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.

Crown Princess Märtha-Norway’s Wartime Weapon .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robert Prentice has a keen interest in the fate of the various royal families during World War 2. He is the author of the recently-published Princess Olga of Yugoslavia Her Life and Times which is available to buy through Amazon and other on-line and local bookshops.

King Gustav V of Sweden: Nazi Sympathiser?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

King of Norway’s Triumphal Return to Oslo: June 1945

On 7 June 1945, King Haakon made a triumphal return by sea to Oslo, following the capitulation of Nazi forces on 8 May. The date was highly symbolic for several reasons: Exactly forty years before, to the day, the union between Norway and Sweden was formally dissolved. Secondly, this was the fifth anniversary of the day, on 7 June 1940, when the King and his son and heir, Olav, had been forced to flee Norway after a harrowing, three-month game of cat and mouse with the German forces who had occupied this Nordic Kingdom on 9 April.

Accompanying Haakon on this sea voyage, leaving from Rosyth in Scotland, aboard the British cruiser and flagship, HMS Norfolk, under the command of Vice-Admiral Rhoderick McGrigor, was his Swedish daughter-in-law Crown Princess Märtha and her three children Ragnhild, Astrid and Harald, who had just flown in from the United States after nearly five years in exile. Some sources have indicated that the Norwegian Sovereign had actually wanted to return aboard the same ship which had taken him into exile, from Tromso, on 7 June 1940, HMS Devonshire. However, on this occasion, the Devonshire’s role was limited to that of a ‘Royal Escort’ ship. Nevertheless, the King had received a wonderful send-off from the naval top brass at Admiralty House, North Queensferry, on 5 June, and was grateful to the British for permitting him to see out his exile in the land of his late wife and son’s birth, a fact he had already acknowledged in a radio broadcast to his people from London on 17 May. Haakon also spoke movingly of his Norwegian subjects’ steadfastness and thanked his armed forces for their loyalty and tenacity.

As HMS Norfolk entered the Oslofjord, with HMS Devonshire following on to the rear, local Norwegians took to the waters in all manner of flag-bedecked sailing craft, from fishing boats to tugs, to welcome their beloved Sovereign home. They had been partying ever since German forces surrendered a month earlier, but this was undoubtedly the highlight of these celebrations. Crown Prince Olav, who had returned to Norway on 13 May, was amongst them. He came aboard HMS Norfolk at Moss and must have been somewhat startled at the sight of his three children dressed in oversize duffle coats against the breeze. These outfits were quickly swapped for ‘Sunday Best’ clothing for the welcome home festivities in Oslo.

Once the Norfolk had reached its destination, the sun broke through the clouds and the King and his family disembarked and were transported by launch to the quayside near to Akerhus Fortress (Honnørbryggen) where, after shaking hands with the official welcoming party, the King straightened his back and strode purposefully down the red carpet to a waiting pavilion decked out flags bearing the royal insignia. The Oslo City Hall provided a fitting backdrop. The Crown Prince and Crown Princess and their children followed on close behind. All of the royal ladies were then presented with large bouquets of flowers. Hundreds of thousands of the King’s loyal subjects lined the quaysides and surrounding thoroughfares. Princess Astrid, who was then aged thirteen, told the broadcaster NRK that she had been overwhelmed by the strength of the welcome for which she was ‘totally unprepared’ following five years spent, in relative anonymity, as a schoolgirl in Bethesda, Maryland.

After greeting the members of the Honour Guard, formed at the King’s express wish from the 99th Norwegian-American ‘Viking’ Battalion of the US Army, and standing to attention for the Norwegian National Anthem, the King and Crown Princess entered the royal limousine bearing the famous A1 registration plate and which had survived the occupation intact. For security reasons, a soldier with a rifle sat in the front passenger seat. The other members of the royal entourage settled into other official cars behind to form a convoy, accompanied by army jeeps and military outriders, which swept up the city’s crowd-packed main boulevard, Karl Johan Gate, to the Royal Palace that sat atop a hill at one end. In the city, a special stand had been erected for frail and elderly spectators. All around, buildings were decorated with banners bearing either the colours of Norway or with the King’s own distinctive cipher. On one street, a large sign the breadth of the road read ‘Velkommen Hjem.’ Aftenposten, a respected Norwegian newspaper, headlined it as ‘The biggest and most beautiful day in the history of free Norway’.

King Haakon, Crown Prince Olav, Crown Princess Märtha and the three royal children later all appeared together on the balcony of the Royal Palace which was bedecked with a large flag of Norway. Already flying from the palace flag post was the very same Royal Standard which had hidden from the Germans on the King’s instruction when he left the Palace early on the morning of 9 April, 1940. Meanwhile down in the port, a dance was held on the upper deck of HMS Devonshire. The day concluded with an impressive firework display.

Within a few days, the King was busy undertaking his official duties including the chairing of his first State Council meeting on 12 June (his first in Norway since 5 April 1940).In late summer, by which time many of the German prisoners-of-war had been repatriated, the King embarked on a tour of the country to see for himself the destruction wrought by the war, as well as the ongoing efforts to rebuild.

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

Queen Geraldine of Albania Settles in England.

Following a difficult sea journey from the West Coast of France, the Albanian royal party landed in Plymouth, in England, on 26 June 1940. In the early hours of 27 June, Queen Geraldine joined the rest of the Albanian royal retinue on a train up to London, where rooms had already been secured (at an excellent discount) on the top floor of the Ritz in Piccadilly. However, the management also granted the Queen a rare privilege: She was given the key to a Ladies Cloakroom in the basement and often took refuge there with her infant son and his nurse during the evening bombing raids of the September Blitz. Her husband, King Zog preferred to work late into the night in his sitting room upstairs, usually in the company of his sisters. On at least two occasions, Geraldine and Zog narrowly escaped death or serious injury when their hotel suite was damaged by the impact of bombs falling nearby. The Queen now wanted to be of some use and proposed undertaking a first aid course organised by the Red Cross. Unfortunately, the King would not give his approval. Being a devout Roman Catholic, Her Majesty insisted on attending Sunday Mass at the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Farm Street, Mayfair.

As the air raids worsened, the Queen persuaded her husband to leave London. The entourage moved temporarily to the Berystede Hotel at Sunninghill in Berkshire until Geraldine managed to secure the lease on a large house nearby, Forest Ridge. The King’s six sisters were accommodated at a neighbouring property, Lowood, while other officials lived in the Sunninghill School House. The Queen was now at liberty to go to the local cinemas with her husband or enjoy long walks in nearby woods with Leka and his newly acquired Cocker Spaniel, ‘Woozy’. She also took tea with Queen Victoria’s granddaughters, the Princesses Helena Victoria and Marie Louise, who had also relocated from London to Englemere House in Ascot. However, Geraldine was constantly anxious for the safety of her family, who were now scattered between the South of France and Hungary and of whom she had heard little.

In November, there were several daytime air raids over Sunninghill and Ascot; a school was destroyed and the local church damaged. The Queen also found that ‘although life was pleasant [at Sunninghill], we were very cramped for space.’ Eventually, Geraldine learned that a much larger property, Parmoor House, at Frieth, near Henley-on-Thames, was for lease following the death of the owner, so she ‘raced there immediately’ and signed a long-lease. The house required extensive modernisation: electricity was installed, along with a new kitchen and extra bathrooms. Fortunately, the King’s sister, Princess Adile, was a competent cook and also attended to the grocery shopping. Geraldine, meanwhile, kept chickens for their eggs.

During this period (1941-46) at Parmoor House, the King and Queen received many official visitors including retired British diplomats who had served in Tirana (one of whom, Sir Andrew Ryan, acted as liaison officer between the King and the Foreign Office) and leaders of various governments-in-exile, such as de Gaulle of France. The highlight of the ‘social season’ at Parmoor was a reception for ‘Loyal Albanians’ held on 28 November each year to celebrate Albania’s National Day. Furthermore, at Christmas, members of the local Home Guard would call-by to sing carols to the King, Queen and their entourage.

In due course, Prince Leka received tutoring at home from Xheladin Nushi, who had been a school teacher in Albania. This was supplemented by lessons from Geoffrey Slater, the headmaster of Lane End School. Mr Slater’s wife, Florence, taught English to King Zog. Queen Geraldine also ensured that the German-speaking Swiss staff (a governess and two nurses who attended to Zog’s ailing sister, Princess Ruhije) spoke only in French in public out of tact.

The Queen often ventured to Marlow (accompanied by two burly bodyguards) to shop and to have her hair coiffed at ‘Maison George’. She might also take tea with a local worthy such as General Percy’s niece, Anne Ritchie. Geraldine regularly attended St Peter’s Roman Catholic Church in the town. Occasionally, Her Majesty undertook an official engagement: In May 1945, she travelled to Northamptonshire to open a fete at Gosgrove to raise funds for a new village hall.

Perhaps the Queen’s closest friend in England was Lady Darnley (née Rosemary Potter) whose mother-in-law lived nearby at Bellehatch Park. Geraldine would also visit Rosemary at her Kent home, Cobham Hall and would stand as Godmother to her friend’s daughter, Melissa Geraldine. Lord Darnley kindly arranged for the Albanian royals to have a holiday at Portmeirion in Wales. This was followed by a ‘bucket and spade’ type holiday at Brighton.

However, by the time the British government recognised the communist regime of Enver Hoxha as the provisional government of Albania, in November 1945, King Zog had decided to move to Egypt, at the invitation of King Farouk. Albania was declared a republic on 11 January 1946, so officially the Albanian monarchy had ceased to exist. For Geraldine, however, her lasting memories of Parmoor House and Frieth were ‘of happy days….It was an honour to live in England…’

Queen of Albania’s Wartime Escape from France.

After an attack on their rented home at Pontoise, Queen Geraldine and her husband, King Zog of Albania, decided to relocate to Paris’ Hôtel Plaza Athénée in early June 1940. The Albanian Queen was growing increasingly anxious: Geraldine rarely saw her husband who was always occupied with meetings, while hotel life was not at all to her liking. Furthermore, her fourteen-month-old child, Leka, exasperated at being constantly on the move, screamed loudly when anyone tried to pick him up. But even more disturbing was the sound of gunfire from advancing German troops, who were now literally on the outskirts of Paris. Why, the Queen demanded of her husband, were they still in Paris?

Perhaps to placate his wife, the King had rented a hotel-pension at Royan, near Bordeaux. Yet, still he prevaricated. Indeed, it was only at eight o’clock on the eve of German troops entering Paris, that Zog finally agreed to travel south, by which time the Diplomatic Corps and French Government had long departed for Tours. The Albanian convoy was composed 36 people travelling in six cars with a luggage lorry bringing up the rear. The King and Queen’s car was a large, scarlet Mercedes-Benz, which had been their wedding gift from Hitler.

Conditions on the road to their first stop at Orleans were hazardous. The cars were not permitted to use their headlights and were forced to edge their way in the darkness through a continual stream of refugees coming out of Paris. By the following morning, the Albanian party had only travelled twenty kilometres. However, they were at least thankful that they were still ahead of the Germans who had now entered Paris. Later in the day, the convoy was brought to an abrupt halt when it was discovered that the car carrying little Leka, his nurse and bodyguard (along with the Queen’s jewels and a box of gold Napoleon coins) had disappeared. Fortuitously, the vehicle soon re-joined the convoy: the Hungarian driver, being unsure of the roads, had taken a wrong turning amid the chaos of soldiers retreating from the front.

The outskirts of Orleans were reached in the afternoon to the noise of an air raid overhead. While most people sheltered in the ditches, Queen Geraldine and her son took refuge in a nearby station building. King Zog remained resolutely in his car. The town was by now full of refugees and with no accommodation being available, the entourage moved on, eventually stopping for the night at a shooting lodge. The next few days were equally harrowing, with long delays caused by a shortage of petrol and nights spent together out of doors, huddling together for comfort.

It was fully a week before Royan was reached, a journey which would normally have taken a day. Unfortunately, the military commander of the town had requisitioned the property the King had leased but the local Mayor, taking pity on Queen Geraldine and her child, arranged for the duo to stay in a local hotel, while the others had the use of his summer residence nearby. Eventually, all were reunited in an abandoned convent only a few kilometres away.

The King, meanwhile, travelled into Bordeaux where he eventually made contact with the British Consul, Oliver Harvey, requesting visas and sea transport to England. Zog also backed this up with a telegram to King George VI. However, although the British were courteous, the Albanian King was required to prove that he had the financial wherewithal to support both himself, his family and an entourage of around thirty. Having satisfied the British as to his liquidity, the King and his party boarded the SS Ettrick (which was already full of returning wounded soldiers) at St Jean-de-Luz on the evening of 24 June. The boat was due to set sail for Liverpool next morning. However, just as the Queen was about to embark, some drunken soldiers snatched her personal jewellery case. This was later ‘rescued’ thanks to the efforts of Geraldine’s Hungarian chauffeur.

It was with a sense of relief that the Albanian royal party now sailed to England where, as I will reveal in a later article, they set up home in rural Buckinghamshire.

Queen Geraldine of Albania Escapes Mussolini’s Army…

In May 1940, as she looked out of the window of her recently acquired home, a rented château at Pontoise, north of Paris, Queen Geraldine of the Albanians was decidedly ill-at-ease. Indeed, Her Majesty had barely unpacked her suitcases when news came through that Germans troops had already entered France at Sedan and were pushing towards Paris and the English Channel coast.

The Queen’s apprehension was understandable: In the preceding thirteen months, she had given birth to a much-anticipated son, Leka, on 5 April 1939, and then been forced to flee the Royal Palace in Tirana, twenty-four hours later, in her night dress, to avoid capture by advancing Italian troops. Mussolini’s henchmen had invaded Albania following the refusal by Geraldine’s husband, King Zog, to sign a pact of protection with Italy. After a difficult car journey to the Greek border lying on a mattress with her baby alongside, the exhausted and emaciated Geraldine spent three long weeks in a musty Greek hotel room, in the market town of Florina, trying to recover her strength.

King Zog subsequently escaped Albania and decided that he, his immediate family and a large entourage (which included fearsome gun-toting guards) should spend time in Istanbul. Geraldine loved this city’s friendliness and thought this would be a splendid place to settle. However, when a delegation of French politicians offered the Albanian Royal Family sanctuary in France, King Zog agreed.

The journey to Paris was at times tortuous and involved a long detour through Romania (and a lunchtime encounter with King Carol), Poland and the Baltic countries to summery Sweden, where little Leka was found to be suffering from pneumonia. Following his recovery, the Albanian party sailed to Antwerp and then travelled on by car to the Château de la Maye in Versailles. Surely now, Geraldine thought, she might be able to settle after nearly five months on the move.

However, on 1 September 1939, German troops invaded Poland. Britain and France declared war on Germany two days later. King Zog became concerned that the château might be vulnerable to bombing should there be air-raids on nearby Paris, so he decided to relocate his family and retainers to a hotel at La Baule in Brittany. It was a pleasant interlude for Geraldine with long walks by the sea and romantic meals with her husband in nearby restaurants.

Nevertheless, King Zog soon found that he was too removed from political and military events in Paris. Suddenly, the couple’s ‘honeymoon’ was over and Queen Geraldine was on the move again, back to Versailles and the delights of the Hotel Trianon Palace. There was a further move-this time at the Queen’s insistence-to a house at Le Mesnil-Saint-Denis (which proved too hard to heat) before settling at the royal group’s current location, the Château de Méry at Pontoise.

However, one evening, only a few days after the Queen had been gazing out of the chateau window, the village nearby was bombed and a house used by the King’s bodyguards in the chateau’s grounds also suffered damage. The local Mayor was convinced that the presence of Albanian Royal Family had been the reason for the attack and asked King Zog to leave. It was a bitter blow but as nothing compared to what awaited the family in the weeks ahead following the fall of Paris……

King of the Belgians Freed by US Troops.

When German troops invaded Belgium, on 10 May 1940, King Leopold III of the Belgians decided (in direct opposition to the advice of the Belgian Cabinet who were relocating to London) to remain with his people rather than go into exile. On 28 May, with the military situation now all but hopeless, the King (who was in Bruges) decided to surrender the Belgian army to prevent further bloodshed both among his troops and the general populace. He also released a message, telling his people, ‘I will not leave you in these tragic moments. I shall stay with you to protect you and your families and your fate will be mine.’

On Hitler’s orders, Leopold was taken captive and sent back to Brussels, on 29 May. There, he was met at the entrance hall of his home , the Château de Laeken, by a German officer. As the hour was early, the King then proceeded to his bedroom to rest. Looking out of the window, he spotted two German foot soldiers keeping guard. This military presence quickly made him realise that he was now a prisoner-of-war in his own home.

At first life for the royal family (the widowed King and his three children, Josephine-Charlotte, Baudouin and Albert) was reasonably comfortable, despite the fact that half of the Château was soon commandeered by the German occupying forces. Furthermore, Hitler was keenly aware of the need to keep Leopold under close surveillance and so he appointed an experienced German diplomat, Colonel Werner Kiewitz as ‘gardien en chef’ to the King. Kiewitz was a fluent French speaker and any communications between Hitler and the King (and vice-versa) were channelled through him. He also acted as a ‘gatekeeper’, controlling all access to the King and accompanying him on any trips outside of the palace. When Leopold subsequently made a request to swap his palace for a villa, ‘Les Bouleaux’, at Tervuren, it was promptly turned down. The King did eventually have an audience with Hitler at Berchtesgaden, on 19 November 1940, in an attempt to persuade the Führer to release Belgian POWs, and issue a public statement about Belgium’s future independence. Sadly, the meeting proved unproductive.

However, romance was in the air and, on 11 September 1941, the King remarried in a religious ceremony held in the Royal Chapel at Laeken. His second wife was the British-born Lilian Baels, the daughter of a former Governor of West Flanders. She was given the title of the La Princesse de Réthy. Lilian gave birth to a son Alexandre in July, 1942.

Prior to the Allies landing in Normandy on 6 June 1944, Leopold had made a ‘testament politique’ for he had a premonition that the Germans might seek to relocate him and his family from Belgium. Indeed, there had already been an earlier threat to do this after the King had written to Hitler, in November 1942, remonstrating against Belgians being sent to work in factories in Germany, as forced labour. Leopold had aggravated the situation by also raising the matter twice with the President of the Red Cross in Belgium, Doctor Nolf. Indeed, on 18 February 1943, the Führer sent a special envoy (General Muller) to Brussels by air to inform the Belgian monarch that his approaches to the Red Cross (as well as those to Berlin) had irritated Hitler and instructing Leopold, ‘on pain of deportation’ to not further violate the restrictions imposed on him as a prisoner-of-war. In fact, Hitler was now firmly of the view that if the Allies mounted an invasion on mainland Europe, the King should be moved to Hirschstein Castle near Dresden.

Sure enough, on the evening of 6 June 1944, while Allied troops were beginning their invasion of Normandy, Colonel Kiewitz called on His Majesty and informed him politely that, on the direct orders of the Führer, he was being moved to a new location in Germany. They were to leave at 7am the following day. Despite the King making a last-minute appeal to the German Military Governor, General Alexander Von Falkenhausen, the decision stood. Leopold was permitted to take only one suitcase and was driven away in a German staff car accompanied by Kiewitz and an SS motorcycle escort. The first stop on the journey was made at 4pm at the Château Royal at Ciergnon. It was only at this stage that the King was informed by Kiewitz that his wife and children were also to be deported from Belgium. Fortunately, Leopold was able to make contact with Lilian via a direct telephone line to Laeken. Thereafter, although the King had still not yet been informed of his final destination, he was required to resume his journey, stopping for the night at the Hotel Brasseur, in the city of Luxembourg. Leopold eventually reached Hirschstein Castle, a medieval edifice situated on a promontory on the banks of the River Elbe, on the evening of 9 June.

In the meantime, following upon her telephone converation with her husband, on 7 June, the Princesse de Réthy had attempted to delay her departure by protesting that some of the children were ill. Furthermore, on 8 June, she lodged a formal appeal with the occupying power. This was backed up by a telegram sent directly to Hitler by the German-born Queen Mother, Elisabeth. The King had also written a note to the German authorities from Ciergnon indicating that he wished his wife and children to remain in Belgium. However, all these attempts were in vain. At 3am, on 9 June, a Major Bunting called on the Princess and informed her that her appeal had ‘been rejected’ and that she and her party were due to depart Laeken later that day. Lilian was a formidable woman and she immediately contacted Cardinal Van Roey, the Belgian Primate, as well as senior officials of the judiciary, to intercede on her behalf. Nonetheless, she eventually had no option but to comply with the German order and, at 6.30 that evening, she and her children (driven in a requisitioned royal car) headed a convoy of several cars and two lorries (carrying food and fuel) which was escorted by a group of German army outriders and a detachment of the Gestapo. Included in the Princess’ party was the children’s tutor, Vicomte Gatien du Parc Locmaria and the King’s Private Secretary, Monsieur Willy Weemaes. The Court Physician, Dr. Charles Rahier was a late addition.

Princess Lilian’s convoy followed roughly the same 500-mile route as that of the King, with the first night being spent at the Hotel Brasseur in the city of Luxembourg and that of 10-11 June at the Hotel Elephant in Weimar. It was during her stay at the latter, that Lilian was peremptorily informed that most of those accompanying her were ‘not authorised’ to proceed further. Worse still, she and her son Alexander were to travel separately from the King’s older children. Following some ‘violent protestations’ on the part of the Princess, the latter idea was quickly abandoned. Furthermore, some of the accompanying party-including the tutor and private secretary-were allowed to proceed. The somewhat diminished convoy arrived at the gates of Hirschstein Castle late on the evening of 11 June.

Meanwhile, on 14 June, radio stations in Belgium broadcast the news that the King and his family had been removed from the Château de Laeken, at the personal request of the Führer. The reason given was that the recent ‘Anglo-American’ air attacks over Laeken had rendered this location unsafe. The King’s new residence, listeners were assured, was of a standard ‘in keeping with his rank and position’. This was somewhat stretching the truth, for although the accommodation at Hirschstein was adequate (if somewhat cramped) and the family were able to take daily exercise in the extensive grounds, other conditions there were far from ideal: a new ‘gaoler’ named Colonel Otto Lurker had been appointed. He was terrified that his charges might try to escape, so he deprived them of all contact with the outside world. Soon, letters from friends sent through emissaries in neutral countries, such as Sweden and Switzerland, were intercepted with a vengeance. Furthermore, the property was surrounded by three-metre-high walls topped with barbed wire and patrolled by a team of guard dogs. For good measure, a unit of sixty SS Guards (ultimately overseen by a Gruppenführer Von Alvensleben) kept up a constant (and vigilant) watch over their royal prisoners.

On 1 February 1945, Von Alvensleben informed the King that, owing to the rapid advance of Russian forces, he and his family’s stay at Hirschstein Castle was over. He was relocating them to southern Germany, on his own initiative. However, only Leopold and his family were to be taken there. The other Belgians in the group would be transferred to another location. The King refused to agree to this and immediately telegraphed Von Kaltenbrunner in Brussels. An impasse followed but on 6 March, Colonel Lurker informed His Majesty that he and his family were now being sent to Austria. Leopold, Lilian and the children would travel by car, while other members of the royal party were to take the train.

The 300-mile journey, which commenced at 4am on 7 March, was not without incident. During a snowstorm in Munich, the royalties were forced to take shelter for the night in seedy hotel and on other occasions their progress was interrupted by Allied aircraft patrolling overhead. Indeed, when the royal family reached the outskirts of Salzburg the following day, they were forced to abandon their cars and seek shelter in a tunnel for three hours. Thus, it was late in the evening of 8 March before the little group reached their final location, a villa in Strobl, some 50km south east of Salzburg, on the shores of Lake Wolfgangsee. Conditions there were similar to those at Hirschstein, with the property again being surrounded by a barbed wire fence patrolled by guard dogs. However, the military guard had now risen to seventy. Furthermore, the accommodation was somewhat incommodious and food was scarcer to come by. Indeed, the children seemed to be constantly hungry. For the King, the one high point was the receipt of a letter-the first in nearly eleven months- from his mother, Queen Elisabeth. Nevertheless, Colonel Lurker remained a menacing presence.

On 29 March, American troops advanced into Austria, a fact of which the King remained completely unaware. Similarly, in Belgium, the liberation of which had been completed by 4 February, there was no clue as to the King’s whereabouts, so tight had been Lurker’s control of information. Then, on 7 May, while looking out of a window, Leopold spied an American tank approaching the villa. As the German guards seemed to have suddenly disappeared, he sent out one of his officials to investigate. Soon, two officers of the US Seventh Army, a Colonel Wilson and his colleague Major Howard, entered the hall of the royal residence and were astonished to find the King and his family standing there. According to Leopold’s recollection, when he informed the Americans of the whereabouts of the SS guards, they exclaimed, ‘Come on. Let’s go and shoot them!’ However, the King soon diffused the situation by saying, ‘ No, not in our house.’ He then indicated that the guards should be taken prisoner by the Americans and then brought before their Commanding Officer for questioning, adding , ‘He will decided their fate.’ Leopold’s reward was to receive a final Nazi salute and a cheeky ‘Heil Hitler’ from his former captors, as they were taken away in trucks.

Meanwhile, the King-who was now dizzy with the joy of freedom and determined to return to Brussels as soon as was practicable-requested that General Alexander Patch, who commanded the US Seventh Army, be informed of his whereabouts. This news was duly passed on by Patch to the Belgian authorities. Events then moved on quickly: Leopold’s brother Charles (who had recently been appointed Regent in his brother’s absence) arrived at Strobl on 9 May accompanied by the Belgian Prime Minister, Achille Van Acker, and representatives from other political parties. It gradually became apparent, following various meetings at Strobl and later at Saint Wolfgang (to where the royal party had relocated on 18 May) that Leopold’s return home was going to be much delayed due to various complications including social and political unrest. As the King was no longer regarded as a symbol of unity in Belgium, the question of his abdication also hung ominously in the air.

In October 1945, the King and his family moved to Switzerland and installed themselves in the smart Villa Reposoir at Pregny, a suburb of Geneva. They were to remain there until 22 July 1950 when they returned to Brussels. However, following the King’s homecoming, the situation showed no sign of settling down and support among government ministers was hemorrhaging . Thus, on 31 July, Leopold was forced to delegate his powers to Baudouin, who was now given the title of Prince Royal. On 16 July 1951, King Leopold III formally abdicated and Baudouin ascended the throne. It was a sad ending to a reign, which in the early years with his first wife, the iconic Queen Astrid at Leopold’s side, had shown such promise.