Prince Paul Of Yugoslavia meets Hitler.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Royal Feud: The Duke of Windsor and King George VI in Wartime.

Although buoyed up by the success of his recent tour of Canada and the United States, when King George VI landed at Southampton, in late June, the deteriorating political situation in Europe was a pressing source of concern given Germany’s and Italy’s recent invasions of Czechoslovakia and Albania respectively. Another worry was the situation surrounding the King’s eldest brother, the former King Edward VIII. Following his much-publicised Abdication in December 1936, ‘David’ had been given the title of Duke of Windsor. He subsequently married his paramour, Wallis Simpson, in June 1937, and the couple currently resided, ostracised by the Court at Buckingham Palace, in France.

The King (‘Bertie’) had good reason to be concerned about his brother, as in political matters, the Duke had already shown that he could not be relied upon to display the traditional royal circumspection. In October 1937, David (who spoke good German) and Wallis had paid a controversial visit to Nazi Germany, where they were serenaded by an SS band and met with Hitler at the Berghof in Obersalzberg. Furthermore, as recently as May 1939, while George VI was in the course of crossing the Atlantic, the Duke of Windsor made a radio broadcast at the invitation of the American network, NBC, during which he appealed ‘as a soldier of the last war’ for peace and asked that all statesmen ‘act as good citizens of the world and not only as Frenchmen, Italians, Germans, Americans or Britons.’ Soon letters of appreciation were flooding in, particularly from American listeners. Tellingly, the BBC had decided not to carry the broadcast; while the British press probably more accurately reflected the King’s view that the Duke’s intervention, just prior to such an important royal tour, had been both ill-judged and ill-timed. Indeed, David’s youngest brother, the Duke of Kent went so far as to describe him as ‘a fool’.

In late June, the Duke of Windsor was again back in the headlines, when Buckingham Palace indicated that they were unable to confirm a rumour that the former king and his wife ‘would shortly settle down in England.’ Intriguingly, the Paris correspondent of Reuters added that he had been informed by the Duke ‘that he has no definite plans after the summer‘, which he was spending at the Château de la Croë, his residence at Antibes, in the south of France.

King George VI must have been disturbed by the thought of his predecessor arriving in England at such a precarious time. Nonetheless he carried on with his duties, reviewing a march past of National Service Volunteers in Hyde Park, visiting the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth and entertaining the Prince Regent of Yugoslavia at Buckingham Palace. On reaching Balmoral, in early August, Bertie attended his Duke of York Camp at nearby Abergeldie Castle; this annual event had been established to encourage the integration of boys from different social backgrounds. However, on 9 August, the King broke off his highland holiday to travel south to Weymouth to inspect the Reserve Fleet, before returning to Scotland.

On 23 August, with a German attack on Poland looking increasingly likely, the Duke of Windsor asked the British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain to keep him informed of developments in order that he could make plans for the future. David would have been aware that as early as March, Chamberlain had given an undertaking to Poland that the British government would ‘lend all support in their power’ in the event of any action which threatened Polish independence. Four days later, the Duke telegraphed Hitler from the French Riviera and made a ‘very earnest appeal for your utmost influence towards a peaceful solution of the present problems.’ The King, meanwhile, had returned to London as the crisis worsened and offered to make a similar personal approach to Hitler. However, he received a polite rebuff from Chamberlain. Bertie later dined at Buckingham Palace with his brothers the Duke of Gloucester and the Duke of Kent. It seems highly likely that the matter of the Duke of Windsor was discussed in light of the earlier press reports of his possible return to England; the King had doubtless also been informed of his brother’s recent approach to Chamberlain. He probably had knowledge too of David’s view (expressed to his friend and legal adviser Walter Monckton during the Munich crisis of the previous year) that since the British government were responsible for him and the Duchess having to live in exile, they must therefore accept responsibility for getting them and their possessions out of France if the need arose.

On 1 September German troops invaded Poland. At 9AM on 3 September, the British Ambassador in Berlin, Sir Nevile Henderson, handed a note to the German Foreign Minister, Ribbentrop. In this, the Foreign Secretary, Lord Halifax indicated that if hostilities against Poland did not stop by 11AM, a state of war would exist between Great Britain and Germany. Germany did not respond and at 11:15 Neville Chamberlain went on the radio to announce to the British people that they were at war with Germany. In the evening, the King broadcast to the nation and asked that everyone stand ‘calm and firm and united.’

In Antibes, the Duke of Windsor had received news of Britain’s declaration war in a personal phone call from the British Ambassador in France, Sir Ronald Hugh Campbell. David then telephoned Walter Monckton and instructed him to convey to the King his desire to serve in any capacity His Majesty deemed suitable. George VI responded by offering to send a plane to the South of France to bring his brother and sister-in-law to Britain. However, when Monckton telephoned the Duke with this news, rather than being grateful, he seemed more intent on establishing exactly where he and the Duchess were to be accommodated. When informed that his equerry Edward Dudley ‘Fruity’ Metcalfe might arrange for the couple to stay with him at his home in Sussex, the Duke became difficult and insisted that he would not return to England unless he and his wife were invited to stay at one of the royal residences as a guest of the King. Unsurprisingly, this latest “request” fell on stony ground and the plans to send a plane were put on hold.

However, despite this impasse, Walter Monckton flew out on 7 September to discuss the various posts that were to be offered to the ex-king when he eventually decided to return home. These included a civil defence post as Deputy to the Regional Commissioner in Wales and a job as a liaison officer in the British Number 1 Military Mission attached to the French General Headquarters in Paris. It was also made clear that there was no question of the couple staying at a royal residence; nor should the Duchess expect to be received by Their Majesties. In the meantime, another problem emerged: The Duchess had a fear of flying and asked if it might be possible to provide transport by sea to England. One can imagine the sighs in London as the harassed powers-that-be struggled to arrange this. In the interim, the Duke and Duchess departed Antibes and headed northwards via Vichy to await further instructions. The Duke of Windsor’s old friend and champion, Winston Churchill soon came to the rescue: He had recently been appointed First Lord of the Admiralty and arranged for Captain Louis Mountbatten, a cousin and former naval Aide-de-Camp to Edward VIII, to travel to Cherbourg aboard his ship HMS Kelly and transport the Duke and Duchess to Portsmouth.

Following a six-hour crossing, the ducal party landed in England late on the evening of 12 September. The difference in David’s status was immediately apparent to him. As a Prince of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the Duke was only entitled to the first six bars of the National Anthem from the Royal Marines band (rather than the full version he had become accustomed to as Sovereign). Furthermore, there was no member or representative of the royal family to greet him and his wife. After an overnight spent at Admiralty House (a kind gesture arranged at the last-minute through the intervention of Churchill), the Duke and Duchess were ferried in the Metcalfe’s car to their country residence, South Hartfield House. From there, the Duke and Duchess would make regular visits by car to London, using the Metcalfe’s town house in Wilton Street as a daytime base.

On 14 September, the Duke of Windsor had an afternoon meeting with the King at Buckingham Palace, their first meeting in three years. George VI would later recall in his diary that ‘we talked for an hour. There were no recriminations on either side…’; yet to his youngest brother George, the Duke of Kent, he confided that David’s demeanour ‘was his usual swaggering one, laying down the law about everything.’ The Duke thought it ‘cordial enough’ and indicated his preference for the civil defence post in Wales, which was unsurprising given that he had a deep affection for the Principality which he had visited on numerous occasions during his years as Prince of Wales. The King replied vaguely that there was no hurry about making a decision.

Next day, the Duke had meetings with Churchill at the Admiralty, followed by an uneasy encounter with the Prime Minister at 10 Downing Street. The reason for this would soon become apparent: During a subsequent meeting at the War Office with the Secretary of State for War, Leslie Hore-Belisha, David was informed that the King had now withdrawn the offer of the post in Wales for which he had expressed a preference. Bertie felt that his older brother would be ‘most suitably employed’ in France. The Duke would now return there as a member of the Military Mission with the temporary (lower) rank of Major-General. As a “sweetener” the Prime Minister was ‘making enquiries’ as to whether the former king and his wife could first make fortnight’s tour of the English Commands before returning to the Continent.

However, on 16 September, Hore-Belisha had two audiences with the King. He observed that George VI was ‘in a distressed state’ and took the view that if the Duchess of Windsor visited the Commands she might receive a hostile reception, particularly in Scotland. Nor did he want the Duke to visit the Commands in England. During the second audience, the King remarked that while all his predecessors had succeeded to the throne after their predecessors had died, ‘Mine is not only alive, but very much so.’ He concluded that it better for the Duke to return to France as soon as possible. Within the hour, Hore-Belisha met up with his former king at the War Office. He handled the delicate situation with great tact by explaining that if the Duke was to tour the Commands, it might attract undue attention and be a threat to security. By contrast, if David showed readiness to take up his new appointment at once, it would create an excellent impression with the public-at-large. Hore-Belisha also pointed out that the Head of the British Military Mission, Major-General Richard Howard-Vyse was awaiting his new royal liaison officer’s arrival in Paris as a matter of urgency. Tellingly, as he departed the War Office, the Duke was cheered by onlookers. He also received many letters of encouragement from his former subjects. Word of this would have reached the Palace and would hardly have endeared David to the King.

In the event, owing to red tape, the Duke and Duchess did not return to France until 29 September. The couple made use of the time to drive out to their former love nest, Fort Belvedere at Sunningdale. It proved to be a sad visit as the gardens were overgrown and the house was shuttered up and decaying.

On 30 September Major-General HRH the Duke of Windsor reported for duty at his HQ at Nogent-sur-Marne, east of Paris. He quickly settled in and was popular with his fellow officers. In the first instance David was dispatched, with the approval of the French Commander-in-Chief, General Maurice Gamelin (who was delighted to have an ex-king and former combatant of the Great War of 1914-1918 in his midst) on a tour French fortifications along the Belgian border with France. However, unknown to the French High Command, the Duke’s expedition had a serious purpose. He had been asked to write a report on how secure the French defences were in this low-lying area as this would be of relevance to the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) who were responsible for the defence of Lille and the surrounding locality but who, in the words of one British officer, ‘knew so little of the doings of the French army’. After a brief visit to the British GHQ at Arras , where he took tea with his younger brother Harry, the Duke of Gloucester (currently serving as ‘Chief Liaison Officer’ to the Commander-in-Chief of the BEF, Major-General Lord Gort), David set out on four day, 50-mile tour of inspection. His report, dated 10 October, was damning: French tank defences were inadequate, while the main fortified positions were not camouflaged and lacked any anti-aircraft cover. Furthermore, not only was their a shortage of French military personnel but many of those the Duke encountered seemed to lack proper training. Major-General Howard-Wyse was impressed by the ‘valuable’ report and forwarded a copy to Gort. The Duke took the trouble to send a copy, with a personal letter enclosed, to General Edmund Ironside, the Chief of the Imperial General Staff in London. Sadly, the report seems to have been left to gather dust.

As the Duke was not due set out on his next tour of inspection (along the Vosges section of the Maginot Line) until 26 October, it was decided to send him on a visit to the BEF. The ex-king was ‘full of go and interest’ according to one British General and his spirits had undoubtedly been lifted by the warm welcome he received from the troops. However, an unfortunate incident occurred when a guard at headquarters presented arms and the Duke, without thinking, returned the salute, as he had been accustomed to doing in the past, both as Prince of Wales and as King. Unfortunately, the salute was intended for the senior officer present, the BEF’s commanding officer, Lord Gort. It also so happened that the Duke of Gloucester was part of the official group. Technically speaking, he also outranked his eldest brother, both militarily and in terms of royal precedence. An aggrieved Harry Gloucester later informed the King of his ‘horror’ at David’s behaviour. The Duke of Kent only added to George VI’s disquiet when he asked if the rumours were ‘true’ that David had ‘seemed to get all of the attention’ when he and Harry had reviewed the troops together. The King in turn was furious and felt that the Duke of Windsor had ‘made everything extremely difficult for all concerned during his recent visit to the Front.’ It appears that secret instructions were subsequently sent from London to say that the British Sector was to be off-limits to the ex-king. Furthermore, David also received a formal reprimand from his superiors over his actions.

Nevertheless, the Duke was allowed to continue with his tour of the Maginot Line, probably because no other member of Howard Wyse’s staff would have been permitted similar access by the French. He covered this stretch in three days (26-28 October) with visits to Fort Hochwald (where the French greeted him with the firing of some shells into no-man’s land and the British National Anthem) and army headquarters at Ingwiller. However, when David-keen to compare defence methods used by the BEF with those of the French forces-learned from an embarrassed Howard-Wyse that his contact with British troops was now being deliberately restricted to occasional visits to GHQ, he became most annoyed. The Duke wrote to Churchill in mid-November, indicating that this blow was ‘merely fresh evidence of my brother’s continued efforts to humiliate me in his and his courtier’s power.’ He was now determined to travel to London and have it out with the King. Monckton, who continued to act as an intermediary between David and Bertie, indicated that he doubted the King ‘would be willing to discuss the matter yet.’ Walter also pointed out to the Duke that should he be involved in ‘an open quarrel’ with the King, ‘people would in the vast majority support him because there is a war on and because he is who he is.’ Matters then seemed to settle down and, at the end of November, David was informed by Howard-Vyse that London had indicated, ‘there was no objection’ to him visiting British military units ‘for a definite purpose, and with prior approval.’ The Duke informed Monckton ‘I have won my point…’ Nevertheless, the altercation left the ex-king disillusioned, and as I will explain in a later instalment, highly unpredictable and increasingly difficult to handle. It also left relations with his brother, the King, in a fraught state, for when George VI paid a visit to the BEF in northern France in early December, there was no contact between the brothers.