The Duke and Duchess of Windsor flee the French Riviera…

In the spring of 1940, the Duke of Windsor (King Edward VIII prior to his abdication in December 1936) was attached (with the rank of Major-General) to the British Military Mission to the French Command in Vincennes. He was tasked with making tours of various French Army Sectors to report on the quality of the defences, as well as the morale and bearing of the French troops. Following the completion of his last trip in March, the Duke had returned to the opulent rented house he shared with his wife, Wallis, on Paris’ fashionable Boulevard Suchet, where he remained twiddling his thumbs throughout April into May, as no further work was currently forthcoming. The nearest he came to any action was entertaining the British Ambassador to dinner.

Soon everything was about to change: On 10 May, German forces invaded France and the Low Countries. The Duke went to Mission HQ at Vincennes each day where he was initially kept busy studying troop movements on wall maps and undertaking useful liaison work with the French forces at the front. The Duchess of Windsor, meanwhile, was occupied with work for the French Red Cross and Le Colis de Trianon, a charity which distributed ‘soldiers’ boxes’ and comforts to the troops. Matters reached a head, on 16 May, when German Panzer divisions reached the Oise, having successfully crossed the Ardennes and the Meuse with minimal opposition. Panic ensued in Paris and the British Embassy began evacuating all female members of staff, as well as the wives of British diplomats. The Duke, on his own initiative, rushed home and, parrying aside her objections, instructed his wife to pack as he was relocating her southwards for her own safety. Within hours the duo were en route to Biarritz. Although, the roads were packed with refugees heading South, the royal couple managed to find overnight accommodation at Blois from a sympathetic innkeeper who recognised the Duchess, who had overnighted there previously, at the time of the Abdication crisis.

On 17 May, the Duke and Duchess reached Biarritz. After checking his wife into the opulent Hotel du Palais, the Duke headed back north to resume his duties with the Mission. However, the situation there was growing ever more dangerous and the Duke’s brother, Prince Henry of Gloucester, who was serving as Chief Liaison Officer to General Gort, the Commander-in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Force, was winched out of Boulogne on 19 May and flown back to England. However, as there was no guidance from London regarding his own (increasingly perilous) position and, having been assured by his superior, Major-General Howard-Vyse, that there was ‘nothing for him to do’, Edward decided to take matters into his own hands: He proposed a plan whereby, as he later put it to the British Ambassador, Sir Ronald Campbell, he would return to Biarritz to collect his wife and then ‘settle the Duchess in’ at their holiday home, the Château de la Croë at Antibes. From there, he could easily undertake a tour of inspection of French forces on the border with Italy. The Duke did, of course, obtain permission in advance from Howard-Vyse who thought it ‘a good idea.’ Thus, on 27 May, Edward was formally seconded to the French Armée des Alpes and the couple’s house in Paris’ fashionable Boulevard Suchet was soon closed up for the duration of the war. On the beaches to the north at Dunkirk, London had already set in motion ‘Operation Dynamo’, the plan for evacuating the British Expeditionary Force and other Allied troops who had been completely surrounded by German troops.

At La Croë, which they reached on 29 May, the Duchess packed up the Duke’s family silver (which was to be stored at a château in Aix-en-Provence), while the Duke travelled to Nice to report for duty. Antibes was filled with troops and a strict black out was in force and, when not otherwise occupied, the royal couple camped out nervously, eating off tin plates to await further developments. A nearby neighbour was a Captain George Wood and his wife Rosa. The Captain knew the Duke reasonably well as had been attached to the British Legation in Vienna during Edward’s sojourn at Schloss Enzesfeldt, following his Abdication in 1936. The Duchess’ childhood friend Kitty Rodgers and her husband Hermann were also ensconced along the coast at their Villa Lou Viei at Cannes. Inevitably, word of their presence soon reached press who soon posited that Edward had ‘resigned his military appointment’. This was denied by the Ministry of Information on 8 June.

From the North the news was devastating. By 10 June, the Germans were on the doorstep of Paris and the French government had evacuated to Tours (and subsequently to Bordeaux). But of more relevance to the Duke and Duchess on the French Riviera, this was the day Italy declared war on France and Great Britain. Fortunately, the French forces managed to repel an attack by Mussolini’s troops the following day (this came as no surprise to Edward as, during his recent tour of inspection, he had found the French defences in the Alps to be ‘excellent’). The only physical manifestation of the war at La Croë was when the sirens sounded during an Axis air attack on the airbase at St-Raphael to the west. Nevertheless, the writing was on the wall for both the Duke and the Duchess. They had to find a way to escape or risk capture.

On 16 June, the Duke decided to seek the advice of the British Consul-Generals at Nice and Marseilles and eventually a plan was formed whereby Edward and his wife, along with their neighbours, the George Woods’, would join a consular convoy to the Spanish frontier organised by Major Hugh Dodds, the Consul-General at Nice and the Vice-Consul at Menton, Martin Dean. The Windsor’s Buick, driven by their chauffeur Ladbrook, was filled to bursting, for in addition to themselves, the royal duo were accompanied by the Duchess’ maid and the Duke’s comptroller, Major Gray Philips, as well as three Cairn dogs. A lorry containing the royal luggage followed on behind. The group left La Croë on the Duchess of Windsor’s birthday, 19 June, just three days after Marshal Henri Pétain had assumed the office of Prime Minister and was on the verge of signing an armistice with Germany. The main problem now was that neither the Duke nor Duchess had the relevant visa to enter Spain. There was also the possibility that the Duke-who was careful to travel in civilian clothes- might be arrested by the Spanish authorities on the basis that he was a serving British army officer entering a neutral country. Nevertheless, there was little option but to keep going as Italian planes were bombing Cannes as they passed through and there was word that German forces had already reached Lyon.

After an uncomfortable night spent at a hostelry in Arles, the party set off at dawn for the Spanish frontier, inching their way along congested roads. Throughout the journey the Duke, who was perhaps better known in southern Europe as the iconic Prince of Wales of yesteryear, managed to pass through the many barricades manned by locals en route by announcing, ‘Je suis le Prince de Galles. Laissez-moi passer s’il vous plait.’ On reaching Perpignan, however, no amount of Princely charm seemed to work on the Spanish consul and it was only after the Duke made a telephone call to the Spanish Ambassador to France, José Félix de Lequerica, that the party were allowed to pass through the frontier around 7pm.

An hour later, at the British Embassy in Madrid, the Ambassador, Sir Samuel Hoare, informed the Foreign Office of the Duke and Duchess’ arrival in Spain. The royal couple spent the first night on Spanish soil in a hotel in Barcelona. Next morning-21 June-the Duke called on the British Consul-General in Barcelona and sent the following telegram to London: ‘Having received no instructions have arrived in Spain to avoid capture. Proceeding to Madrid. Edward.’ However, far from being safe in this neutral country, the Duke and Duchess were about to enter a world of subterfuge, plots and intrigues….


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.

Queen Wilhelmina Flees…

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

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

King Haakon’s Courageous Fight.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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