A queen in waiting after abdication of Edward VIII
As it turned out, 1936 was to become the year of three kings. George V died at its beginning, the uncrowned Edward VIII abdicated before its end and an unprepared George VI spent that cold Christmas contemplating his new life as Monarch.
Which of course also brought the little Princess Elizabeth next in line. It’s said that in those early days, she used to pray earnestly for the arrival of a baby brother – which of course would have released her from this awesome duty as heir to the throne.
The brother didn’t happen, but her preparation for the life she had just been bequeathed certainly did.
At the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 when she was only 13 she showed a distinct emotional and caring involvement. Although she was much too young until nearing the war’s end to take any part in national service, as soon as Elizabeth could, she did.
And despite encouragement for the little princesses, as vulnerable high-profile targets, to be sent to one of the dominions for safety, the King decided he couldn’t use that privilege when so few of his subjects would be able to make such a choice. The official missive from his wife said: “The children don’t leave without me, I won’t leave without the King and the King will never leave.”
Not for the only time in this sixth Georgian reign, how the people loved the Queen Mother-to-be for that.
And so the children stayed. Mostly at Royal Windsor, right under German bomber runs, and where they often made a night-time dash to the cellars wearing siren suits and carrying their childhood treasures in little suitcases.
Small wonder that until the end of her life, Elizabeth II nostalgically thought mostly of Windsor when she talked of home. Before she was 15, the princess had properly met the strikingly handsome Philip of Greece. And even though he was far away on war service, including on the battleship HMS Valiant, he kept up what was at first a kindly correspondence with his distant cousin, while she quickly became devoted to him.
At 16 she was required by law to register at the labour exchange. But not until Elizabeth was 18 and after years of persuasion by his daughter, did the King reluctantly agree to her joining the war.
Enter No 230873 Second Subaltern Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor, based at Aldershot.
She revelled in vehicle maintenance, stripping engines, reading maps and when the King and Queen arrived to see her take her ATS course final test, she met them in filthy overalls, hands black and face smudged. Mucky but happy!
As the war ended, the people truly felt this Royal Family had stayed with them, stuck by them, shared the good and the awful. On VE Day as the excited princesses watched the mass rejoicing from Buckingham Palace balcony, King George recorded: “Poor darlings. They have never had any fun yet!”
But for Elizabeth, total happiness was just around the corner.