Character Number Twenty-Nine

Duke of EdinburghAnd then there was the Duke of Edinburgh.

Phillip, Prince of Greece and Denmark had met Princess Elizabeth, daughter of King George VI a couple of times when she was quite young but they met again at the Royal College of Dartmouth in 1939 when she was 13 and they agreed to exchange letters. Elizabeth was reported as saying that Phillip was the man she wanted to marry.  Close to ten years later their engagement was announced in July, 1949 and it caused quite a stir because Phillip was foreign born, had no financial background or kingdom as well as having sisters who had married Germans with Nazi affiliations.  Despite this, he was a British citizen on his mother’s side and a Royal Navy officer preparing to serve the Queen.  The Queen Mother was reported to have initially called him, “The Hun” but later referred to him as, “A fine English Gentleman.”  Before the wedding, Phillip renounced his Greek and Danish titles, converted from Greek Orthodoxy to Anglicanism and King George VI then granted Phillip, the fourth recipient since 1726, the title, “Duke of Edinburgh” and granted him the right to use the term, “His Royal Highness.”    Phillip planned to use his mother’s family name and in 1939, he was referred to as, Lieutenant Phillip Mountbatten.

Duke of Edinburgh wedding The Royal Wedding was on November 20th, 1947 in Westminster Abbey but Phillip’s German sisters were not invited. Neither was the Duke of Windsor who had just abdicated the throne as Edward VIII.  Many items, including clothing were still rationed from the war and the Princess had to use her clothing coupons for her dress material.  The wedding was the first such event ever televised and my wife, Doris and I, who had just married in July, 1951, went next door to Doris’ neighbor’s house and saw our first TV set, a bulky box with a 12 inch screen and watched the whole ceremony.  The Princess was radiant and Phillip was impressive in his Royal Navy uniform and the whole event was for us, an amazing program to watch.  The couple received 2,000 presents from all over the world.  There was a lot of fuss over the Duke’s family name and after it being Mountbatten, the Queen decreed that, after marriage, it would be changed to the House of Windsor which caused Phillip to say that he was the only man in England who could not have the same name as his children.   Phillip sometimes joined the Royal Princess on occasions when she substituted for her father, King George VI and while she and Phillip were in Kenya en route to a Royal Tour of Australia and New Zealand, her father died on February 6th, 1952, thereby making her Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the British Commonwealth.  She soon made Phillip her Royal Consort.  The coronation was deferred to June 2nd, 1953 because of the mourning period for her father.  Queen Mary, wife of George V and Elizabeth’s grandmother had also died but in her will she had asked that her death would not affect the expected coronation..

The Coronation in Westminster Abbey was watched on tV by millions but many of us in London preferred to see the parade and fly-over following the ceremony. Doris and I had our friends, the Francias, visiting from my home village, Ailsworth in  Cambridgeshire and we slept in Hyde Park with them and other friends, blankets, umbrellas and radios, on a drizzly night near Hyde Park Corner so we would have a good view of the parade.  About 3.00 am, a man came running up the parade route in the rain with a soggy Union Jack, yelling to all that Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tensing had successfully climbed Mt. Everest and were safely back in communication. They had done so four days earlier on April 29th.  The crowd roared its approval but the loudest applause for the royal pair in a closed carriage and the Queen of Tonga, a 300lb black lady in an open carriage, standing in the rain.

The Duke of Edinburgh became an almost permanent partner on the numerous visits and functions the Queen attended and after 1953, he received numerous titles and honors in many fields and in many countries. In early 1954, he visited Imperial College where he later had honorary degrees and where his ideas for a Duke of Edinburgh, D. of E. award program started.  Today and for the last 60 years, the D. of E. Award and its three levels, bronze, silver and gold are recognized by companies and job-seekers in 144 countries as a measurement of academic or athletic skills.  On this visit, he was being shown the low-temperature laboratory that today would be called the Cryogenic Laboratory, and his visit included the liquid air and air separation unit where I had spent four years doing research for a Ph.D.  I was impressed with his knowledge of scientific practices and he was intrigued to learn that gas mixtures could be separated using refrigeration at such low levels as those I was using.  He could not quite believe that a flask of boiling liquid I showed him was liquid air or that liquid oxygen was pale blue while liquid air was colorless.  He asked intelligent questions and fought off his guides who were trying to keep him on their schedule.  He asked what would happen if he put a finger in the liquid air sample and when I told him I would be able to flick it off with my finger, he declined my suggestion to try it and leftour lab, laughing.

The Duke and I only crossed paths for a short time but I classed him as a ‘’character” because I am certain he would have been if allowed to drop the Royal role he must play. I bet he did that with his fellow officers when on board a ship.  I was proud to have met him.

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