World War II: The British Royal Family


Figure 1.--Here King George's mother, the Queen Mother, stops to chat with the youngsters and nurses at the Queen Mary Home for Childre of Soldiers' Families. The Queen Mother was on an insecrion tour of various British Army establshments in the south of England. The photograph was taken September 17, 1941. I am not sure just who the children were because the mothers and other relatives cared for most of the children of service people. Presumably these children had lost their mothers in the Blitz or for other reasons.

The royal family played an important and prominant part, partiicularly but not entirely on the home front. It did not begin well for the royal family. The affair with Mrs Simpson and the abdication of Edward VIII left the royal family in disray. The modern, well spoken and personable Edward had been groomed for the throne. He was popular and well though of by the British public. His abdication was a great shock (1936). It was also a shock to his younger brother Gerorge who with wife and two daughters. George was quite happy with his quiet life as a naval officer. Prince George had not been raised to rule. And his speaking voice was marred by a nervous stutter--hardly a voice to lead the nation in the greatest crisis of its history. King George VI did, however, rise to the occassion. His first major act as king was a state visit to the United States, the beginning of the Anglo-American relationhip that would be the cornerstone of the Allied war effort. King George VI was only 3 years into his reign when war broke out (1939). King George and Queen Elizabeth remained at Buckingham Palace throughout the War, even during the London Blitz. They sent Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret to the relative safety of Windsor Castle Buckingham Palace did suffer nine direct hits during the Blitz. King George and the Queen, often together, toured the areas hit by German bombs as well as the Londoners sheltering in bomb shelters. (This was something Hitler refused to do.) Their show of courage and concern was an inspiration for the British people. The Queen Mother was also active. When German invasion threatened, Queen Elizabeth took pistol lessons. The King went abroad to visit his troops, in both France and North Africa. Perhaps his most moving visit was to Malta which had suffered an even heavier and protracted bombardment than London. One of the King's brothers, the Duke of Kent, was killed in the War. Princess Elizabeth when she became of age insisted on entering the services and learned to drive abulances and how to repair them. The VJ Day celebration centered on Buckinghm Palace where the royal family appeared with Primeminister Churchill (1945).

Edward VIII

The affair with Mrs Simpson and the abdication of Edward VIII left the royal family in disray. The modern, well spoken and personable Edward had been groomed for the throne. He was popular and well though of by the British public. The British for three decades grew up with Edward, seeing him as their furure king. His abdication was a great shock (1936). Edward caused further controversy when he visited NAZI Germany and was warmly received by Hitler, Goering, and other NAZI luminaries. The NAZIs courted European royalty in an effort to establish their credibility. Edward's behavior in France with the Army and after fleeing to Spain when France fell caused further controversy. Charges that he was sympathetic to the NAZIs and considering NAZI attempts to set him up as puppet king have never been proven, but some evidence certinly raises eyebrows. His behavior in Spain after the fall of France certainly is difficult to explain. It even angered Churchill who has supported him. One historian goes as far as to accuse him of treason, claiming he passed information on the French defenses to a German spy, Charles Eugene Bedaux. [Allen] The evidence, however, is hardly conclusive for such an allrgation. Historians continue, however, to debate the episode. The general consensus is that Edward was a dilatante, but not a traitor.

George VI

It was also a shock to his younger brother Gerorge who with wife and two daughters. George was quite happy with his quiet life as a naval officer. Prince George had not been raised to rule. And his speaking voice was marred by a nervous stutter--hardly a voice to lead the nation in the greatest crisis of its history. King George VI did, however, rise to the occassion. His first major act as king was a state visit to the United States, the beginning of the Anglo-American relationhip that would be the cornerstone of the Allied war effort. Just before World War II, King George and Queen Elizabeth visited America and Canada to do their best to shore up relations for the crisis to come. American public opinion was decidedly with the Duke of Windsor and Mrs Simpson, but the King and Queen charmed the public. They stayed in the White House and spoke atlength with President Roosevelt and the First Lady. King George VI was only 3 years into his reign when war broke out (1939). King George and Queen Elizabeth were an inspiration to the British people after War broke out. This was in sharp contrast to the Duke of Windsor's rather questionable behavior. It was George's qualities, rather than those of his popular but undiscplined older brother, that reflected the needs of the British people in perhaps their darkest hour. The King and Queen's grace and courage was an inspiration to the British people. They stayed in London during the blitz even after Buckingham Palace was hit my bombs. It was considered a tragedy when Edward abdicated. But given George VI's performance as king and the Duke of Windsor's behavior during and after the War, one wonders if the better person didn't become king. The King went abroad to visit his troops, in both France and North Africa. Perhaps his most moving visit was to Malta which had suffered an even heavier and protracted bombardment than London. The VJ Day celebration centered on Buckinghm Palace where the royal family appeared with Primeminister Churchill (1945).

Queen Elizabeth

Queen Elizabeth was perhaps most admired for remaining in London at her husband's side with their children during the World War II German Blitz. The King was advised to evacuate his family, especially the two princesses. The Queen reportedly scoffed at the idea and is best known for her explanation as to why they did not. She explained that her girls would not leave without her and she would not leave without the king, adding with emophasis and "the king will never leave". When German invasion threatened, Queen Elizabeth took pistol lessons. King George and Queen Elizabeth remained at Buckingham Palace throughout the War, even during the London Blitz. Buckingham Palace did suffer nine direct hits during the Blitz. King George and the Queen, often together, toured the areas hit by German bombs as well as the Londoners sheltering in bomb shelters. (This was something Hitler refused to do.) Their show of courage and concern was an inspiration for the British people. She and her husband would visit bombed out areas of London talking with compassion to those who had lost family members and their homes. As she picked her way through the rubble, she was always emaculately dresses. The King and Queen were particularly concerned with the heavily bombed East End--an industrial area with much working-class housing. She is reported to have said after Buckibngham Palace had been hit in the bombing, "Now I feel I can look look the East End in the face." She also was a frequest visitor to hospitals. Her heart also went out to the French people after the German occupation in 1940. She delivered radio broadcasts in fluent French to the women of Britain's defeated ally. Prime Minister Churchill came to consider both the King and Queen as key allies, and eventually friends, in the fight against the NAZIs. Through the War, the Queen and King made extensive public appearances throughout Britain to help maintain morale on the Home Front.

Queen Mother Mary


Princess Elizabeth

The King and Queen sent Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret to the relative safety of Windsor Castle. Princess Elizabeth when she became of age insisted on entering the services and learned to drive abulances and how to repair them. The British people admired the plucky teenage princess who drove an ambulance and maintained the engine.

Princess Margaret


Duke of Kent

The Royal family was involved in both World Wars. George V as a young cadet served in the Navy during World War I at a time when no one expected him to be King. His brother Edward VIII served in the army in France. Lord Mountbatten compiled an illustrious record in World War II. The only member of the family to be killed was Prince George, who was at the time the Duke of Kent. He was killed in a plane accident, when a Sunderland flying boat crashed in Scotland during 1942. Various rumors abound about his death. One was that the flight was in some way associated with the Hess affair. Two authors jointly published a book that the Duke was trying to take Hitler to neutral Sweden where a deal could be negotiated with Hitler. The book is highly speculative. They point out a number of inconsistencies in the account concerning the plane crash, but no solid evidence to sustantiate their charges. The book is a standard conspiracy theory book which reaches conclusions not supported by the evidence they offer. [Picknet, Prince, and Prior] The book plays on the fact that some British aristocrats were favorably disposed toward Hitler, especially his anti-Communist policies and use of force to maintain order.

Prince Phillip

Prince Phillip was not yet a member of the royal family. He was, however, emtinently familiar with the NAZIs in the way royal family members could not be. Phillip was a school boy in Germany when Hitler seized power (1933). And at a very young age rejected the NAZIs and came to Britain to growup with the British side of the family. His sisters remained in Germany. Prince Philip immediately after leaving Gordonstoun, joined the Royal Navy (1939). It was precisely at this time that Princess Elizabeth who was only 13 yeats old, met her third cousin Prince Philip. I'm not entirely sure what Philip made of this first meeting. Princess Elizabeth made a good deal of it. It was apparently love at first sight for her. Philip seems to have "showed off a good deal" while playing tennis. One account says she "never took her eyes off him." [Crawford] Throughout the War, Elizabeth was devoted to the young man who she began calling "my Viking prince". They began exchanging letters while he was at sea. The year 1939 was of course not only a fareful year for romance, but also for the Royal Navy. Philip graduated from the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth (1940). He was ranked the best best cadet in his course. He was commissioned as a Midshipman. His first assignment was on the battleship HMS Ramillies where he spent 6 months. He then spent some time in the Indian Ocean. He was next posed on the battleship HMS Valiant in the Mediterranean. The fall of France (June 1940) had turned the Mediterranean into the hotest front for the Royal Navy. A series of sharp engagements followed with the modern, fast Italian Navy. Philip was involved in several of the majir engagements of the Mediterranean. He participated in the Battle of Crete in which the British suffered another defeat when German paratroopers managed to take the island. Philip was named in n despatches for his service during the critical Battle of Cape Matapan. He was awarded the Greek War Cross of Valour. Philip was promoted Sub-Lieutenant and took courses to prepare for his next assignment, the V&W class destroyer, flotilla leader . He thus was primarily involved in escorting Atlantic convoys. Rapid promotions followed: Lieutenant (July 1942) and First Lieutenant (October 1942). While still with HMS Wallace,he was back in the Mediterranean, supporting the Allied invasion of Sicily (July 1943). Prince Philip's last World war II assignment was the new destroyer HMS Whelp where he saw service in the Pacific. He was present in Tokyo Bay when the Japanese surrendered. He returned to Britain with the ship (January 1946).






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Created: 11:18 PM 8/24/2008
Last updated: 11:18 PM 8/24/2008