We are being told by some in the media that the publication of private footage taken at Birkhall – not Balmoral as claimed – of Edward, Prince of Wales (later the Duke of Windsor), with the Duchess of York (later Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother), and Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret is in the national interest, that it sets fascism and Nazism and the British reaction to it into historical context.
Well, I have seen all the footage – I suspect this was filmed by the Duke of York (later George VI) – and it was nothing more than a family in private larking about for the camera. What was most interesting to observe was the comfortable relations between the future Edward VIII, his sister-in-law and nieces, which alas did not survive the abdication of 1936.
No one is casting aspersions on the Queen Mother or the children. They would be wise not to do so. Queen Elizabeth was one of the prominent heroines of the Second World War. She had seen the wounded soldiers in the Great War at Glamis; she had also lost her brother Fergus to the Germans in 1915. In fact, she hated the Germans, and if any criticism is due it might be that she went on hating them long after we made friends with them again.
King George VI and Queen Elizabeth with Princess Elizabeth visiting an RAF Bomber Command airfield to meet the airmen, 6th July 1944 (Fox/Getty)
For instance, in June 1940 she wrote to Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of the American President Franklin D Roosevelt: “When we think of our gallant young men being sacrificed to the terrible machine that Germany has created …” Earlier, she had sent Mein Kampf to Lord Halifax, the foreign secretary, urging him not to read it through “or you might go mad” but adding: “Even a skip through gives you a good idea of [Hitler’s] mentality, ignorance, and obvious sincerity.”
It is, of course, well known that the king and queen stayed resolutely in London during the war when they might have moved to safer locations, that they visited the sites of bombed homes and businesses and that they did not send their children as evacuees to Canada. Queen Elizabeth never wore uniform. She remained a civilian, representing a gentle peace for which the valiant British were fighting. Images of her in her pony carriage with her young daughters cycling behind it stood in stark contrast to the armies of black-booted Nazis stomping about in Germany. Not for nothing is Hitler said to have described her as “the most dangerous woman in Europe”.
The Queen and Princess Margaret were of course much too young to know about international politics in 1933 – just seven, and three years old. But it fell to the Queen to assist the reconciliation process between Britain and Germany in the Fifties. In 1958, she received President Heuss on a state visit to Britain. In his speech at the Guildhall, the president said that war between Britain and Germany “must never happen again, and never will – that is how I understand the meaning of my visit, and that is how I interpret the spirit of friendship shown to me here”. The Queen cemented the relationship with her 1965 state visit to Germany and in subsequent visits, the most recent – a huge success – being last month.
There is, however, more controversy over the Duke of Windsor and his relations with Nazi Germany including a visit there in 1937. But I have read his private papers in the Royal archives, which explain why he went. He had received a letter from an Oscar Selbert, who had been at the American Embassy in London in 1925, stating that as “a man of the world”, the Duke was ideally placed to go and talk to Hitler, the aim being to avert war.
By going to Germany, he upset the Royal family and the Foreign Office, but I believe his intentions were honourable. He may have been foolish but he was no traitor.
Telegraph News – Culled from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/queen-elizabeth-II/11749012/Queens-Nazi-salute-was-simply-larking-for-the-cameras.html