on fun: Games of tennis were interspersed with riding, swimming, film shows, charades and fishing trips, as well as excursions to the Slovene capital, Ljubljana. On occasion, several members of the party might travel further afield to enjoy a relaxing cruise down Croatia’s Dalmatian coast. When all else failed, there was always the joy of the popular card game, Lexicon.

However, as early as September 1938, the shadow of war threatened this almost idyllic family existence. All the extended family happened to be staying at the Toerring’s country home, Frauenbuhl Castle at Winhöring when, during a rally in Nuremberg, the German leader, Hitler, denounced Czechoslovakia as a ‘fraudulent state’, focused on subduing the German-speaking minority in the Sudetenland. The Führer also encouraged the Sudeten Germans to demand union with Germany and even offered to provide them with military assistance. Anticipating a deterioration in the European political situation, the Duke and Duchess of Kent returned to England, with heavy hearts, on 14th September. Next day, the Prince Regent and Princess Olga journeyed home to Brdo. Meanwhile, Count Toerring, being of military age, joined the Gebirgsjäger (mountain troops) and was called up to the Czech frontier, leaving his anxious wife to mind their two young children. War was temporarily averted following peace negotiations which resulted in the Munich Agreement of 30 September signed by Hitler, Neville Chamberlain (the British Prime Minister), Mussolini and the French Premier Edouard Daladier. However, Czechoslovakia paid a heavy price as the accord permitted the annexation of the Sudetenland into the Third Reich. Gallingly, the Czechoslovak government was neither invited nor consulted over the matter.

As 1938 drew to a close, Princess Olga feared for her husband’s safety as it was no secret that the Prince Regent was a prime target for terrorists as he sought to thrash out an agreement between the Roman Catholic Croats and Orthodox Serbs. She was cheered by a visit from Marina in February 1939. However, within weeks of the Duchess of Kent’s return to England, German forces invaded the remainder of Czechoslovakia, in direct contravention of the Munich Agreement. Suddenly, it seemed to the British government that Hitler was intent on dominating Europe and Britain’s policy of appeasement was now abandoned. As it appeared likely that Poland would be the Fuhrer’s next target, on 31 March, Neville Chamberlain informed the House of Commons that ‘in the event of any action which clearly threatened Polish independence’ the British government would ‘feel bound.. to lend the Polish Government all support in their power’.

On Good Friday, 7 April, Italy invaded Yugoslavia’s southern neighbour of Albania. This troubled Olga greatly as it put extra pressure on the Prince Regent and served to underline that much of the weight of Yugoslavia’s uncertain future rested squarely on his shoulders. Princess Elizabeth and Count Toerring happened to be spending Easter in England with Marina and the Duke of Kent at their country home, Coppins. Prince George’s correspondence with Prince Paul indicates that there was a frank exchange of (often differing) views on the situation in Europe between the couples.

However, the Duke of Kent and Marina were mostly focused on preparing for their departure to Australia where Prince George was due to take up an appointment as the Dominion’s Governor-General. Elizabeth and Olga were both in despair at the thought of their youngest sibling moving to the other side of the world for a period of up to five years. Fortunately, Olga was distracted by her own official duties, as she and the Prince Regent were due to make State visits to Italy and Germany in May and June respectively. The visit to Berlin provided Olga and her sister Elizabeth with the chance of several brief reunions at the Bellevue Palace, amid a busy week of official engagements.

In early July, it was the turn of Marina and the Duke of Kent to greet Olga and Paul, when they arrived on a visit to London. The stay was a more relaxed family affair, despite the Yugoslav royals being quartered at Buckingham Palace. While the Prince Regent had talks with government ministers, Olga-keenly aware that her sister would be departing in only a few months for Canberra-spent quality time with Marina at the Kent’s home in Belgrave Square. She and Paul also managed a weekend trip down to Coppins.

In early August, Olga and Paul returned to Bled for what remained of the summer; Grand Duchess Helen was already in residence and the house party was soon completed by the arrival of the Kents and the Toerrings. It so happened that Prince Albrecht of Bavaria was a fellow guest. Albrecht was strongly opposed to Hitler and his National Socialist Party and was currently employed by Prince Paul to run his shoots at Petrovčić and Belje. Unsurprisingly, the atmosphere was somewhat strained for if Britain and Germany went to war, as seemed increasingly likely given Chamberlain’s guarantee, the Kents and Toerrings would, technically speaking, be enemies. Since Yugoslavia intended to remain neutral, Olga would be Marina and Elizabeth’s mutual point of contact.

Within a few weeks the situation deteriorated considerably: On 22 August, it was confirmed that Germany and Russia had signed a non-aggression pact. The Treaty had a secret protocol appended to it which divided eastern Europe into German and Soviet spheres of influence and signalled the green light for further German advances, including into Poland. Aware of the implications, both the Duke of Kent and Count Toerring left Brdo for their respective homelands as soon as they received the news. Marina remained in Slovenia until the end of August before departing by train for London.

On 1 September 1939 Germany invaded Poland and Elizabeth Toerring immediately left for Munich. On 3 September, in line with the guarantees it had earlier given to the Polish government, Great Britain declared war on Germany. Olga was ‘stunned’ by this development realising all too well the implications for Marina and Elizabeth. Count Toerring had already been called up to the western front and Prince George-his move to Australia now put on hold-was serving in the Royal Navy at the Admiralty in London. To exacerbate matters, Princess Olga’s sons Nicholas and Alexander were currently attending school in England, a place which now seemed increasingly far off as telephone communications with Yugoslavia were suspended.

Suddenly, the sisters’ life of privilege was gone. In Bavaria, Princess Elizabeth had taken to riding a bike as petrol was rationed, while Princess Olga had been appointed President of the Yugoslav Red Cross. Olga and Elizabeth had originally been able to communicate by telephone (with a German censor listening in), but this facility was withdrawn in late October. Although letters could still be sent (in Olga and Marina’s case via the official diplomatic bag) the process was slow and tedious; there were also limits as to what could safely be committed to paper. In England, Marina had joined the Navy as Commandant of the Women’s Royal Naval Service-‘the Wrens’-and was soon undertaking tours of inspection throughout England. On occasion, she travelled to Scotland to join the Duke of Kent who had been transferred to Admiralty House in North Queensferry. This meant that she was sometimes separated from her young children, Edward and Alexandra, who, with Coppins closed-up and the London house vacated, often spent time staying with their paternal grandmother, Queen Mary, at Badminton.

In early November, Princess Elizabeth and her children Hans Veit and Helen arrived in Belgrade. The main reason for her visit was that food was increasingly scarce in Bavaria. However, the erratic political climate must have been another factor. Countess Toerring feared for her husband’s welfare, particularly when she learned that there were random, ‘new wholesale arrests’ following an assassination attempt on Hitler’s life in Munich’s Bürgerbräukelle. Yet, as 1939 drew to close, the sister’s remained resolute. Elizabeth and her children returned to Bavaria, in early December, to be with Count Toerring (who had now been released from active duty), while Olga sought to try and provide some Festive cheer in Belgrade for King Peter (whose mother, Queen Dowager Marie, now lived in England with her younger sons Andy and Tommy), her three-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, and the Prince Regent. Meanwhile, Marina busied herself with organising accommodation for the Christmas school holiday period, in Cambridge, for Olga’s sons and Miss Fox. She later visited the trio to help them celebrate the Festive Season.

As 1940 dawned, Olga noted that, ‘The future looks dark I must admit- but I know the light is there behind it all the time.’ Yet, in the years ahead, all of the sisters would face terrible challenges, which would test them-and their close bond-to the limit.