Prince Paul Of Yugoslavia meets Hitler.

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Royal Wartime Christmas in Belgrade.

With war declared throughout most of Europe, Princess Olga of Yugoslavia, the wife of the Prince Regent, Paul, was in a difficult position during that first Christmas of the Second World War. Like many of Europe’s royalty, she had family members on both the Allied and Axis sides. However, as Yugoslavia was still officially neutral, it had already been arranged that Olga’s sister, Princess Elisabeth of Greece and Denmark, who was married to the wealthy Bavarian aristocrat, Count Karl Theodor ‘Toto’ Toerring, would travel from Munich to Belgrade to celebrate the Orthodox Christmas (on 7 January 1940) at Olga and Paul’s luxurious home, the White Palace (Beli Dvor). Elisabeth’s children, Hans Viet and Helen were already in Belgrade having been brought there by their mother from Munich, in early November, at their Aunt Olga’s request. The presence of these extended family members was fortuitous as the Yugoslav royal couple’s sons, Alexander and Nicholas, would not be present in Belgrade over the Festive Season, as both were spending Christmas in England, where they attended boarding school.

Olga had always adored Christmas and was meticulous in her preparations. Her old nurse, Miss Kate Fox, who lived in London, was always sent a detailed list of the Princess’ requirements many months in advance. Christmas puddings from Fortnum and Mason’s were a particular family favourite, as were toys and jokes from Hamley’s celebrated Regent Street toyshop. However, wartime was playing havoc with Olga’s attempts at gift-giving. Hamley’s catalogue had been late in reaching the Serbian capital and the choice was limited. Nevertheless, the Princess soon selected a ‘nice [imitation] Xmas pudding with toys to pull out’ for the entertainment of her two-year-old daughter Elizabeth and the Toerring children. However, when this item failed to materialise, Olga was left with little choice but to scour the local shops for toys with which to fill the children’s Christmas stockings. Her sense of ‘despair’ was only heightened when a luxurious array of gifts arrived, via the diplomatic bag, from her sister, Princess Marina, the Duchess of Kent, in London.

Olga’s gifts were more of a practical nature. When she learned that foodstuffs were scarce in Bavaria, the Princess provided the Toerrings with a Christmas parcel filled with groceries and some soap. Princess Elisabeth and her husband arrived in Belgrade by rail just in time to watch King Peter (who lived in the Royal Palace adjacent to the White Palace at the Royal Compound in the suburb of Dedinje) preside over the traditional Orthodox Christmas Eve Badnjak celebrations. During this event, a troop of the Royal Guard accompanied a decorated gun carriage bearing the large Badnjak (Yule) log which was then carried into the Royal Palace and placed in a large hearth in the hall to burn throughout the Festive celebrations. The Prince Regent and Princess Olga (wrapped up against the cold in a full-length fur coat) accompanied the King throughout the ceremony and then joined him in raising a toast to the good health of his officers. The whole proceedings were captured for the first time on cine film.

In the evening, after Prince Paul had rung the traditional Christmas bell, Elizabeth, Helen and Hans-Veit ‘rushed in’ to the drawing room to gaze at the Christmas tree candles and then open their gifts with the aid of their nurses. The family then ate a traditional Christmas meal rounded off by some good English Christmas puddings. But Olga was soon in despair to receive news by letter that none of her Christmas presents (including those for her sons and a cheque for Miss Fox) had reached England. Clearly, even royal parcels were not exempt from the vagaries of war! Yet, there was little time to mope as Prince Paul and Princess Olga had to leave on a four-day morale-boosting visit to Zagreb.

Greek Princesses in Wartime Europe.

The three daughters of the Russian-born, Romanov Grand Duchess Helen (Ellen) and her husband Prince Nicholas of Greece and Denmark were regarded as the most beautiful and sophisticated in Europe. Marina, Elizabeth and Olga were also extremely close, having been raised together by their beloved, brusque English nurse or ‘nurnie’, Miss Kate Fox, at the Nicholas Palace in Athens, as well as at the Greek royal family’s country retreat at Tatoi, in the wooded foothills of Mount Parnitha. The Princesses made frequent trips to England, where they spent the summer months living in simple hotels or Norland hostels at Westgate-on-Sea or Bognor. Yet, the trio were equally at home amongst the grandeur of the Imperial court in St Petersburg, where their powerful maternal grandmother, Grand Duchess Vladimir, showered them with exquisite gifts and instilled in them a deep understanding of their Imperial Romanov heritage.

The best-known (and youngest) of the trio was Princess Marina. In November 1934, she had made a highly desirable marriage to Prince George, Duke of Kent (the youngest son of Britain’s King George V). The middle sister, Princess Elizabeth, is a more obscure figure. She married a wealthy Bavarian aristocrat (and nephew of Queen Elisabeth of the Belgians), Count Carl Theodor of Toerring-Jettenbach and settled in Munich. However, it was the eldest sister, Princess Olga, who would hold the highest rank as the wife and Consort of the Prince Regent (Paul) of Yugoslavia.

Despite their impeccable royal credentials, the sisters were actually more interested in a ‘cosy’ life en famille, and whenever their individual official or domestic duties permitted, they would meet up in London, Munich, Belgrade or Slovenia for a grand family get- together. When all else failed, long and detailed letters (chiefly concerning domestic matters or news of extended family) flew between England, Bavaria and Yugoslavia on a weekly basis. Grand Duchess Helen encouraged these strong inter-family bonds from her homes in Paris and Athens.

In late 1935, Paul and Olga had purchased a large Slovenian castle at Brdo which was large enough to accommodate all of the extended family for visits throughout August and into late September. The emphasis was firmly on fun: Games of tennis were interspersed with riding, swimming, film shows, charades and fishing trips, as well as excursions to the Slovene capital, Ljubljana. On occasion, several members of the party might travel further afield to enjoy a relaxing cruise down Croatia’s Dalmatian coast. When all else failed, there was always the joy of the popular card game, Lexicon.

However, as early as September 1938, the shadow of war threatened this almost idyllic family existence. All the extended family happened to be staying at the Toerring’s country home, Frauenbuhl Castle at Winhöring when, during a rally in Nuremberg, the German leader, Hitler, denounced Czechoslovakia as a ‘fraudulent state’, focused on subduing the German-speaking minority in the Sudetenland. The Führer also encouraged the Sudeten Germans to demand union with Germany and even offered to provide them with military assistance. Anticipating a deterioration in the European political situation, the Duke and Duchess of Kent returned to England, with heavy hearts, on 14th September. Next day, the Prince Regent and Princess Olga journeyed home to Brdo. Meanwhile, Count Toerring, being of military age, joined the Gebirgsjäger (mountain troops) and was called up to the Czech frontier, leaving his anxious wife to mind their two young children. War was temporarily averted following peace negotiations which resulted in the Munich Agreement of 30 September signed by Hitler, Neville Chamberlain (the British Prime Minister), Mussolini and the French Premier Edouard Daladier. However, Czechoslovakia paid a heavy price as the accord permitted the annexation of the Sudetenland into the Third Reich. Gallingly, the Czechoslovak government was neither invited nor consulted over the matter.

As 1938 drew to a close, Princess Olga feared for her husband’s safety as it was no secret that the Prince Regent was a prime target for terrorists as he sought to thrash out an agreement between the Roman Catholic Croats and Orthodox Serbs. She was cheered by a visit from Marina in February 1939. However, within weeks of the Duchess of Kent’s return to England, German forces invaded the remainder of Czechoslovakia, in direct contravention of the Munich Agreement. Suddenly, it seemed to the British government that Hitler was intent on dominating Europe and Britain’s policy of appeasement was now abandoned. As it appeared likely that Poland would be the Fuhrer’s next target, on 31 March, Neville Chamberlain informed the House of Commons that ‘in the event of any action which clearly threatened Polish independence’ the British government would ‘feel bound.. to lend the Polish Government all support in their power’.

On Good Friday, 7 April, Italy invaded Yugoslavia’s southern neighbour of Albania. This troubled Olga greatly as it put extra pressure on the Prince Regent and served to underline that much of the weight of Yugoslavia’s uncertain future rested squarely on his shoulders. Princess Elizabeth and Count Toerring happened to be spending Easter in England with Marina and the Duke of Kent at their country home, Coppins. Prince George’s correspondence with Prince Paul indicates that there was a frank exchange of (often differing) views on the situation in Europe between the couples.

However, the Duke of Kent and Marina were mostly focused on preparing for their departure to Australia where Prince George was due to take up an appointment as the Dominion’s Governor-General. Elizabeth and Olga were both in despair at the thought of their youngest sibling moving to the other side of the world for a period of up to five years. Fortunately, Olga was distracted by her own official duties, as she and the Prince Regent were due to make State visits to Italy and Germany in May and June respectively. The visit to Berlin provided Olga and her sister Elizabeth with the chance of several brief reunions at the Bellevue Palace, amid a busy week of official engagements.

In early July, it was the turn of Marina and the Duke of Kent to greet Olga and Paul, when they arrived on a visit to London. The stay was a more relaxed family affair, despite the Yugoslav royals being quartered at Buckingham Palace. While the Prince Regent had talks with government ministers, Olga-keenly aware that her sister would be departing in only a few months for Canberra-spent quality time with Marina at the Kent’s home in Belgrave Square. She and Paul also managed a weekend trip down to Coppins.

In early August, Olga and Paul returned to Bled for what remained of the summer; Grand Duchess Helen was already in residence and the house party was soon completed by the arrival of the Kents and the Toerrings. It so happened that Prince Albrecht of Bavaria was a fellow guest. Albrecht was strongly opposed to Hitler and his National Socialist Party and was currently employed by Prince Paul to run his shoots at Petrovčić and Belje. Unsurprisingly, the atmosphere was somewhat strained for if Britain and Germany went to war, as seemed increasingly likely given Chamberlain’s guarantee, the Kents and Toerrings would, technically speaking, be enemies. Since Yugoslavia intended to remain neutral, Olga would be Marina and Elizabeth’s mutual point of contact.

Within a few weeks the situation deteriorated considerably: On 22 August, it was confirmed that Germany and Russia had signed a non-aggression pact. The Treaty had a secret protocol appended to it which divided eastern Europe into German and Soviet spheres of influence and signalled the green light for further German advances, including into Poland. Aware of the implications, both the Duke of Kent and Count Toerring left Brdo for their respective homelands as soon as they received the news. Marina remained in Slovenia until the end of August before departing by train for London.

On 1 September 1939 Germany invaded Poland and Elizabeth Toerring immediately left for Munich. On 3 September, in line with the guarantees it had earlier given to the Polish government, Great Britain declared war on Germany. Olga was ‘stunned’ by this development realising all too well the implications for Marina and Elizabeth. Count Toerring had already been called up to the western front and Prince George-his move to Australia now put on hold-was serving in the Royal Navy at the Admiralty in London. To exacerbate matters, Princess Olga’s sons Nicholas and Alexander were currently attending school in England, a place which now seemed increasingly far off as telephone communications with Yugoslavia were suspended.

Suddenly, the sisters’ life of privilege was gone. In Bavaria, Princess Elizabeth had taken to riding a bike as petrol was rationed, while Princess Olga had been appointed President of the Yugoslav Red Cross. Olga and Elizabeth had originally been able to communicate by telephone (with a German censor listening in), but this facility was withdrawn in late October. Although letters could still be sent (in Olga and Marina’s case via the official diplomatic bag) the process was slow and tedious; there were also limits as to what could safely be committed to paper. In England, Marina had joined the Navy as Commandant of the Women’s Royal Naval Service-‘the Wrens’-and was soon undertaking tours of inspection throughout England. On occasion, she travelled to Scotland to join the Duke of Kent who had been transferred to Admiralty House in North Queensferry. This meant that she was sometimes separated from her young children, Edward and Alexandra, who, with Coppins closed-up and the London house vacated, often spent time staying with their paternal grandmother, Queen Mary, at Badminton.

In early November, Princess Elizabeth and her children Hans Veit and Helen arrived in Belgrade. The main reason for her visit was that food was increasingly scarce in Bavaria. However, the erratic political climate must have been another factor. Countess Toerring feared for her husband’s welfare, particularly when she learned that there were random, ‘new wholesale arrests’ following an assassination attempt on Hitler’s life in Munich’s Bürgerbräukelle. Yet, as 1939 drew to close, the sister’s remained resolute. Elizabeth and her children returned to Bavaria, in early December, to be with Count Toerring (who had now been released from active duty), while Olga sought to try and provide some Festive cheer in Belgrade for King Peter (whose mother, Queen Dowager Marie, now lived in England with her younger sons Andy and Tommy), her three-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, and the Prince Regent. Meanwhile, Marina busied herself with organising accommodation for the Christmas school holiday period, in Cambridge, for Olga’s sons and Miss Fox. She later visited the trio to help them celebrate the Festive Season.

As 1940 dawned, Olga noted that, ‘The future looks dark I must admit- but I know the light is there behind it all the time.’ Yet, in the years ahead, all of the sisters would face terrible challenges, which would test them-and their close bond-to the limit.




Yugoslav Royals’ ‘Private’ Visit to London 1939.

As the volatile political situation in Europe throughout the spring and early summer of 1939 threatened to escalate into war, Prince Regent Paul of Yugoslavia, whose Balkan Kingdom was already under threat both from Italian expansionist desires and an increasing economic dependence on Germany, was feeling decidedly unsettled. A recent State Visit to Berlin, which included a massive military display, had only served to increase his disquiet. Worryingly, he also confided to his old friend, Infante Alfonso, Duke of Galliera, that Hitler was ‘mad’.

It must have been somewhat of a relief to receive a telegram from his friend, King George VI (‘Bertie’) asking him to pay a visit to London for ‘important, though informal, discussions with British Ministers’. Paul was the supreme anglophile: he had been educated at Christ Church, Oxford and counted the British aristocrats (and fellow Oxford graduates) Walter, the 8th Duke of Buccleuch and Robert, Viscount Cranborne (‘Bobbety’) as close friends. Furthermore, the British Queen Consort (formerly Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon) had often entertained Prince Paul at her childhood home, Glamis Castle, near Forfar and counted him as a member of her ‘inner circle’. However, the Prince’s most recent link with England was through his wife, Princess Olga. The latter’s youngest sister, Marina, had married Britain’s Prince George, the Duke of Kent, less than five years previously. It also happened that King George VI was godfather to both fifteen-year-old King Peter of Yugoslavia and to Paul and Olga’s (British-born) eldest child, Alexander.

On 17 July, the Prince Regent and Princess Olga arrived at Victoria Station for a two-week visit. The Kent’s were waiting to greet them, as was Alexander, who was currently attending Eton. Although the visit was not a ‘State’ but a ‘private’ event, the royal couple’s strong links to the British monarchy ensured that they were quartered in great comfort in Buckingham Palace’s ground-floor Belgian Suite. The British press were suitably kind to the Regent noting that in Yugoslavia, ‘Prince Paul is bearing a burden a heavy burden and bearing it exceedingly well.’ Furthermore, as the senior ‘trustee’ of the Yugoslav crown, they observed that, ‘his policy is that nothing should be done which will jeopardise the position of King Peter when he attains his majority in two years’ time and will then take over the responsibilities of government.’ The press, nevertheless, praised Paul for ‘striving for peace within and without the country’ and acknowledged it had been ‘an exceedingly difficult task to hold the balance evenly between the [Orthodox] Serbs and the [Roman Catholic] Croats’ whilst also having to ‘resist the overtures’ of Italy and Germany.

On 18 July, Paul and Olga joined the King and Queen on the front stalls of the Little Theatre to watch the musical revue “Nine Sharp” starring the Australian actor, Cyril Ritchard. Next day, the Prince lunched and held talks with the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain at his residence, 10 Downing Street. Lord Halifax, the Foreign Minister was also present, as were various British military chiefs and the President of the Board of Trade. Paul was at pains to point out that Germany and Russia were in talks with a view to signing a non-aggression pact. If Britain did not consummate a deal with the Russians then Germany would. Later, the King invested Prince Paul as a Knight Companion of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, Britain’s oldest (and most prestigious) order of chivalry. In the evening, Bertie and Elizabeth hosted a ball attended by 800 at which the Prince Regent and Princess Olga were the guests of honour. This would be the last major event to be held at the Palace until after the Second World War.

Yet, despite this lavish display of royal hospitality, the British press later seemed surprised that the Yugoslavs maintained such a ‘living sentiment’ for all things British which went beyond simple royal family ties, even although Britain had failed to offer Yugoslavia similar aid or guarantees as those offered to its neighbour Greece. Indeed, Lord Halifax, appeared slow to appreciate Dr Ivan Subbotic’s, [the Yugoslav Minister in London] recent entreaties for armaments and improved trade terms. This situation had continued despite the fact that the British Minister in Belgrade, Sir Ronald Campbell, had pressed his Foreign Office masters in London, prior to Prince Paul’s visit, for ‘more substantial assistance to this country.’ Campbell’s intervention was driven by a sense of embarrassment exacerbated by the Prince Regent’s oft expressed ‘surprise that we do nothing practically to help [Yugoslavia].’ Campbell was also aware that despite the lack of British military aid, Halifax had tried to press the Regent into making some sort of declaration as to what Yugoslavia intended to do should Germany invade Romania. Paul was furious at such a crass display of diplomacy, fearing that such a declaration would antagonise the Germans at a time when his country was short of arms and unprepared militarily. Furthermore, it remained a delicate time in Yugoslav internal politics, as the Prince was involved in trying to obtain an agreement (Sporazum) between the Serbs and the Croats. (This would eventually be achieved in late August.)

Meanwhile, in late July, following a weekend stay at the Duke and Duchess of Kent’s home at Coppins, near Iver, the Prince Regent entered a London nursing home for three days for an operation by orthodontist Mr Bowdler Henry on a wisdom tooth. He and Princess Olga departed for their summer home in Slovenia on 2 August. The couple’s loyal friend, Henry ‘Chips’ Channon waved them off at Victoria Station. However, the presence of 100 policemen, who formed a tight security ring around the Prince Regent (there had been numerous death threats against Paul over the years), somewhat unsettled Chips and caused him to take ‘a gulp of misery’ while wondering what the future held for his friends. Prince Paul, for his part, was left with the distinct impression that Britain had little interest in coming to Yugoslavia’s aid.

On 22 August it was announced-as Prince Paul had predicted to British officials in London-that Germany and Russia had signed a Treaty of Non-Aggression. The British press succinctly noted that ‘Nazi-ism and Bolshevism… are now shaking hands’. Worryingly, the Treaty had a secret protocol appended to it which divided eastern Europe into German and Soviet spheres of influence and gave the green light for further German advances, particularly into Poland. Indeed, within weeks, Germany would be at war with both Great Britain and France.


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