As the nation mourns the passing of His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, many will reflect that his was a life well lived. Exiled from Greece as a young prince, he found a new home in the United Kingdom, a wife he adored, and a family that he cherished.
When the young Princess Elizabeth inherited the throne from her father in 1952, many debated the role her husband would take. In an era when men were traditionally head of the household, this was a time for change. As Her Majesty The Queen took up the role of monarch, The Duke of Edinburgh supported her wholeheartedly, embracing his new responsibilities with a vigour that he maintained throughout his life. This strong sense of duty and service was recognised by The Queen at the time of their 70th wedding anniversary in 2017, when he was appointed a Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order (GCVO).
From Cadet to Commander
In 1939 Prince Philip joined the Royal Navy, enrolling at the naval college in Dartmouth. He excelled and was regarded as the best cadet of his intake. In 1943 during the Allied invasion of Sicily, his ship, HMS Wallace, came under heavy bombardment. With quick thinking, he set a raft ablaze and adrift, diverting enemy fire and allowing the vessel to slip away. Between tours of duty Prince Philip studied hard, rising through the ranks to take control of his own ship, the frigate HMS Magpie. The young Commander’s naval career had to be abandoned after the death of his father-in-law George VI.
“I had just been promoted to commander and in fact the most interesting part of my naval career was just starting. But then equally, if I stopped and thought about it, being married to The Queen, it seemed to me my first duty was to serve her in the best way I could.”
Prince Philip during an interview for the documentary Prince Philip at 90, which aired on ITV1 in 2011
A Tireless Campaigner
Prince Philip devoted much of his time to his roles as patron or president of more than 750 different organisations. A visit to Antarctica as a young man left him with a profound concern for man’s impact on the environment, perhaps the catalyst for him becoming the first president of the World Wildlife Fund from 1961. Working with educationalist Kurt Hahn and Everest expedition leader Lord Hunt, Prince Philip sought to help young people acquire valuable life skills on their journey to adulthood. The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award was introduced in 1956 and since that time has benefitted millions of young people. The impact of the Award experience in people’s lives is perhaps Prince Philip’s greatest legacy.
“One of the perpetual problems about human life is that young people of every generation have to discover for themselves what life is all about.”
Prince Philip speaking about the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award in 2010
Consort, Husband and Father
When George VI visited Dartmouth Naval College with his daughters in 1939, Prince Philip, a young cadet at the time, was assigned to entertain them. After his second meeting with Princess Elizabeth in the same year, romance blossomed. The Second World War kept them apart but they were married in 1947 and their family life began with the birth of His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales a year later. Granted the title of The Duke of Edinburgh, he became a loyal consort to his wife, accompanying The Queen on her official visits at home in the United Kingdom and overseas, only retiring from official duties at the age of 96. Prince Philip also shared the workload of parenting and Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal recalls a loving father, a man who read his children bedtime stories and played games of chase.
“He has, quite simply, been my strength and stay all these years, and I, and his whole family, and this and many other countries, owe him a debt greater than he would ever claim, or we shall ever know.”
Her Majesty The Queen’s golden wedding anniversary speech, 1997