Page 2/9

 Prince Philip, 1st Duke of Edinburgh  

Gordonstoun was the making of the young Philip - he excelled there. A born athlete, his sporting prowess soon won him the captaincy of both the hockey and cricket teams, while his natural leadership skills made him an excellent choice for 'Guardian of the School' (head boy). Among his favourite extra-curricular activities were the exciting if rather perilous sailing expeditions that the school organised around the coasts of Scotland and Norway which suited his quest for adventure and the thrill of the sea. Gordonstoun brought out Philip's individual spirit and transformed him into a self-reliant, strong self-disciplined student which prepared him for the rest of his life.


Following Philip's graduation, in his final report the school's founding headmaster Kurt Hahn (1886-1974) wrote about Philip - "Prince Philip's leadership qualities are most noticeable, though marred at times by impatience and intolerance... His best is outstanding; his second best is not good enough. Prince Philip will make his mark in any profession where he will have to prove himself in a full trial of strength."  Hahn was also to write later - "Philip's most marked trait was his undefeatable spirit...  His laughter was heard everywhere...  He showed lively intelligence. Once he had made a task his own, he showed meticulous attention to detail and pride of workmanship."  

Philip in costume for a performance of "Macbeth" at Gordonstoun in 1935


ABOVE: Philip in costume for a performance of "Macbeth"
at Gordonstoun in 1935

RIGHT: Kurt Hahn

Kurt Hahn

Following the death in April 1938 of Philip's uncle - Sir George Mountbatten, 2nd Marquess of Milford Haven (1892-1938), Philip moved in with Mountbatten and Edwina at Brook House, Park Lane, London. Philip admired Mountbatten greatly and Mountbatten himself thought of Philip as the son he never had.  It was during this time, Philip decided that he wished to join the Royal Navy. Philip took the competitive examination for the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth as a Special Entry Cadet and passed 16th in a class of 34, however in the oral examination he scored 380 points out of a possible 400.  On 4th May 1939, Philip entered Dartmouth and shortly after on 22nd July, the Royal Yacht Victoria & Albert anchored in the River Dart for a special visit by King George VI (1895(1936-1952), Queen Elizabeth, later The Queen Mother (1900-2002) and their two daughters - accompanied by Mountbatten, who had arranged for Philip to 'entertain' the two young princesses, and it has been said it was then that Princess Elizabeth, later Queen Elizabeth II (1926(1952-    ) fell in love with "the fair-haired boy, rather like a Viking, with a sharp face and piercing blue eyes."   This was not their first meeting as they had met at numerous family occasions, but it definitely was their first encounter where a potential romance was recognised by both of them.


A short film by Pathé about the visit of King George VI, Queen Elizabeth

and their daughters to the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth in July 1939

A photograph of Philip playing croquet with Princess Elizabeth (now Queen Elizabeth II) during the Royal Family's visit to the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth ​


A photograph of Philip playing croquet

with Princess Elizabeth (now Queen Elizabeth II) during the Royal Family's visit

to the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth

With the increasing political turmoil across Europe in 1939, it was clear to Philip and his other cadets at the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth that inevitably any ship they were posted to would be involved in war.  On 1st September 1939, the UK Government declared war on Nazi Germany and by the end of his 8mths training Philip won 'the King's Dirk' as the best all-round cadet of his term and subsequently 'the Eardley-Howard-Crockett Prize' as the best cadet in the college.  On 1st January 1940, Philip was rated Midshipman and posted to HMS Ramillies.  Philip saw this as a 'safe' posting and was unhappy that he was receiving preferential treatment being a Greek Prince.  He had been advised to apply for British citizenship by Mountbatten, but due to the start of World War II, the bureaucratic channels had slowed down his application. Philip knew that if his career in the Royal Navy was to progress his citizenship application would need to be successful, but personally Philip disliked being named 'of Greece' as it automatically made him un-British and obviously foreign.   

After 4mths onboard HMS Ramillies, Philip was transferred to HMS Kent, then to HMS Shropshire.  He was involved in convoy duties, but Philip found this frustrating and wanted to see action.  With a little help from Mountbatten, Philip was soon transferred to HMS Valiant forming part of the Mediterranean Fleet.  In night action against the fascist Italian fleet off Cape Matapan, Philip was entrusted with searchlight control, a duty he performed so well that it led to him being mentioned in dispatches.  Rear Admiral Sir Charles Morgan (1889-1951), the Captain of HMS Valiant wrote - “thanks to his alertness and appreciation of the situation, we were able to sink in five minutes two 8" gun Italian cruisers."  As a result of his service in the Battle of Cape Matapan, Philip was given the Greek War Cross of Valour by his cousin King George II of the Hellenes (1890-1947).  Soon the Greek Royal Family (who had left the Greek mainland for Crete in April 1941) were forced to flee once more to Alexandria, Egypt.  Philip's cousin - King George II of the Hellenes (1890-1947) left onboard HMS Decoy, which was accompanied by HMS Valiant. Only Philip's mother remained.

Whilst posted to HMS Valiant, Philip was involved in the Battle of Crete. In May 1941, Nazi Germany began an airborne invasion of Crete, and although the Allies were confident of success, German forces were able to bring in reinforcements and gained ground.  On 22nd May 1941, HMS Valiant itself was hit badly and after an 11 day battle, the Allies evacuated most of their troops to Alexandria, Egypt, whilst the remainder surrendered on 1st June 1941.  The cost of the Battle for Crete was high for both sides - total casualties among Commonwealth forces were 15,743, of whom 1751 were killed or died of wounds; German losses were very heavy with more than 3000 died during the battle and a similar number were wounded.  


In June 1941, Philip - who had been due for promotion to Sub-Lieutenant was ordered back to England to take his qualifying examinations.  After a long journey home via South Africa, Philip was promoted on 1st February 1942 and was posted to HMS Wallace - where he served for 2 years in the dangerous and cold North Sea protecting convoys.   He was promoted again in June 1942 to the rank of First Lieutenant and was said to be (at the age of 21yrs) the youngest officer in the Royal Navy in the rank.  In October 1942, HMS Wallace was ordered home to England for a refit, which meant Philip had 8mths in England.  During the invasion of Sicily in July 1943, as second in command of HMS Wallace, Philip saved his ship from a night bomber attack.  He had devised a plan to launch a raft with smoke floats that successfully distracted the bombers allowing the ship to slip away unnoticed.




Philip, whilst a Midshipman

onboard HMS Ramillies in 1939


In February 1944, Philip was appointed First Lieutenant on the destroyer HMS Whelp. There was a short delay between launch and commissioning and Philip stayed at The Mountbatten's home in Chester Street, London whilst his new ship was fitted out. Whilst serving on HMS Whelp, he saw service under the command of Admiral of the Fleet Sir James Somerville (1882-1949) with the British Pacific Fleet in the 27th Destroyer Flotilla.  Following the atomic explosion at Hiroshima, Japan which brought about the end of the War, HMS Whelp was assigned to escort HMS Duke of York (which had joined the American Fleet at Okinawa).  With help from Mountbatten, he was present in Tokyo Bay when the instrument of Japanese surrender was signed on 1st September 1945.  Philip finally returned to England on HMS Whelp in January 1946 and was initially posted to HMS Glendower, the Naval Training Centre at Pwllheli, Gwynedd, Wales and subsequently was appointed as an instructor at HMS Royal Arthur, the Petty Officers' School in Corsham, Wiltshire. 

HMS Whelp
Philip whilst a First Lieutenant ​


ABOVE: Philip whilst a First Lieutenant

in the Royal Navy