Princess Elizabeth on Children's Hour in 1940
Yesterday’s Telegraph reported on a letter written by the Queen Mother at the height of the Blitz which revealed how close she and her husband, George VI, came to being killed in a bombing raid.
The previously-unpublished correspondence, to her mother-in-law Queen Mary, was written on 12 September 1940. It revealed how the Royal couple leapt for their lives after a bomb exploded in the grounds of Buckingham Palace. Three servants were injured in the attack.
"My darling Mama. I hardly know how to begin to tell you of the horrible attack on Buckingham Palace this morning."
The Royal couple were going to collect some of their belongings after a previous bombing raid when they came under attack. "At that moment we heard the unmistakable whirr–whirr of a German plane. We said 'ah a German,' and before anything else could be said, there was the noise of aircraft diving at great speed, and then the scream of a bomb," she wrote. "It all happened so quickly, that we had only time to look foolishly at each other, when the scream hurtled past us, and exploded with a tremendous crash in the quadrangle. "I saw a great column of smoke and earth thrown up into the air, and then we all ducked like lightening into the corridor.
"There was another tremendous explosion, and we and our 2 pages who were outside the door, remained for a moment or two in the corridor away from the staircase, in case of flying glass. "It is curious how one's instinct works at these moments of great danger... Everybody remained wonderfully calm, and we went down to the shelter – I went along to see if the housemaids were alright, and found them busy in their various shelters – then came a cry for "bandages," and the first aid party, who had been training for over a year, rose magnificently to the occasion, and treated the 3 poor casualties calmly and correctly.
The 14-page letter, on notepaper headed with the royal crest, is featured in the official biography of the Queen Mother, written by William Shawcross, which is published this week.
The letter ends: "Darling Mama, I do hope that you will let me come and stay a day or two later – it is so sad being parted, as this War has parted families. With my love, and prayers for your safety, ever darling Mama, your loving daughter in law. Elizabeth. P.S. Dear old B.P. is still standing, and that is the main thing."
The words "still standing" were underlined.
Buckingham Palace was one of the estimated 3.5 million British homes that was damaged or destroyed by the Luftwaffe. The King and Queen Consort had stayed in London after the outbreak of war to boost the nation's morale.
Andrew Roberts, the historian, said the letter was remarkable. "We can now see that this was much the closest that a reigning monarch came to a violent death since the assassination attempt on Queen Victoria," he said.
I wonder how the Queen’s accession in 1940 would have changed things? Not a lot I would imagine. She would have become the longest reigning British monarch in late 2003 or early 2004. She would be the longest reigning living monarchs, rather than King Bhumibol of Thailand who has been Monarch since 1945. Apart from that I doubt the UK would be a hugely different place.