Prince Philip: The Early Years.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Greek Princess in New York.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


King George of the Hellenes Wartime Escape…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Queen Mother Helen returns.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Queen Mother Helen of Romania.

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

Part 1-Childhood into Womanhood.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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