4 Things You Didn’t Know About Royals In The Military

From Prince Philip’s life-saving cunning in World War Two, to the future king who was eager to get stuck into the trenches…

Prince Philip


The Queen's future husband was out on the high seas during World War Two, serving on the Allied side while two of his own brothers-in-law fought for Germany. Philip served on a number of ships in a number of roles, including midshipman, which he bluntly described as "the lowest form of life in the Navy". He was often tasked with menial jobs, like making trips to the shore to gather food supplies ("I managed to get a couple of bags of spuds but it was the only fresh stuff we could get").

Amid the various skirmishes, one particular episode stands out: the time when Philip saved the lives of everyone on his ship by fooling the Nazis. While they were involved in the Allied invasion of Sicily, his ship came under a night time attack by the Luftwaffe, and the crew realised with mounting dread that it was only a matter of time before the barrage destroyed them. "It was like being blindfolded and trying to evade an enemy whose only problem was getting his aim right," one of the veterans, Harry Hargreaves, later said.

But then Philip came up with the idea of throwing aboard a wooden life raft with smoke floats attached. In the dark of night, the enemy pilot mistook the smoking raft for the seemingly stricken ship, aiming its bombs at that rather than the real ship. "Prince Philip saved our lives that night," Hargreaves recalled. And what did Philip himself have to say about it? "I thought it was a frightfully good wheeze."


Like his father before him, Prince Andrew saw active service in the face of the enemy. In his case, it was the Falklands War, which was aged between Argentina and the United Kingdom over territories in the South Atlantic. Andrew was deployed on board the HMS Invincible, which caused some members of the British Government to clutch their foreheads and fear for the life of the Queen's son.

However, the Queen herself was adamant that he should be allowed to serve in the thick of the action. And serve he did, in a war he described as "99 per cent boredom and one per cent terror". He embarked on hazardous helicopter missions that included serving as a decoy for missiles, luring them away from the Invincible. Andrew would hover near the ship to present a radar target and attract the Exocet missile. Then - at the critical moment - Andrew would fly upwards to effectively dodge the oncoming Exocet.

Andrew was also tasked with rescuing survivors from a stricken ship, flying down in his helicopter to pick the men up from the freezing waters of the Atlantic. Looking back on the conflict, Andrew later said: "Danger didn't actually occur to us. I probably had my overdose of adrenaline for my life. I get a hot rush every now and then thinking about it. What do they say? 'I laugh at danger?' Absolute rubbish."


Edward VIII is best remembered today as the king who infamously abdicated, giving up the crown for the sake of his love for Wallis Simpson. There's also the thorny matter of his apparent admiration for Adolf Hitler. However, what's less well known is that he played an active role in World War One, even seeing the trenches first hand as a member of the Grenadier Guards.

Prevented from seeing combat by the British Government - he was, after all, the heir to the throne - the young Edward was nevertheless permitted to visit the front lines, inspect defences and generally make himself useful out of the line of fire. He wrote about the Somme, describing it as "the nearest approach to hell imaginable".

He also spoke of how "terribly depressed" he was at not being allowed to fight, and was actually embarrassed when he was awarded the Military Cross anyway. As he later wrote, "I can't say I feel I have earned the MC at all, but that's nothing to do with me!"


George VI, the father of Queen Elizabeth II, saw combat duty in World War One - unlike his brother Edward VIII, who as we've seen was considered too important to risk putting in harm's way. Back in those days, the future George VI was known simply as Albert or Bertie - a shy young man in the shadow of his flashier brother Edward.

But his quiet, reserved personality would be tested in the flurry of combat, as he found himself part of one of the greatest military engagements in British history: the Battle of Jutland. This was the largest naval confrontation of World War One, a new Trafalgar that would become a bloody debacle on the high seas.

Bertie was on board the HMS Collingwood during Jutland, manning the gun turrets. It gave him an exhilarating, if rather terrifying, vantage point from which to observe the carnage unfolding.

"I was sitting on the top of A turret and had a very good view of the proceedings," he later wrote. "I was up there during a lull, when a German ship started firing at us, and one salvo straddled us. We at once returned the fire. I was distinctly startled and jumped down the hole in the top of the turret like a shot rabbit! I didn't try the experience again..."

He maintained his appetite for combat, however, later transferring to the fledgling Royal Air Force and becoming the first member of the Royal Family to qualify as a pilot.