Medal News

Volume 59, Number 5, May 2021


Volume 59, Number 5, May 2021

Fading away IT WAS with great sadness that we learned of the death of His Royal Highness, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh and husband, for an astonishing 73 years, to Her Majesty the Queen. The Duke was not to everybody’s taste, I accept that, his blunt forthright approach could, and did, offend but there is little doubt that he did his duty to both the crown and to his adopted country both admirably and with steadfast honour (we must remember Philip was not born in Britain, but on the Island of Corfu as a Prince of Greece and Denmark, one of those bizarre combinations that so often happens in European Royalty, in this case it came about following the throne of Greece passing to Prince William of Denmark after some power play between the French, Russians and British!). He was the one person on whom Her Majesty could totally rely, the one person who could treat her like a normal human being and was, by her own admission, her ”rock”. But his passing will not have come as a shock to the Queen, nor to the Duke’s family, he was after all 99 years old and had been in poor health for some time, so there is no element of shock regarding his death as perhaps there was, say, when Princess Diana died. Instead there is a feeling amongst those of us who respected him (we will ignore the haters who have inevitably popped up on social media following his death to scream “racist” at his memory) that we really are coming to the end of an era. I will not eulogise too much here, will not speak overly of the thousands of Royal engagements he undertook (both alone and as the Queen’s consort); won’t talk of the fact he was patron of hundreds of charities and organisations worldwide, from the Abbotsford Flying Club to the Yosemite Natural History Association, nor of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme, a youth awards programme founded by Philip in 1956 that has helped millions of young people in 144 nations across the globe develop the skills necessary to “challenge themselves and take control of their lives and futures”. What I will talk about is the fact that His Royal Highness is the latest in a long line of World War II veterans that are slowly but surely fading away. As with many senior Royals the Duke held a number of honorary military ranks and titles—he was Colonel-in-Chief of a number of regiments over his lifetime and was ranked as a Field Marshal in the British Army, the Australian Army and the New Zealand Army (he was “Captain General” of the Canadian Army); was Marshal of RAF, RAAF and RNZAF (and a General of the Royal Canadian Air Force) and the Admiral of the Fleet of the Royal Australian Navy, the Royal Canadian Navy, the Royal New Zealand Navy and, of course, the Royal Navy. It is as a Navy man he will probably be best remembered for, as I’m sure you know, his involvement with the RN wasn’t purely ceremonial. In 1939, after leaving Gordonstoun, he attended the Royal Naval training college in Dartmouth, Devon graduating in 1940 and then spending his first four months with the Navy in the Indian Ocean protecting the Australian Expeditionary Force. When Italy invaded Greece in the autumn of 1940 he was posted to the Mediterranean Fleet, probably at his own request, where he joined HMS Valiant. The following year he was commissioned as a Sub-Lieutenant and was involved in a number of naval engagements. He was mentioned in despatches (and was awarded the Greek Cross of Valour) for his actions as a searchlight operator during the Battle of Cape Matapan. The next year he was promoted to Lieutenant and then First Lieutenant of the destroyer HMS Wallace shortly afterwards, one of the youngest First Lieutenant’s in the Royal Navy at the time. He was on board Wallace during the Allied invasion of Sicily in 1943, then in 1944 transferred to HMS Whelp in the Pacific. He stayed on the Whelp until 1946 when he returned to the United Kingdom, taking up a new post as instructor at the shore base HMS Royal Arthur. The following year he was to marry Princess Elizabeth and his naval duties had to be set aside. His full list of honours and awards is impressive (see page 6) but the ones I have always focused on were the five World War II stars and the War Medal with oakleaf, to me they somehow meant so much more than the honorary orders and awards that were bestowed upon him. It’s a sad fact that fewer and fewer of those medals are now being worn upon the chests of those awarded them and whenever I hear of the passing of one of their number I am saddened that little bit more. It matters not that he was the Duke of Edinburgh, what really counts is that he was a brave man who fought to keep this country free, and for that reason, even if for no other, I shall mourn his passing.

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