A 13-year-old Princess Elizabeth, and an 18-year-old Philip (of) Battenburg, a youthful Greek Royal Officer Cadet at the Britannia Royal Naval College, were first introduced in 1939, and regularly corresponded during the war years 1940-1946 as he left English shores a Midshipman and returned a mere four years later as First Lieutenant, having earned his promotion through bravery and merit.
The young officer served first in the Indian Ocean aboard HMS Ramillies, then in the Mediterranean aboard HMS Valiant, where he was ‘mentioned in dispatches,’ and awarded the Greek War Cross of Valor. Promoted to Sub-Lieutenant, then First Lieutenant aboard HMS Wallace, he was involved in the Sicily landings in 1943, and the following year served aboard the HMS Whelp, against the Japanese, in the Pacific.
During the conflict, the two corresponded frequently, Philip expressing a youthful sensitivity that would later make way for an irreverent, often self-deprecating sense of humour as he wrote to his young bride-to-be, “To have been spared in the war and seen victory, to have been given the chance to rest and to readjust myself, to have fallen in love completely and unreservedly makes all one’s personal and even the world’s troubles seem small and petty.”
The two announced their engagement in 1947 as soon as the Queen turned 21, and Philip, by his regal lineage, was required to renounce his succession to the Danish and Greek thrones, whereupon he also anglicized his family name to Mountbatten, thus allaying criticism from those who sought a more ‘British’ bride for the Princess. In any case, even at 21, Elizabeth had revealed her own staunch character, and nothing would deter either of them.
They were married on November 20th, 1947, at Westminster Abbey, in front of an adoring public, and 200 million BBC Radio listeners worldwide, with all the pomp and pageantry a Royal wedding occasioned. During the ceremony, the King, George VI, was heard to muse upon the challenges that awaited the young Prince in the years ahead but balanced those thoughts in finally saying “but I think he’s the man for the job.”
Of course, the Princess was to become Queen a mere five years later and having collected some old newspapers, my wife Lena unearthed some photos and text. The Daily Sketch in a 24-page Coronation Supplement said, “The Duke of Edinburgh, in the full dress uniform of Admiral of the Fleet was at the Queen’s left hand as they walked up the blue-carpeted steps.”
This same bold, proud, and handsome man had minutes earlier, reported the Daily Telegraph, paid homage, his hands between hers he vowed to be her “liege man of life and limb,” sealed with a gentle kiss on her left cheek as he rose to his feet, It was a promise he was to keep until his passing on Friday. The gravity with which he embraced what was to become his life’s duty, evident in the reproduced photographs of the day.
Curmudgeonly, witty, wise, self-deprecating, humorous beyond compare within an often-reserved monarchy, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, was renowned for his amusing, sometimes cutting, remarks and gaffes, one favourite… “When a man opens a car door for a woman, it’s either a new car… or a new wife!” A bit of a chuckle, a twinkle in his eye, and he moves on. In Bromley, Kent, he quipped to Hannah Jackson, a 25-year-old blonde in a red dress with a full-length zipper in front, “I would get arrested if I unzipped that!” and winked as he moved on to his next ‘victim.’
Yet, he never forgot his first duty, in his own words, “My job, first, second, and last, is to never let the Queen down,” and of whom he remarked in 1997, “Take it from me… the Queen has the quality of tolerance abundance.” It was a remarkable relationship, not only for its longevity, and dignity but for their respect for each other. Queen Elizabeth, on their 50th Wedding Anniversary in London, 1997, spoke of Prince Philip emotionally, saying, “He is someone who doesn’t take easily to compliments, but he has, quite simply, been my strength and stay all these years.”
Though retiring from public duties in 2017, and suffering from recent health issues, we all felt his indomitable spirit would carry him through to a landmark century, but alas it was not to be. Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, Earl of Merioneth, and Baron Greenwich, Knight of the Garter, we mourn you and your passing, though not for you, as you once said of coping with bereavement, “You just get on with it.” We will celebrate knowing our Queen enjoyed an irascible, able, dear, supportive, humorous, and loyal companion, a man for all seasons.
God bless ye, ye merry gentleman, ye strong man of Great Britain and the Commonwealth, and God bless and protect your Queen in her loss. RIP.