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 with FREE Worldwide Postage. Click on link below:

Princess Olga of Yugoslavia : Robert Prentice : 9781839754425 (

Queen Mary’s Wartime Escapades

As the rumours of war intensified in the first days of September, 1939, Queen Mary was holidaying at the royal family’s Norfolk estate at Sandringham, close to the ancient market town of King’s Lynn. On the morning that war with Germany was declared, 3 September, the Queen was listening to a radio broadcast by the Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, on the vicar’s radio in her stall at the small estate church of St Mary Magdalene. Soon thereafter, the local parishioners were temporarily diverted from their devotions by the drone of the local air raid siren. This was a false alarm, being merely a test of the system. Presumably, the Queen Dowager spent the rest of what remained of that first Sunday of wartime in a state of nervous anticipation.

In the early hours of 4 September, Queen Mary was roused from her sleep by another ‘alarm.’ She and her detective Green and her grandchildren Prince Edward and Princess Alexandra of Kent (the children of Prince George, the Duke of Kent and his wife Marina, who were temporarily under her care) all rushed to the basement, where they sat stoically until the ‘all clear’ was sounded at 3.30 am. Although Mary returned to her bed, she remained wide-awake till morning.

Indeed, by 10am the Queen Dowager and her large entourage of staff had already packed their cases and departed ‘the Big House’, under a pre-arranged plan, for an even grander edifice, Badminton House, in rural Gloucestershire. This was the home of the Duke of Beaufort (‘Master’) and his wife, Mary, who was a niece of Queen Mary. As the Duke had already joined his Regiment, it was Mary Beaufort who was faced with the daunting prospect of greeting her royal aunt and her staff of around fifty, along with seventy pieces of the Queen’s luggage.

Queen Mary-who had lunched en route at the Northamptonshire home of Lord and Lady Spencer at Althorp-quickly selected a first-floor bedroom, with a splendid view over across the park, together with an adjacent sitting room and bathroom. For her private dining room, she made use of the so-called Oak Room, the main feature of which was its dark, heavy Jacobean panelling. Yet, even this generous accommodation was deemed insufficient, so she commandeered a large dining-room to serve as a formal drawing room for receiving important guests. To protect her royal personage, four despatch riders were on constant call to lead the way to safety in case of a sudden attack or a German invasion. They were augmented by 120 men of the local Gloucestershire Regiment who were quartered in the old stables. Of course, Inspector George Gardner, the Queen’s personal police protection officer, was also on hand.

It must be said that the Queen Dowager never wanted to go to the country. She would far preferred to have remained at Marlborough House, but the King persuaded his mother that if she were to remain in London, he would be constantly fretting over her wellbeing. To combat her initial restlessness and feelings of uselessness, ‘Bertie’ ensured that Mary should receive regular news summaries from the Foreign Office. These were sent down by motorbike courier in official red leather dispatch boxes. Another weapon to combat country boredom was Queen Mary’s weekly train visits up to London, during which she sometimes lunched with the King and Queen at Buckingham Palace and visited her favourite shops. Filled with purpose, the Dowager was up with the lark to catch the 8.28 train from nearby Chippenham. The journey took two hours. Her only complaint was that the blackout requirements, on the evening return trip, hampered her ability to read.

Looking out of her bedroom window one day, Queen Mary espied a whole wall of the house covered in ivy ‘of 50 years standing.’ She had always hated the plant with a vengeance, believing that it was destructive to a building’s stone work. Some of the park’s trees were also covered in the dastardly plant. Soon, her Equerry, Sir John Coke, was pressed into joining his mistress for a morning of clearing ivy. This ‘Ivy Squad’ was eventually augmented by the enrolment of Her Majesty’s duty Lady-in-Waiting and Private Secretary, aided by any visiting guests. Given the old Queen’s zeal, it is not surprising that Badminton’s considerable stock of Ivy was quickly exhausted.

Undeterred, by the autumn of 1940, Queen Mary turned her attention, most afternoons, to the clearance of areas of the local woodlands. A ‘Wooding Squad’ was established, mainly composed of the four dispatch riders and their royal charge. As Mary now rarely went to London due to the German bombing campaign or ‘Blitz’ (during which most of Marlborough House’s windows were blown-out, as were many of the interior doors), this diversion proved particularly welcome. The Queen was a thoughtful ‘employer’ and happily passed round cigarettes to her workers during their breaktime from chopping and sawing, always ensuring, of course, to have one herself. Mary also took great pains to find out the birthdays of her ‘wooders’, so that she could give them a small gift.

However, the Dowager Queen’s efforts at undertaking a salvage campaign to collect scrap iron for the war effort proved less successful. Her enthusiasm often led her into ‘salvaging’ the local farmers’ perfectly serviceable field implements which had to be discreetly returned to them at a later date. Yet, her dedication to the task is evidence that her patriotic heart was in the right place. Mary’s patriotism was also apparent in her insistence on obeying the strict rationing rules. Many was the evening that a dinner guest left her table hungry after consuming only half a snipe. By contrast, the Queen loved to fill her rooms with exuberant displays of geraniums and orchids, the latter often sourced (doubtless at great expense) from neighbouring nursery gardens.

Another outlet for Queen Mary’s talents was to undertake a varied array of official engagements in the locality, be it visiting a munitions factory or a hospital or a woollen mill or a group of evacuees from London. Although Her Majesty’s movements were meant to shrouded in secrecy, on a visit to a spitfire production factory at Trowbridge, one of the workers let the secret slip, so a group of children were there to greet her as she alighted from her old green Daimler saloon ‘prim as always’ with her trademark rolled-up umbrella in one hand. Sometimes, on her outings, Mary would come across members of the military plodding along the road and she soon took to offering them lifts. Many were unaware of who this kind and inquisitive old lady was, particularly in the case of foreign combatants.

For relaxation the Queen Dowager often visited antique shops in nearby Bath. She also enjoyed embroidery (or ‘stitchery’ as she sometimes referred to it). Mary would also visit local gardens and if it happened to be raining, she would don a pair of short rubber boots and prod tentatively at the flower beds with her stick or umbrella. Family members often visited, particularly her youngest son, the Duke of Kent, and his sister Mary, the Princess Royal. The Duke’s death in an air accident in northern Scotland, in August, 1942 was a severe shock. However, Mary stoically put her own feelings aside and arranged to motor to Buckinghamshire next day, to comfort his widow, Marina. The only night the Queen Dowager spent away from Badminton during the entire war period, was at Windsor Castle on the eve of the Duke’s funeral on 29 August.

On occasion, Badminton was subjected to air raids due to its proximity to Bristol and Bath. Queen Mary initially ‘descended’ to a reinforced room on the ground floor where, dressed to perfection and sitting bolt upright, she would attempt to solve a crossword puzzle. Eventually, she decided to remain upstairs in bed and take her chances. However, Mary was less sanguine when it came to the bombing of her beloved Marlborough House noting, ‘The dear old House cannot stand much more of this, & I tremble each day for news of it’s having succumbed.’

By early 1945, the old Queen had resumed her journeys up to London. Their primary purpose was so that she could assess the extent of the damage to Marlborough House, with a view to preparing the place for her eventual return. From the outset, it became clear that only her private suite of rooms could be made habitable in time for her return home, as materials to undertake repairs were almost impossible to obtain.

After celebrating VE day (8 May) with a visit to the local pub (where the villagers were celebrating with a sing-song), Queen Mary departed Badminton on 11 June. She insisted on personally bidding farewell to the Heads of each of the nine ‘departments’ of the estate and presented a gift to each. It was an emotional occasion and with tears streaming down her face, the Dowager acknowledged to Mr Perks, the Head Gardener, ‘Oh, I have been happy here! Here I’ve been anybody to everybody, and back in London I shall have to begin being Queen Mary all over again.’ She also admitted to having ‘gained much’ from her time there, which is an understatement given that, prior to moving to Badminton, she had not even known what hay looked like.

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

Queen Geraldine of Albania Escapes Mussolini’s Army…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

King of the Belgians Freed by US Troops.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Queen Wilhelmina Flees…

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

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

King Haakon’s Courageous Fight.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Queen Helen of Romania-Part 3-Trouble upon Trouble.

When Princess Mother Helen of Romania (as she was styled following the accession of her son Michael to the throne in July 1927) learned that her ex-husband Carol had returned to his homeland as a result of a coup d’état engineered by National Peasant Prime Minister Iuliu Maniu, in June 1930, she was prepared for trouble and turmoil. However, Maniu naively believed that the former Crown Prince was returning as a Regent not as a future king. Yet within 36 hours of Carol’s arrival in Bucharest aboard a chartered plane from France on 6 June, he was being proclaimed king, with the full backing of both the Regency Council and the Cabinet. His son Michael was now demoted to Crown Prince.

Carol then turned his attentions on his ex-wife. Intent on isolating Helen (whom the international press now described as Queen of Romania), he surrounded her home with a police guard who were given firm instructions to report on all comings and goings. The King also refused to allow Sitta (as Helen was known en famille) to undertake public duties and prohibited her from having any contact with politicians. Carol even arranged to relieve Helen of her position as Honorary Colonel of the Ninth Hussars. Perhaps the hardest slight to bear was Carol’s insistence that Michael spend most of the day at the Royal Palace under his care and influence. Mother and son were also separated at Christmas when Michael left to spend the holiday with his father at Sinaia. It did not help that Helen had no homeland to escape to for some respite as the Greek royal family-including her brother King George-were living in exile in Italy.

However, many everyday Romanians sympathised with Sitta’s plight and there were some public demonstrations of sympathy. Sadly, these proved counter-productive as they only succeeded in increasing Carol’s feelings of paranoia. Finally, in July 1931, the situation became so intolerable that Helen boarded a train at Bucharest’s main railway station, without her son, and was waved off by her mother-in-law, Dowager Queen Marie who later admitted to finding the experience ‘unbearable.’ At least Sitta had somewhere to travel to: her brother King George had visited Bucharest in March and negotiated an allowance for his sister (later set at £14000 per annum) as well as sufficient funds for the purchase of a handsome Italian house-the Villa Sparta-at Fiesole, just outside Florence. In November, Helen spent a long spell in Frankfurt to help care for her ailing mother, Dowager Queen Sophie, who was seriously ill with cancer. Sophie died on 13 January 1932.

Thereafter, Helen-who enjoyed access rights to her son and still maintained the use of her home on the Chausee Kiseleff-was able to pay several visits to Romania to see Michael (whom she described as ‘the one bright feature’ in her life). However, Carol was intent on denying her this right of access and eventually succeeded-by means of a new separation agreement formulated in November-in banning Helen from returning to her adopted homeland. Thereafter, Sitta and Michael had to be satisfied with spending holidays together in Switzerland or Italy. Following the restoration of the monarchy in Greece in November 1935, Helen purchased a house in Athens and also spent time at Tatoi with her recently divorced brother King George II. He had a measure of understanding of his sister’s plight having previously been married to Carol’s highly-strung sister, Elisabetha. Sitta and her son Michael were very much in evidence too at the wedding of Crown Prince Paul to Princess Frederika of Hanover in Athens in January 1938. Otherwise, Helen would spend time working in her exquisite Fiesole garden or entertain members of her extended family at the Villa Sparta. She was particularly close to her sister Irene who married Prince Aimone, the Duke of Spoleto (and future Duke of Aosta) in 1939.

Meanwhile, in Bucharest, King Carol had grown increasingly autocratic, manipulating politicians of rival parties to his advantage and focusing on the design of new military uniforms and orders of chivalry with which to adorn himself. To add to his ‘personality cult’, the King also set up a paramilitary youth organisation (the Straja Țării). Following the outbreak of war in September 1939, Carol extended his two-faced approach to his dealings with the Axis and Allied powers. This all caused the American historian Stanley Payne to conclude that the King was “the most cynical, corrupt and power-hungry monarch who ever disgraced a throne anywhere in twentieth-century Europe”. However, in June 1940, Carol ‘s public standing was severely dented when Romania was forced to submit to Soviet demands that the provinces of Bessarabia and North Bukovina be ceded to the Soviet Union. Huge tracts of Transylvania were also given to Hungary under the Second Vienna Award. Amid increasing calls for his removal, the King abdicated in early September 1940 and would soon seek refuge, along with his mistress, Elena Lupescu, in Mexico.

Michael was once again King of Romania. Almost immediately, Helen was ‘respectfully’ invited by the new right-wing Prime Minister, Ion Antonescu, to return to Bucharest ‘to complete the training’ of her son in his role as king. Thousands turned out to cheer the Queen Mother of Romania (a new title bestowed on her by Antonescu) on her arrival. In a subsequent government speech of welcome it was stated that through ‘her modesty and good example’ the Royal Court ‘would again become a symbol of respect and affection’. A Te Deum was later held in the Orthodox Cathedral to conclude the celebrations for her return.

But Helen’s happy return was soon blighted by various developments. Antonescu wielded dictatorial powers even greater than those enjoyed by King Carol prior to his abdication. These were enforced by the Fascist Iron Guard. Then, on 23 November, Antonescu forged closer links to Nazi Germany by signing the Tri-Partite Pact. German troops now crossed into Romania purportedly to protect the country’s oil fields from attack. Meanwhile, Romania’s Fascists waged war on supporters of ex-King Carol and others who had earned their displeasure. This culminated with the execution, on 26-27 November, of over sixty former dignitaries or government officials who were awaiting trial in Jilava prison.

Helen was appalled by the this reign of terror but was absolutely powerless. Yet, she was able to signal her displeasure by leaving Bucharest for Italy ‘at her own request’. The international press siezed on this development and reported that the Queen had departed Bucharest because the Romanian Nazis and the Iron Guard were ‘hostile’ towards her. Michael, however, remained in Bucharest.

Antonenscu now ramped up his right-wing credentials by persecuting the Jewish and Slavic minorities in Romania. One of the most horrific episodes of this period was the murder of 13000 Jews in Jassy, between June and July 1941, at the hands of Romanian forces. Over thirty anti-jewish decrees were issued.

Helen had by now returned to Romania where she tried to keep her personal feelings in check for the sake of her son and the monarchy. Although Antonescu was determined to ensure that she and Michael were mere figureheads, the Queen Mother spent time visiting the wounded in hospital and generally doing what she could to raise morale. With Romania committed, under the Pact, to provide troops for the Axis cause, the injuries and losses were great, particularly during the period of the Battle of Stalingrad, which ended in a defeat for the Axis forces in February 1943. Sitta was also determined to do what she could for the Jewish population and managed to prevent the deportation of the philologist Barbu Lazareanu. Helen also later persuaded the government to allow Jewish organisations to send medical aid, clothing and food to the Jews who were living in ghettos and camps in Transnistria.

Queen Mother Helen ensured too that King Michael developed some backbone. She also guided the King adroitly but firmly through the minefield of Romanian politics. Otherwise, she maintained a polite demeanour and bided her time. When the Axis front in north-eastern Romania collapsed following a successful Soviet offensive, King Michael’s representatives were approached by a pro-Allied National Democratic alliance (composed of communists, Social Democrats and members of the National Peasants Party) and asked to participate in a coup to remove Antonescu. This took place (with the support of the military) on 23 August 1944. Romania now turned against the Axis powers and, shortly thereafter, the country was occupied by the Soviet Army. This sent a shiver down Helen’s spine for she had strong family links to the Romanovs, many of whom had perished at the hands of the Bolsheviks following the 1917 Revolution. However, the Germans still posed a serious threat and in an act of retaliation against Michael’s involvement in the coup, they bombed Helen and Michael’s residence in Bucharest, Casa Nouă. The Queen Mother now fretted constantly over the safety of her son, who was often on military manoeuvres but stoically carried on with her war work. This included the setting up of a soup kitchen in the Royal Palace’s ballroom to feed starving children.

In March 1945, King Michael was forced to accept a communist government headed by Petru Groza. As the communist dictatorship took hold so the position of the King and his mother grew more precarious as they were increasingly marginalised. Sitta complained to her cousin Princesss Olga of Yugoslavia that she and her son were spied on constantly. Helen did manage to obtain permission to travel to Greece for the funeral of her elder brother King George who had died suddenly on 1 April 1947. She was also present at the wedding of her sister Katherine to Major Richard Brandram at the Royal Palace in Athens on 21 April.

Yet air travel was not without its dangers. In October 1947, Helen suffered a severe fright when a private aircraft conveying her from Zurich to Bucharest was forced to land by Soviet fighters on the near the Czech-Hungarian border. Although the Queen was detained for a short period, she was eventually released on the orders of ‘higher Russian officials’. However, she and King Michael later proceeded to London by air to attend the wedding of Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh on 20 November. It was during the nuptial celebrations that young Michael was introduced to Princess Anne of Bourbon Parma. The latter joined Michael, his mother and Aunt Irene on a trip to Lausanne, where the King proposed to this charming French-born princess of Danish heritage. The King and his mother then returned to spend Christmas together at Sinaia. However, it was clear that their presence was no longer welcome and many in authority were surprised that the royal duo had even bothered to make the return journey to Romania at all. On 30 December Michael was deposed from the throne against his will by the Groza government, although it was officially announced that he had ‘abdicated.’ As the year drew to a close, crowds in Bucharest sang the Internationale and called out ‘Long Live the Republic.’ Pictures of the King were removed from public buildings and the royal throne taken from the Parliament chamber. At Sinaia, an emotional Helen looked on as King Michael took the Royal Salute of the Royal Guard for the last time on New Year’s Eve.

On 1 January the international pressed announced King Michael’s abdication. He and Queen Helen arrived in Lausanne by train from Bucharest a few days later . The ex-King was only permitted to take £1000 in cash with him. Helen and her son dutifully posed for the press in their suite at the Beau Rivage. Yet Sitta was already focused on the future and, in February, she proceeded to the Vatican accompanied by Princess Anne’s Danish mother, Princess Margaret of Bourbon-Parma, for an audience with the Pope, Pius XII. The duo were intent on obtaining the Holy Father’s agreement to the marriage between the Orthodox ex-King and Anne, who was a Roman Catholic. The sticking point was that the Roman Catholic Church wanted a written assurance that any children of the marriage be raised in the Catholic faith. Sitta quickly pointed out that such an undertaking could not be given for political reasons. Permission was therefore refused.

In early March, Helen and her son proceeded via Paris to London where, in a display of royal unity, they lunched with King George VI and Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace. The twosome then proceeded to New York where they were accorded the honours due to a reigning king and a queen mother. With royal funds being tight, Sitta and Michael’s expenses were paid for by the US State Department. The purpose of the trip was officially to ‘encourage’ Michael to ‘speak up’ and lay bare the true details of the Communist machinations and threats which had led to his dethronement.

As Michael and Anne’s union could not now be solemnised in a Roman Catholic church, it was arranged, with the help of Helen’s brother King Paul, that the Orthodox Archbishop of Athens, Damaskinos Papandreou would officiate at a marriage service performed under Eastern Orthodox rites , with the reception being held afterwards at the Royal Palace. With Michael now safely married, Helen’s public role was now effectively over for Romania now had a new Queen, albeit one who was required to live in exile for many decades to come. Two final blows were dealt by the communist regime, in the spring of 1948, with the confiscation of all the royal family’s property in Romania and, hardest of all, the withdrawal of their Romanian citizenship.