Prince Philip: The Early Years.

Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark was born on 10 June 1921 in the dining room of Mon Repos, the Corfu summer home of his parents, Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark (the second youngest son of King George I of the Hellenes) and his English-born wife, Alice, a great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria and eldest daughter of the first Marquess of Milford Haven, a former First Sea Lord of the Royal Navy and, until the ‘Anglicisation’ of royal titles by King George V in 1917, styled as Prince Louis of Battenberg. Philip was the couple’s only son and by far the youngest of their five children, the oldest of whom, Margarita, was sixteen years the new-born’s senior. Prince Andrew must have been glad of a son but he had little time to reflect on this latest addition to his family, for Greece was in the midst of yet another war with the Turks (officially referred to in the textbooks as the ‘Greco-Turkish War 1919-1922’) and he was about to assume command of the 2nd Army Corps with the rank of Lieutenant-General. It would be many months before he would even set eyes on his son.

Meanwhile, Prince Philip settled into a familiar nursery routine at Mon Repos under the watchful ‘Nana’ Emily Roose. However, when his maternal grandfather,the Marquess of Milford Haven died in early September, Alice decided to take her young son with her to England (for she was still nursing him) to visit her widowed mother, Victoria, at Kensington Palace. This would be the first of many such visits by this Greek Prince.

Prince Andrew had, meanwhile, grown increasingly dissatisfied with his time in the military, feeling that he was surrounded in the current campaign in Asia Minor by ‘riff-raff’ and that ‘all military prudence had vanished.’ Nor was he a fan of his Commander-in-Chief, General Papoulas, and seems to have disagreed with an order to make ‘an immediate violent attack’ to the north, deeming this manoeuvre to be ‘impossible’. Andrew thought it would instead be more expedient to use his men to bolster the manpower of another corps. Papoulas was ‘astonished’ at this plan and ordered the Prince to desist. He also relieved Andrew’s Chief of Staff of his position, prompting the aggrieved Prince to demand that Papoulas also ‘order my immediate relief.’ The General refused. However, eventually, on 30 September 1921, Andrew was granted three months leave. Nevertheless, as readers will later learn, this altercation with his superior officer would have serious repercussions.

Thereafter, Alice and Philip returned to Corfu from their English visit and Prince Andrew was at last able to meet his son. However, with Greece still at war, Andrew returned to his military duties; he was transferred to the command of the 5th Army Corps Epirus and the Ionian Islands, at that time stationed in Janina [Ioannina]. However, the military situation for the Greeks was now increasingly perilous for, as 1922 progressed, the Hellenic forces continued to extend their lines of communication and supply in Anatolia to the utter limit. In the meantime, young Philip accompanied his mother and sisters to London for the wedding, in July, of Alice’s younger brother, Louis (‘Dickie’) Mountbatten to the wealthy socialite Edwina Ashley at St Margaret’s, Westminster. Philip’s four sisters were bridesmaids, although their small brother remained in the care of his nurse at his maternal grandmother’s Kensington Palace home. As summer drew to a close, the Turks, under the command of the legendary Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk), were diligently driving Greek forces back to towards the sea, with predominantly Christian towns such as Smyrna being overrun by the enemy with great loss of life. Furthermore, those Greeks who survived this advance were forced to abandon lands on which they had lived peaceably for centuries to resettle in Athens and other areas of Greece. Estimates put the number of these refugees at around 1.5 million.

In addition to the returning refugees, there was a large group of returning Greek soldiers who were still smarting at their recent humiliation. Thus, on 11 September, a Revolutionary Committee was established in Athens led by Colonel Nikolas Plastiras (who had previously served under Prince Andrew) bent on exacting revenge for the defeats in Asia Minor. The Committee demanded that the royalist government resign and also insisted that (an already ailing) King Constantine abdicate the throne. This he did on 27 October. ‘Tino’ was succeeded by his eldest son, who took the title of King George II of the Hellenes. However, the new monarch had neither real power nor influence and lived mostly in isolation at his country estate at Tatoi. In addition, these avenging revolutionaries rounded up a group of politicians and soldiers (including General Hadjianestis, who had succeeded Papoulas as Greece’s Commander-in-Chief) to face trial before a ‘Court’ largely composed of headstrong junior officers.

During this unsettled period Prince Andrew sojourned at Mon Repos, where the new powers-that-be were initially content for him to remain providing that he resigned his commission. Then, in late October, Andrew was interviewed by a member of the revolutionary committee in Corfu and summoned as a witness in the trial of the aforementioned individuals. However, on his arrival in Athens, the Prince found himself placed under house arrest and charged with offences, including disobeying orders and abandoning his post in the face of the enemy. The pretext for the trial was the acrimonious disagreement with General Papoulas the previous year. While her husband languished in a prison cell, a despairing Princess Alice (who had returned from London with Philip and her daughters in late September and was now under police surveillance at Mon Repos) contacted her brother Louis in London. Dickie subsequently lobbied Andrew’s cousin, King George V and the new Prime Minister, Bonar Law, on his sister’s behalf. Eventually, a Commander Gerald Talbot (who had previously served as the British Naval Attaché in Athens) was sent to Greece by the British Foreign Secretary, Lord Curzon, to try and negotiate Andrew’s release or, at the very least, attempt to save his life.

In November, the trials of five Greek politicians (three of whom had served as Prime Minister) and General Hadjianestis commenced. They were tried for high treason, found guilty and sentenced to death. On 28 November, they were taken to a piece of exposed ground outside Athens and executed by firing squad. That same day, the the British Legation in Athens telegraphed the Foreign Office in London to say that Prince Andrew’s situation had now grown ‘more dangerous’ and his trial was now scheduled for 30 November.

Meanwhile, Princess Alice had now arrived in Athens and a British battleship, HMS Calypso, was dispatched by the British government to lie off coast of the Greek capital to await further developments. Commander Talbot eventually obtained a promise from General Panagalos (the newly appointed Greek Minister for Military Affairs) and the aforementioned Colonel Plastiras, that Prince Andrew would stand trial and be sentenced. Plastiras would subsequently pardon the Prince who would then be handed over into Commander Talbot’s care for immediate transportation by sea to Brindisi and onwards to England.

On 3 December, Prince Andrew’s trial took place in the Chamber of Deputies and he was unanimously found guilty of the charges against him by a jury of officers. His sentence was that he was ‘degraded and condemned to perpetual banishment’ from Greece. As previously agreed, the Prince was subsequently taken down to Phaleron Bay where he boarded HMS Calypso (under the command of a Captain Buchanan-Wollaston) accompanied by Commander Talbot. Princess Alice was already aboard to greet her husband and the vessel immediately set sail for Corfu-which was reached the next day-to pick up the couple’s children and pack up such belongings as was possible. 18-month-old Prince Philip was taken aboard the Calypso in an orange box which acted as his cot.

On reaching Brindisi on 5 December, the Greek royals were far from out of the woods. Lacking financial means, they were advanced funds by the British Ambassador in Rome before travelling onwards to Paris. They reached London on 17 December and checked-in to the Stafford Hotel in Mayfair. Interestingly, there had already been questions on the British House of Commons regarding the cost (£1200) of sending HMS Calypso to Greece. During this brief English interlude, Prince Andrew had a meeting with his cousin King George V. However, at this interval, it seemed that Philip and his family’s best option-given their state of relative poverty-was to return to Paris and the benevolent care of the wealthy Marie Bonaparte (the wife of Prince George of Greece and Denmark [‘Big George’]) at St Cloud. She would subsequently place a small house adjacent to her own larger mansion at the disposal of these exiled relations.

Paris would be the home of Prince Philip for the next seven years and provided a safe haven in a time of continuing turmoil in Greece. 1923 brought mixed fortunes: In January, Prince Andrew and his wife made a visit to the United States to holiday with Prince Christopher and his wealthy wife, the former Mrs Nancy Leeds, leaving Philip in the care of ‘Roosie’. However, they had no sooner started out on their journey aboard the liner RMS Olympic, than they received word that ex-King Constantine had died of heart failure on 11 January in Italy, where he had been living in exile. Subsequently, in Athens, following a failed royalist coup in October, King George II was effectively hounded into exile by Plastiras and his Revolutionary Committee cronies; in March 1924, the Greeks would vote to ditch the monarchy in favour of a republic. Another blow to the family was the death of Philip’s grandmother, Queen Olga, in Rome, in June 1926, at the age of 74. Olga had been by far the most respected member of the Greek royal family and with a following that transcended across all political boundaries.

Philip, meanwhile, was now a of school age. He attended school at the wonderfully titled MacJannet Country Day and Boarding School (habitually referred to as ‘the Elms’ after the name of the house in which it was located). This catered mainly for the children of American clients and diplomats and was near enough for Philip, who was always full of energy and boisterous enthusiasm, to cycle to. The youngster also liked nothing better than going for motor drives through the Bois de Boulogne in his father’s car or partaking of a generous Sunday lunch at his Aunt and Uncle’s neighbouring home. Also in Paris, were Philip’s Uncle Nicholas and his charming (but intimidating) Russian wife Grand Duchess Helen, along with their daughters, Elizabeth and Marina (their eldest child, Olga, Philip’s godmother-by-proxy, was already married to Prince Paul of Yugoslavia and lived in Belgrade). These cousins were-like his sisters-much older than Philip but, as was true of most members of that generation of the Greek royal family, they were full of fun and possessed of a decidedly unique sense of humour which appealed to the youngster.

The young Prince enjoyed holidays too with his older cousin Crown Princess (later Queen Mother) Helen and her son Michael at their home in Romania. France was an obvious destination with Berck Plage, near Le Touquet, a decided favourite. Another welcome French summer retreat was the holiday home, in Marseilles, of Madame Anna Foufounis, the widow of a wealthy Greek royalist. When visiting England, Philip also enjoyed vacationing with his sisters Sophie (‘Tiny’) and Cecile (Blakeney in Norfolk being a particular favourite). Apparently, Prince Andrew was keen that his son should also be educated in England and, in 1929, it was decided to send him to Cheam, a preparatory (or ‘prep’) school in Surrey, whose purpose was-as the name suggests-to prepare boys for passing the Common Entrance examination which was required (along with payment of the large fees) for entry to exclusive public schools such as Eton or Harrow. Discipline was tight at Cheam and it is fair to say that he did not excel academically other than in French for which he won a prize. The headmaster, the Reverend Taylor would later remember Philip’s strong personality and leadership skills.

The months between December 1930 and August 1931 saw the marriage of all of Philip’s sisters to members of the German aristocracy. The Prince’s time at Cheam also saw him draw closer to his maternal grandmother, Victoria, the Dowager Marchioness of Milford Haven (born a Princess of Hesse and by Rhine and the eldest sister of the late Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna of Russia) and various other Mountbatten relatives in England, particularly his maternal uncle, George, the 2nd Marquess of Milford Haven and his Romanov wife Nadejda (‘Nada’), the younger daughter of Grand Duke Michael Mikhailovich of Russia. Conveniently, they lived at Lynden Manor on the upper reaches of the Thames. It was the Marquess who paid Philip’s school fees during this period and some have referred to George as a ‘surrogate father’ to the young Prince, while the couples’ son David-who also attended Cheam-assumed a sort of quasi-brother role in his Greek kinsman’s life. This affinity to his British-based relations coincided with a deterioration in the mental health of Philip’s mother Princess Alice, who had entered a clinic in Tegel, Germany in February 1930, for a period of rest and psychoanalysis. She was subsequently diagnosed with schizophrenia and was moved to a psychiatric sanatorium in Kreuzlingen. Until her recovery in 1937, Philip would only see his mother intermittently. His father Andrew too was not much on the scene, spending much of his time on the French Riviera, where he had many rich friends and a mistress, Madame Andrée de la Bigne.

In the 1930’s, Prince Philip spent periods at Wolfsgarten, the home of his sister Cecile (now married to Georg Donatus [‘Don’], Hereditary Grand Duke of Hesse) as well as with his sister Theodora (‘Dolla’), who lived at Schloss Salem with her husband Berthold, the Margrave of Baden. Dolla seemed keen to take an interest in her brother’s education during this period and Philip was soon enrolled at the Schloss’ school founded, in 1920, by Prince Max of Baden (Dolla’s father-in-law) and Kurt Hahn, a German Jew who had served as Private Secretary to Prince Max. Hahn was an outspoken critic of Hitler and the anti-Semitic Nazi regime and this led to his arrest in March 1933. Kurt was eventually released (thanks to the intervention of influential British friends including Ramsay MacDonald, the former Prime Minister) and subsequently moved to Scotland where he founded a new school, Gordonstoun, situated near Hopeman on the Moray coast. After only a couple of terms at Schule Schloss Salem (by which time Hahn had already departed for Britain and Berthold had assumed the role of headmaster) Philip-who was also far from respectful of the Third Reich’s foibles (he detested the ‘heel clicking’ style and thought the Nazi salute quite ridiculous as it reminded him of having to put up his hand in class at Cheam to ask to use the lavatory)-relocated to Scotland, thanks to the assistance again of George Milford Haven, to commence his studies at Gordonstoun.

Gordonstoun was an ideal school for this energetic boy with no surname, who was usually known simply as ‘Philip’, or occasionally more formally as ‘Philip of Greece’. As at Salem, the day started with cold showers and a brisk run. Meditation was also encouraged. Sailing was on the curriculum, as was amateur dramatics (a production of Shakespeare’s Hamlet is frequently mentioned by past biographers). The Prince also played cricket and hockey (eventually captaining both teams). Philip seemed keen to fit in and according to one contemporary never ‘swanked about his relatives.’ Like other pupils he undertook work to help out the local community. Kurt Hahn recalled that, ‘He was often naughty, never nasty.’ During the long summer holidays, he would continue to spend time in Germany with his sisters and their families. Wolfsgarten remained a particular favourite and Philip’s father, Prince Andrew, was sometimes present too and this made for brief, but welcome, reunions.

In November 1935 the Greek monarchy was restored following a plebiscite and, on 22 November of the following year, Philip paid a visit to Athens to join other members of the Greek royal family for the reburial, at Tatoi, of the three senior members of the Hellenic royal house who had died in exile, namely King Constantine I, Queen Olga and Queen Sophie. Their bodies had earlier been exhumed from the vaults of the Russian Orthodox Church in Florence. All of the extended royal family stayed at the Grande Bretagne Hotel which seems to have been commandeered for the occasion. This provided the young Prince with ample opportunities to discuss the history of the family with his aunts, uncles and cousins. He would also return, in January 1938, for the wedding of his cousin Crown Prince Paul (‘Palo’) to Princess Frederika of Hanover.

However, there was one disaster during this early period of the Prince’s life which was to have lasting consequences: On 16 November 1937, a Belgian Sabena aeroplane carrying his sister Cecile (pregnant with her fourth child), her husband Don, their sons Ludwig and Alexander and Cecile’s mother-in-law, Eleanore, hit a chimney in thick fog as it approached Ostend’s Steene Aerodrome. All of the passengers (who had been en route to London to attend the nuptials of Don’s younger brother, Ludwig [‘Lu’] to Margaret ‘Peg’ Geddes) were killed. Philip was informed of the tragedy by Kurt Hahn and, although in deep shock, he travelled south from Gordonstoun to rendezvous with his father in London and travel on to the funeral, which was held on 23 November in Darmstadt. Philip’s mother Princess Alice-who was now much improved health wise-was also in attendance.

In April 1938, more tragedy followed when Philip’s mentor, George Milford-Haven, died of bone cancer at the age of only forty-six. Aged sixteen, the Prince was at an impressionable age. Meanwhile, his father’s continued absence in the South of France and his mother’s recent decision to return to Greece to live in a small flat in Athens, left the way open for George’s younger brother, Louis Mountbatten, to exert considerable influence over his nephew, especially when Philip commenced his naval career, in the spring of 1939, as a cadet at the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth. By going to sea, the young Prince thus followed in the footsteps of both his maternal and paternal grandfathers. Philip often spent the weekend at Mountbatten’s London home in Chester Street, where he invariably slept on a camp bed in the sitting room.

Yet Philip’s maternal grandmother, Victoria, also remained an influential presence in his life and he sometimes spent time at her grace-and-favour apartment at Kensington Palace. Indeed, during the summer of 1939, as the storm crowds of war gathered on the horizon, Philip stayed there for a month along with his mother, Princess Alice. The duo then travelled via Paris to Italy from where they sailed to Athens. They arrived in Greece just prior to war being declared between Britain and Germany on 3 September. Philip returned to England, in late September, to resume his nautical training at the instruction of his cousin, King George II of the Hellenes. He then graduated as best all-round cadet of the term at Dartmouth, an accolade which won him the King’s Dirk. Philip would go on to serve in the Royal Navy for the duration of World War II and beyond, until 1951.

However, there was already a far greater prize on the horizon. Just prior to Philip’s summer holiday with his mother, he had enjoyed a reunion with his distant cousin, Princess Elizabeth, and her sister, Princess Margaret Rose, at Dartmouth, during a tour of inspection of the Royal Naval College by their parents, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (later the Queen Mother). Captain Louis Mountbatten was also ‘in attendance’ in his role as the King’s Aide-de-Camp. There happened to be an outbreak of mumps at the College so, rather than attend a morning church service as previously planned, the Princess’ were placed in the care of Philip. The trio played games (both croquet and tennis are frequently cited) together on a lawn, during which the Prince was observed jumping enthusiastically over a tennis net. Later, as the Royal Yacht Victoria and Albert sailed out of the Dart Estuary, a plucky Prince Philip jumped into a small boat and determinedly continued to follow the yacht long after his fellow cadets had given up the effort. Thirteen-year-old Elizabeth (or ‘Lilibet’ to her family) was captivated by her older kinsman’s exploits that day and somehow this Greek princeling found a niche in her young heart which would only grow fonder with the years.

Robert Prentice is the author of the latest biography on a member of the Greek Royal Family, Princess Olga of Yugoslavia Her Life and Times. Available, at time of posting from the bookdepository.com with FREE Worldwide Postage. Click on link below:

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

A Greek Princess in New York.

As the swinging 1960’s dawned, Greek-born Princess Olga of Yugoslavia decided to make her first journey “across the pond” from Europe to “the Big Apple”. The occasion was to attend the birth, in September 1961, of the firstborn child of Olga’s much-loved daughter Elizabeth and the latter’s American husband, Howard Oxenberg.

Following an eight-hour air journey in first class, the Princess arrived in New York, on the evening of 20 September, in a gale and sweeping rain. She was met by Elizabeth, Howard and the Greek Consul and whisked to Elizabeth’s Manhattan apartment at 983 Park Avenue. Olga would actually stay with a friend of her daughter, Countess Atalanta Arlen, at the latter’s ‘luxurious Louis XVI double flat’, where she was given the use of the owner’s bedroom and boudoir. However, the Princess did not have long to wait for the arrival of her grandchild: On the afternoon of 21 September Olga and Howard accompanied Elizabeth to Doctors Hospital where, in the early hours of 22 September, she gave birth to a daughter. Soon, father and royal grandmother were gazing contentedly at the new arrival through the glass screen of the hospital’s baby nursery. A somewhat exhausted Olga then returned to her luxury lodgings and slept until late. However, at noon she returned for another hospital visit, followed by a walk through Central Park. This, the Princess noted somewhat disapprovingly, was ‘full of squirrels and dirty, screaming children!’ Later, during the evening visiting hour, she looked on disdainfully as ‘crowds had gathered at the glass window at 8[pm] to see their babies, like a zoo!’

As Olga had still not had a chance to see much of the city, some friends took her up to the 82nd floor of the Empire State Building to admire the ‘staggering view’. Howard then drove his mother-in-law through Manhattan’s main streets to give her a flavour of Manhattan. The duo then dined together at the Hemisphere Club restaurant on the 48th floor of the Time-Life building. Being alone, they had ‘a long talk’ and the Princess noted enthusiastically that Howard ‘has nice, honest opinions and ideas…’ There was also the opportunity for Olga to pay a visit to the United Nations and listen to President Kennedy give a speech on nuclear proliferation and the current situation in Berlin (where a wall had just been built to prevent East Berliners disaffected with the communist regime from escaping to the Allied zones). The Princess, descended as she was from the Romanovs, kept a beady eye on the Soviet delegation’s reaction to the President’s discourse and observed reprovingly that they didn’t clap. Her appetite whetted, Olga returned the next day to take in a session of the Security Council and later dined with the United States chief representative to the United Nations, Adlai Stevenson.

However, the Princess’ thoughts soon returned to the practicalities of everyday life and she rushed to Bloomingdales to buy her new granddaughter (whom she learned was to be named Catherine) a Moses basket. She then hired a Cadillac and chauffeur and journeyed out to Glen Cove, Long Island to visit her cousin Xenia (‘Thomas’) in her cottage there. Xenia was the younger daughter of Olga’s late Aunt, Princess Maria of Greece and Denmark by her first marriage to Grand Duke George Mikhailovich.

On 1 October Elizabeth and Catherine came home to Park Avenue. Olga helped sort through the baby clothes and assisted Howard with making-up a bed for the nurse in the dining room. The Princess then enjoyed a trip to Broadway to see the musical “Camelot” and even managed, next evening, to embrace Noel Coward at the opening night of his musical “Sail Away”. Thereafter, events took a downward turn when Olga spent several days in bed and complained of feeling washed out. When her concerned hostess called in the doctor, he confirmed that the Princess had a particularly virulent case of flu. Fortunately, by mid-month she had recovered sufficiently to be taken on a long drive via the Bronx to New Jersey and back to Manhattan’s East Side via Harlem. It was all such a novel experience.

On 18 October, baby Catherine was christened by a Greek Orthodox priest in the drawing room of Greek shipping magnate Basil Goulandris’ Manhattan apartment. Olga gave her firstborn granddaughter her heart-shaped turquoise and diamond brooch to commemorate the occasion. Then, despite an on-going period of dental treatment, the Princess ventured to the Stork Club to enjoy the United States’ ‘national dishes’ of a hamburger followed by apple pie. Her horizons were further expanded when she attended a Polish Ball, at which the “twist” (which she described as ‘the new crazy sexy dance’) was performed. There was time too for a weekend visit by train to snowy Washington (where Olga stayed at the Ladies Club as the guest of the philanthropists Mr and Mrs Robert Bliss). She made time visit the National Gallery and to meet a childhood friend, Leonid Ouroussoff, who had lived in the States for thirty years. Leonid took her out to Arlington to view the Pentagon and he and the Princess also paid a visit to the Lincoln Memorial and explored the Capitol. On the final day, Olga accompanied Mrs Bliss to Dumbarton Oaks, the Bliss family’s former home in Georgetown, which had recently been donated (together with the Bliss’ Byzantine art collection) to Harvard University. After attending a ‘huge’ lunch in her honour, a tired but happy Princess boarded the train for her return journey to New York.

As her New York visit drew to a close, Olga made a visit to the Saint Sava Serbian Cathedral on West 26 Street and quizzed the priest on work being done to assist Yugoslav refugees in the United States. At a ladies’ luncheon hosted by Elizabeth she met the actress Merle Oberon; while Joan Fontaine was also introduced to her at a farewell dinner given by Adlai Stevenson. The Princess summed up her trip by noting that she had ‘met with so much affection and kindness.’ Indeed, so much so that she would make a return visit to the Big Apple in October 1965.

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


La Vie Parisienne de la Princesse Olga de Yougoslavie.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yugoslav Royals wartime move to Africa.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prince Paul Of Yugoslavia meets Hitler.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sister in the Shadows.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

King George of the Hellenes Wartime Escape…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marie-José-The May Queen

On 9 May 1945, a tall, aristocratic lady spent the day helping the homeless in Cassino. However, when a helper referred to her as ‘Your Majesty’, the individual suddenly realised that she had become Queen of Italy. The lady in question was Marie-José, the daughter of the late King Albert I of the Belgians and his wife Elisabeth. Yet, how had this situation come to pass?

In January 1930, following a long romance, the Princess had married the then heir to the Italian throne, Umberto, the Prince of Piedmont, in the historic Paolina Chapel of Rome’s Quirinal Palace. Initially, Marie-José and Umberto lived in the Royal Palace in Turin. However, unlike her more deferential husband (who always referred to his father, King Victor Emanuele, as ‘Majesty’) the Belgian Princess was much more of a free spirit. She preferred organising musical evenings and working with the Red Cross to observing strict court etiquette. From the outset, Marie-José was also passionate about studying the history of the House of Savoy, into which she had married.

However, a move to Naples, in November 1931 (where Umberto had been appointed Commandant of the 25th Infantry), was to prove fortuitous. The couple could escape the confines of the city’s Royal Palace for relaxing weekends at the Villa Rosebery in the seaside suburb of Posillipo. Marie-José also felt more emancipated among the happy and relaxed Neapolitans: She played tennis thrice-weekly at the Villa Communale and established a Public Refectory to feed the poor of the city. Fulfilled and in love, she later described this era as ‘the best times in our marriage.’ The culmination of her joy was the birth of a beloved daughter, Maria Pia, on 24 September, 1934.

Yet, this was also a difficult period. Marie-José’s father, King Albert, died in a climbing accident during her pregnancy and she was advised not to travel to Belgium for the funeral. Then, in August 1935, her beloved Swedish sister-in-law, Queen Astrid, was killed in a horrific car accident in Switzerland. Always in the background too were the troubling machinations of Mussolini’s right-wing government, or more particularly his invasion of Ethiopia in October 1935. While the Princess had grave reservations over Il Duce’s actions and policies, she coped by trying to be of practical use. Marie-José trained as a nurse and undertook a course in tropical medicine. Her hospital work would soon earn her the title, ‘Sister Marie-José.’ During a tour of Italian troops in Africa in 1936, the Princess was troubled by the poor facilities and low morale of the troops. She was incensed too by Mussolini’s propaganda machine, which described her as the ‘Empress of Ethiopia.’

With the passage of time, Marie-José bemoaned Il Duce’s increasing closeness to Hitler. This would eventually result in a confrontation, when the Princess decided that the proceeds of her Neapolitan fund-raising concerts should be donated to her ‘Princess of Piedmont Work Fund’ rather than the Fascist’s ‘National Work Fund.’ A major beneficiary of her Fund’s largesse was the National Association for Southern Italy which was overseen by the eminent archaeologist and anti-Fascist, Umberto Bianco. The Fascist regime in Rome was furious. Nor were they enamoured with Marie-José’s association with ‘liberals’ such as the Archbishop of Naples, Cardinal Alessio Ascaresi and the philosopher Benedetto Croce, whose home was raided by Fascist troopers.

In February, 1937, the Princess of Piedmont gave birth to a son, Vittorio Emanuele. She was not best pleased to learn that the Fascist Grand Council had the power to deliberate on the suitability of the Heir to reign and confronted Mussolini over the matter. He was unnerved by her direct approach, so different from that of her father-in-law, the King, whom Marie-José felt was complacent in his dealings with the Fascists. ‘A monarch’ Marie-José chided her husband Umberto, ‘should be there for all his people.’ A meeting with Hitler in Naples did little to dissuade her from her ‘democratic’ outlook. Indeed, in September 1938, the Princess met with the First World War hero, Marshal Pietro Badoglio at Racconigi Castle to discuss a plan to remove Mussolini and persuade the ‘discredited’ King Victor Emanuele to abdicate, thus paving the way for an anti-Fascist government. However, the Munich Agreement of 29 September short-circuited this attempt.

When Italy declared war on Great Britain and France, in June 1940, Marie-José informed a lady-in-waiting that the monarchy in Italy was ‘finished.’ She was already reeling from news of the invasion of her homeland by Nazi forces on 10 May. Indeed, the Princess had been ‘tipped-off’ about Germany’s intentions by a sympathetic Pope Pius on 6 May. However, Marie-José’s attempts to alert the Belgian government were thwarted by the Belgian Ambassador in Rome who dismissed the warning as an ‘enemy rumour.’

No matter what her personal feelings were in the matter, the Princess focused on helping those in need. Following the birth of her third child, Maria Gabriella, she spent the summer of 1940, working with the Red Cross on the Western Front and even organised a hospital train to transport the wounded from the Front. In September, Marie-José paid a visit to Brussels for discussions with her brother, King Leopold III, who had decided to see-out the German occupation with his people. He asked his beloved sister to meet with Hitler to request the repatriation of Belgian prisoners-of-war and ask for much-needed food supplies. Once again, the Princess put her individual feelings aside for the sake of her homeland and paid a visit to the Fuhrer at Berchtesgaden on 17 October. He seemed disinterested, although Marie-José pressed on doggedly and spoke to him of the ‘many sufferings inflicted on the Belgian people.’ She also encouraged her brother to enter into a dialogue with Hitler on the various matters.

By the time that Italy had declared war on the United States, in December 1941, the Princess had already reached the conclusion that her adopted homeland could not win the war. She again attempted to reach out to Marshal Badoglio and impress on him the need to remove the Fascists and end the war. Events backed her viewpoint: In late 1942, Italy was suffering from military reversals in Libya and Russia. The Marshal, however, was awaiting a signal from the ‘constitutional’ King and he in turn was seeking a signal from the people!

Undeterred, the Princess carried on with her work in hospitals and among the homeless and dispossessed, the numbers of whom had increased greatly as a result of Allied bombing. Marie-José was moved too by the people’s displays of affection towards her as she visited her refectories in Rome and Naples. By now pregnant with her fourth child, Maria Beatrice, the Princess sometimes took shelter in local houses from the bombing, where she was given coffee and, on one occasion, a bunch of flowers from the garden.

Mussolini, by contrast, appeared distracted and careworn. The swagger had gone as Italy’s defeats mounted. When the Allies invaded Sicily on 10 July 1943, King Victor Emanuele finally decided to act and, on 25 July, when Il Duce came to the Villa Savoia for an audience, he was arrested. Tellingly, Il Duce shouted out, ‘It is the Princess of Piedmont who will be happy.’ Clearly, Mussolini had realised that this ‘democratic’ Princess from Belgium was one of his greatest enemies.

Unfortunately, Marie-José relations with King Victor Emanuele were also far from good: They had not spoken in a long time and he must surely have been made aware of ‘the Belgian’s’ (as he referred to her) recent approaches to the Allies, through Cardinal Montini of the Vatican’s State Department, in an attempt to clarify their position if Italy was to withdraw from the war following a coup. On 6 August, the Princess was summoned by the King and ordered to cease all political activities. She was also told to leave Rome within 24 hours for ‘reasons of security.’

Following Italy’s surrender to the Allies on 8 September, a court official visited Marie-José at the Chateau de Serre in the Aosta Valley and requested that she move to Switzerland. This was probably for her own safety as German forces now swept into Italy and occupied the central and northern areas. The Princess and her four children initially settled at the Hotel Excelsior in Montreux and later moved to the Hotel Montana, Oberhofen. Her enemy, Mussolini, had meanwhile been ‘liberated’ by the Germans and set up the ‘puppet’ Salo Republic. The King and other members of the Italian Royal Family remained in Naples, which was occupied by the Allies on 11 October. Italy declared war on Germany on 13 October.

Although Marie-José now wished to join Partisan forces to fight the Nazi forces in northern Italy, she realised that if she was discovered, there could be reprisals for the local population. Instead, the Princess settled for smuggling weapons to the Swiss frontier for use over the border in Italy. This was very risky as she was under constant surveillance by the Swiss authorities and enemy agents too.

On 23 January 1944, the Italian diplomat Gallarati Scotti met with Marie-José at Oberhofen. He discussed a plan to install the Princess as Regent for her son, Vittorio Emanuele, and hopefully bring the monarchy closer to the people. However, the future authority was instead to rest with her husband Umberto, who was appointed Lieutenant-General of the Realm in June 1944, with full regal powers, following the liberation of Rome by the Allies. Indeed, it was not until April 1945 that Marie-José returned to Italy, crossing the Alps on foot from Switzerland, escorted by two mountain guides. Communist resistance fighters then escorted her to the Chateau de Sarre. Touchingly, her subsequent attendance at a Te Deum in nearby Aosta Cathedral was greeted with warm applause from fellow worshippers.

In May, the Princess moved to Turin and opened a Red Cross canteen for the homeless. Finally, she reached Rome on 16 June, for a welcome reunion with Umberto whom she had not seen for two years. In August, the children (who had been staying at Glion) returned home. Umberto had already opened a wing of the Quirinal to house the homeless, so Marie-José sold some jewellery to help provide much-needed funds to open yet another canteen, as well as a workroom for local women to make clothes. Nevertheless, there were many who opposed Umberto, feeling that he had not stood up sufficiently to Mussolini. He decided that a referendum should be held on the future of the monarchy in early June. In the interim, King Victor Emanuele abdicated on May 9 and left for exile in Egypt. Umberto was now King of Italy and Marie-José was his Queen Consort. But for how long?

Interestingly, by the time that the aforementioned helper, in Cassino, had referred to her as ‘Majesty’, Marie-José was already mentally preparing for exile. Her hunch was right, for following the referendum (in which she voted at a local school, submitting a blank ballot paper), she was informed privately that 54% had voted in favour of a republic. The King now instructed his wife to leave immediately for Portugal. But first she telephoned officials from all her charities, emphasising that their work must go on. On 5 June, Marie-José and the children flew from Rome to her beloved Naples and the Villa Rosebery. She queried to anyone who would listen, ‘Why can I not stay here as an ordinary citizen?’ However, next morning, she and her family boarded the vessel ‘Dukes of Abruzzes’, bound for Lisbon. As she watched the coast of Italy disappear into the distance, the now ex-Queen reflected, ‘For the first time I am free of all the falseness and hypocrisy which has surrounded me.’ Suddenly, her ‘reign’ of less than one month was over. She now became known for posterity as La Regina di Maggio (The May Queen).

Following confirmation of the referendum results, Umberto subsequently joined his family on an estate at Sintra, the Quinta de Bella Vista. He and Marie-José found life together difficult. She later complained that ‘Umberto was anguished, overcome by an inner suffering he could not share. It started to unnerve me and made me ill-at-ease in my own home.’ The couple’s daughter, Princess Maria Pia, observed that her parents were ‘very different’ characters. Umberto was ‘very serious and conscious of his role’ while her mother, ‘loved to laugh and walk in the street alone. [My father] would never have done this.’

Matters in the marriage came to head when Marie-José was given a transfusion of the wrong blood type during an appendix operation. She immediately fell into a coma and when she regained consciousness, it was found that her eyesight was severely impaired due to retinal haemorrhaging. The Queen moved to Switzerland for a course of treatment under the ophthalmologist Adolphe Franceschetti. However, the damage was found to be permanent and was such that if she looked downwards, she could see nothing. Marie-José now remained forever wary of descending stairs. Sadly, it had proved politically inappropriate for Umberto to follow his wife to Switzerland and Marie-José, taken aback by her husband’s lack of reaction to her situation, assumed that he craved solitude.

In due course, the Queen purchased a small castle, Merlinge, near Gy. Her son Vittorio joined her there, with her other children visiting at regular intervals from Portugal. She now rarely talked about the past but admitted to missing the warmth of Naples. Her days were filled with undertaking research into the House of Savoy, about which she wrote several books. Another interest was music and this led her to establish The Queen Marie-José International Musical Composition Prize. Travel also proved a draw and , accompanied by her mother Queen Elisabeth of the Belgians, Marie-José travelled to India (where she met Nehru) and to China.

By the 1980’s age was catching up with both Marie-José and Umberto. The latter died in March 1983, following a long and painful battle against cancer. He and his wife had always kept in touch and the Queen often visited him in hospital. Marie-José soldiered on, often in pain and making use of a stick: In March 1988, she made her first visit to Italy since 1946, visiting Aosta to attend a historical conference followed by a tour of the Royal Palace in Turin and the State Archives. When asked what she thought of Italian monarchists, she cleverly replied, ‘I am a Queen, but I am not a Monarchist.’

In older age, Marie-José fell in love with Mexico during visits to her daughter Maria Beatrice in Cuernavaca. She subsequently purchased a villa there with a pool, in which she would swim everyday. The Queen entertained a wide array of visitors including her nephew, King Albert II of the Belgians. Although Marie-José’s body might now be failing her, her mind was certainly not. Maria Beatrice would recall her mother’s ‘young spirit’ and ‘modern way of thinking.’

In 1995, in a reflective mood, Marie-José undertook a visit to Belgium. The following year, she decided to return to live in Switzerland, this time with her son, Vittorio Emanuele. The latter organised an outdoor party to celebrate his mother’s 90th birthday on 4 August 1996, a birthday she shared with Britain’s Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, who was six years older. In 1999, Marie-José visited Florence to receive the Freedom of the City and the following year, she received an invitation to attend Queen Elizabeth’s 100th birthday celebrations in London. Sadly, she was too frail to accept.

Her Majesty Queen Marie-José of Italy, Princess of Belgium, died on January 27, 2001 in the Canton of Geneva Hospital, at the grand old age of 94. She had recognised family members until the end. At her funeral at Hautcombe Abbey, on 2 February, her coffin, draped with the flag of Belgium and the arms of her beloved House of Savoy, was carried in by family members and European royalties. Her beloved Alpini choir sang some favourite songs and the Sardinian anthem, ‘Conservat Deu Su Re Sardu’ (sung at her wedding) echoed through the Abbey. It is a measure of the individual that as the years pass, the Queen is still remembered with great affection.

The Queen’s State Visit to Norway June 1955.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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