Crown Princess Märtha-Norway’s Wartime Weapon .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crown Princess Märtha Eludes Nazi Regency plot.

Following the German invasion of Norway on 9 April 1940, King Haakon, his son Crown Prince Olav, daughter-in-law Crown Princess Märtha and three grandchildren (Ragnhild, Astrid and Harald) journeyed northwards by train, accompanied by members of the government, from Oslo’s Østbanen Station to Hamar in an attempt to evade capture. By the early evening, the royals had settled at an estate at Sælid, a few kilometres outside of Hamar, where they were just sitting down to dinner when word was received from the local police chief of the impending arrival of several busloads of German troops. The little group immediately set out by car towards Elverum, to rendezvous with members of the government who had fled there from Hamar, arriving at 10.30pm. However, the news there was equally uncertain and it was at this juncture that a decision was taken to send the Swedish-born Crown Princess Märtha and her three children over the border into neutral Sweden for reasons of safety. A royal convoy of three cars crossed the border into Sweden from Trysil, in the early hours of 10 April, and proceeded to the Høyfjellshotell in the ski resort of Sälen. As it was a glorious sunny day, the children spent most of the time skiing on the nearby slopes, while their mother remained at the hotel glued to the radio for news of events in neighbouring Norway. What she heard could hardly have lifted her spirits, as the Germans were now bombing Eleverum and Nybergsund, killing dozens of people. At one stage, King Haakon and his son Olav are forced to take shelter in a ditch to avoid being fired on by low-flying Heinkel bombers.

Crown Princess Märtha’s mother, Princess Ingeborg of Sweden arrived at Sälen a few days later, visibly tired yet ‘filled with a glowing hatred of the Germans’, according to one of the Norwegians, for her homeland of Denmark had also been occupied. Ingeborg was also deeply concerned for the welfare of her brother, King Haakon and her son-in-law (and nephew) Olav. Meanwhile, the Swedish authorities were nervous of the Norwegian royalty remaining so close to the border area so, thanks to Princess Ingeborg’s efforts, the royal party was able to take up temporary residence at Count Carl Bernadotte of Wisborg’s home at Rasbo near Uppsala.

After about two weeks, Märtha’s paternal uncle, King Gustav V of Sweden, who was known to have pro-German leanings (and had already refused a plea from King Haakon and Crown Prince Olav to cross the border into Sweden for fear of provoking Hitler) offered Crown Princess Märtha and her party accommodation at Ulriksdal Palace, on the outskirts of Stockholm. Although at dinner on the first evening, ‘everyone was terribly kind and friendly’, there was no discussion of the increasingly perilous situation in Norway, where King Haakon and Crown Prince Olav remained in constant danger from a crack unit of German commandos’ intent on their capture or possibly death. But Olav was also concerned for the safety of his children and wife in Sweden and wrote to President Franklin D Roosevelt from Trangen, Langvatnet, on 10 May, mentioning an offer which Roosevelt had made, in late April 1939, during the Crown Prince and Princess’ weekend stay at the President’s country home at Hyde Park, ‘to take care of the children’ if the war should reach Norwegian shores.

Märtha, meanwhile, spent time playing rummy and bridge each evening after dinner while the children and their nurse played games of tennis, swam in a nearby inlet or went picnicking. However, underneath, the minutiae of everyday Palace life, the Crown Princess was increasingly anxious about the future, for her sole communication with her husband was via courier and, as he was constantly on the move, that was sporadic at best. This left her in a very vulnerable position and soon Märtha was subjected to considerable political pressure from the Administrative Council (among others) in Oslo, who indicated that they wanted her and Prince Harald to return to Norway and cooperate with the occupying power in order to save the monarchy. This would, of course, involve King Haakon’s abdicating. The timing of this political intervention was no accident for, as the Germans were only too well aware, the Norwegian King was no longer in Norway as, following the decision of the Allied powers to withdraw from Norway, he and his son Olav had departed Norwegian soil at Tromsø, on 7 June, to settle temporarily in England and carry on the fight for Norwegian democracy there. To make matters worse, the Swedes also became involved in discussions over the future of the Norwegian monarchy. In a telegram to Hitler on June 16, the Swedish King openly encouraged the Germans to adopt a ‘Norwegian Regency’ model whereby Harald would be proclaimed king, although his mother would act as regent until the Prince reached his majority. Märtha was clearly aware of the growing danger and sent a telegram to London warning her husband and father-in-law that her Swedish family (i.e. King Gustav) and Hitler were conspiring to remove King Haakon and set up a regency.

It has to be said that there was now the very real danger that Prince Harald might be kidnapped and taken to Oslo. This must have crossed the mind of Crown Prince Olav for, on 22 June, he had written again to President Roosevelt from Buckingham Palace asking him to make good on his offer of sanctuary to his children, but this time he also included a request on behalf of his wife. Olav also made an approach to the US Secretary of State via the US Ambassador in London, Joseph Kennedy, entreating ‘if there is anything you can do in a hurry to get the [Crown] Princess out [of Sweden].’ On 12 July, the US Secretary of State sent a message to the US Minister in Stockholm saying that President Roosevelt was arranging for a naval transport vessel to be sent to Finland to evacuate the Crown Princess and her family along with a group of ‘stranded’ US citizens. Both the German and British governments had agreed to grant the ship safe passage. The US Minister was now instructed to meet with Märtha and ascertain if she wished to proceed with this offer.

Meanwhile, in Norway, word had reached the Administrative Council that King Haakon was refusing to abdicate, thus placing in doubt on the regency option. According to the US Minister in Stockholm, the Administrative Council were now trying to reach a satisfactory agreement with the German occupying authorities, whilst also being careful to avoid upsetting the local population by attempting to ‘dethrone’ Europe’s only elected Sovereign. A National Council was proposed to conduct state affairs while the King remained overseas.

On 18 July, Märtha received a telephone call from the Norwegian Minister in Washington, Wilhelm Thorleif von Munthe af Morgenstierne. He informed a somewhat surprised Crown Princess (who, not unsurprisingly, seems to have been in the dark about Crown Prince Olav’s recent correspondence with Roosevelt) that an American warship was being sent Finland to transport her and her children to the US. On 20 July, Märtha received the US Minister to Norway, Mrs Florence Harriman, who was now ensconced temporarily at the US Legation in Stockholm, and indicated to her that she was happy to accept President Roosevelt’s offer. Nevertheless, Märtha was keen to emphasise that she wanted to enter the US ‘as quietly as possible’ and ‘would not be required to meet reporters or a reception committee’. The Crown Princess also clearly hoped the date of her arrival would be kept confidential.

On 22 July, Mrs Harriman was informed by the US State Department that a naval transport, the USS American Legion, was about to leave for the Finnish port of Petsamo (now Petsjenga, Russia) and should reach there around 5 August. It was also made clear that there was ‘no possible way’ the Crown Princess’ arrival in the US could be kept confidential. Indeed, soon after Märtha left Ulriksdal, on 12 August, the Norwegian Legation released a statement to the press, also broadcast over Radio Sweden, stating that the Crown Princess and her three children ‘will leave for the United States in the next few days to visit President Roosevelt’ who had issued ‘a personal invitation’ to the Norwegian royals. In the interim, the Crown Princess travelled northward into Finland and on to Petsamo where, on 15 August, she and the royal children embarked the American Legion which transported them across the Atlantic to New York. Märtha appeared on the ship’s manifest as ‘Mrs Jones.’ Others in the party included her Chief of Staff, Peder Anker Wedel Jarlsberg, a Lady-in-Waiting, Mrs Ragni Østgaard, the latter’s son Einar and the royal children’s nurse, Signe Svendsen. Touchingly, Prince Harald was pictured clutching his beloved teddy bear. However, in her luggage, Märtha also had a touching, splendid farewell gift from her mother: a magnificent suite of emerald and diamond parure which had once belonged to Queen Sophia of Sweden. The intention was that should the Crown Princess ever be in financial difficulties, during these difficult war years, she could raise cash by selling the parure.

The author of this blog takes a keen interest on the fate of royalty during World War II. He examines the wartime adventures of Princess Olga (the onetime 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 Geraldine of Albania Settles in England.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Queen of Albania’s Wartime Escape from France.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Queen Geraldine of Albania Escapes Mussolini’s Army…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Duke and Duchess of Windsor flee the French Riviera…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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