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Posted: April 24, 2016

Happy 90th birthday to war vet Queen Elizabeth

By Elinor Florence

Princess Elizabeth was born 90 years ago, on April 21, 1926. Just six months after her thirteenth birthday, the world was plunged into war.

Elizabeth in mechanic’s uniform.
Elizabeth in mechanic’s uniform.

The plucky teenager threw herself into the war effort and over her father’s objections, she even joined the armed forces and trained as a mechanic!

When Great Britain declared war on September 3, 1939, 13-year-old Elizabeth and her nine-year-old sister Margaret Rose were at Balmoral Castle in Scotland with their parents, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth.

The King and Queen rushed off to London, where they spent the remainder of the war. They considered sending the princesses to Canada for their own safety, but according to their mother: “The children could not go without me, and I could not possibly leave the King, and the King will never leave.” So that was that.

2. Windsor CastleIt was decided that Windsor Castle might be safer for the girls, so the princesses with their nannies moved there and remained in this gloomy fortress for the next five years. Whenever there was an air raid, they took shelter in one of the castle dungeons.

The family was separated for almost six years. Although the King and Queen visited Windsor every possible weekend, the girls missed their parents terribly, and were very worried about them.

On one occasion, the King and Queen were in Buckingham Palace when several bombs struck, damaging the palace and killing one staff member. It was never officially announced what a close call they had. The lead image (Photo Credit: Fox Photos/Getty Images) is a photo of them examining the rubble.

4. Queen with two daughtersThe queen was an excellent role model for her daughters. She gave an impressive speech to women of the Commonwealth in 1939, urging them to participate in the war effort.

Following her mother’s example, when Elizabeth was asked to make a radio broadcast to children on October 13, 1940, she readily agreed. This was her first taste of royal duties, and the first of the broadcasts she still makes each Christmas.

You can hear in her youthful voice how much she sympathizes with children who are separated from their parents. She begins: “My sister Margaret Rose and I feel so much for you, as we know from experience what it means to be away from those we love most of all.”

Margaret Rose and Elizabeth in BBC Studio. (Photo Credit: Getty Images).
Margaret Rose and Elizabeth in BBC Studio. (Photo Credit: Getty Images).

After a short speech, she concludes: “We are trying to do all we can to help our gallant sailors, soldiers, and airmen, and we are trying, too, to bear our own share of the danger and sadness of war . . . When peace comes, remember, it will be for us, the children of today, to make the world of tomorrow a better and happier place.”

It’s a lovely little speech. Click Princess Elizabeth’s broadcast to children to hear the full four minutes and 18 seconds.

Princess Elizabeth places Princess Margaret's arm in a sling as part of the girl guides in Frogmore, Windsor, England on April 11, 1942.  (Photo by Studio Lisa/Getty Images)
Princess Elizabeth places Princess Margaret’s arm in a sling as part of the girl guides in Frogmore, Windsor, England on April 11, 1942. (Photo by Studio Lisa/Getty Images)

While living at Windsor, the girls coped with blackouts and rationing, did their lessons, knitted for servicemen, and became members of the Girl Guides. Right, Elizabeth places Princess Margaret’s arm in a sling as part of their first aid training.

Each Christmas, they put on a pantomime with the help of war evacuees and local schoolboys to raise money for the war effort.

One year, a handsome young prince came to see the performance – and from then on, Elizabeth and Philip wrote to each other.

Philip Mountbatten. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)
Philip Mountbatten. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

Who could resist “the Viking prince,” as he was called? After the war ended, they became engaged.

As Elizabeth grew older, she began to take on more social tasks. In 1942, when she had not yet turned sixteen, her father made her Colonel of the Grenadier Guards and she carried out their inspections. She looks very young and small between the rows of guards!

Princess Elizabeth (C) reviewing the Grenadier guards on her birthday.  (Photo by David E. Scherman//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)
Princess Elizabeth (C) reviewing the Grenadier guards on her birthday. (Photo by David E. Scherman//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)

By the time she turned sixteen, Elizabeth was desperate to join one of the women’s services. Like any father, the King was reluctant to see her in danger, but eventually he gave in and agreed. She joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service as a subaltern.

Along with the other girls on the course, Second Subaltern Elizabeth Windsor, as she was known, learned to take engines apart and rebuild them, and to drive heavy vehicles such as military trucks and ambulances.

9. Elizabeth reads maps -- Photo Credit National Army Museum

As part of her training, she learned how to change a tire.  This photo to the left was featured in Life magazine.
As part of her training, she learned how to change a tire.  This photo to the left was featured in Life magazine.

Above: She hones her map-reading skills.

Her proud parents came to see the princess perform a driving demonstration, and they couldn’t help but worry when she drove through the busy traffic of London and through the gates of Buckingham Palace to show them what she could do!

But she loved driving, and still drives today when she has the chance.

One of Elizabeth’s new official roles was Councillor of State. Along with the Queen, she had the authority to act in the King’s absence.

11. Elizabeth behind wheel -- Photo Credit PA PhotosShe continued to take on more official roles, such as her visit to the 6th Airborne Division in May 1944, shortly before D-Day.

 

By war’s end, Elizabeth has taken on a new maturity. She was certainly pleased and proud to wear her uniform, as shown in this official photograph.

Imagine everyone’s joy when Germany surrendered on May 8, 1945. The princesses went to London with the King and Queen so they could take part in such a momentous occasion and they appeared on the Buckingham Palace balcony alongside their parents, Elizabeth wearing her Auxiliary Territorial Services uniform.

Elizabeth watches fly-past. She looks very young in this photograph. 
Elizabeth watches fly-past. She looks very young in this photograph.

Like most young women of her generation, the war was a turning point in Elizabeth’s life. She was still only 19 when the war ended. Just two years later, she married her fairytale prince at the age of 21.

Her beloved father died suddenly on February 6, 1952 when Elizabeth was just 26 years old, and the mother of a small baby. Her coronation ceremony was delayed for a year to allow the nation a period of mourning for their king.

But Elizabeth assumed the crown on June 2, 1953.

Elizabeth’s wartime years, although often sad and frightening, were excellent training for the duties she would assume as Head of the British Commonwealth’s armed forces.

Elizabeth in uniform.
Elizabeth in uniform.

She has now held that role for 77 years, and counting.

She is the only female member of the royal family ever to serve in the armed forces.

And she is now the last surviving head of state who served in uniform during the Second World War.

 

Happy Birthday, Your Majesty! Long Live the Queen!

King George VI and Queen Elizabeth are joined by their daughters Prince Elizabeth, and Princess Margaret on the balcony of Buckingham Palace as the crowd cheers at their VE Day appearance May 8, 1945.
King George VI and Queen Elizabeth are joined by their daughters Prince Elizabeth, and Princess Margaret on the balcony of Buckingham Palace as the crowd cheers at their VE Day appearance May 8, 1945.
Elizabeth’s wedding.
Elizabeth’s wedding.
Elizabeth’s Coronation.
Elizabeth’s Coronation.
Queen with soldiers today.
Queen with soldiers today.

ElinorFlorence– Career journalist Elinor Florence, who now lives in Invermere, has written for daily newspapers and magazines including Reader’s Digest. She writes a regular blog called Wartime Wednesdays, in which she tells true stories of Canadians during World War Two. Married with three grown daughters, her passions are village life, Canadian history, antiques, and old houses. You may read more about Elinor on her website at www.elinorflorence.com.

Elinor’s first historical novel was recently published by Dundurn Press in Toronto. Bird’s Eye View is the only novel ever written in which the protagonist is a Canadian woman in uniform during World War Two. The heroine Rose Jolliffe is an idealistic Saskatchewan farm girl who joins the Royal Canadian Air Force and becomes an interpreter of aerial photographs. She spies on the enemy from the sky and makes several crucial discoveries. Lonely and homesick, she maintains contact with Canada through letters from the home front. The book is available through any bookstore including Lotus Books in Cranbrook, and also as an ebook from any digital book provider including Amazon, Kindle and Kobo. You can read more about the book by visiting Elinor’s website at www.elinorflorence.com/birdseyeview


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