Remembering the Royals Who Died During the War While Serving the Armed Forces

British princes who died during the war

During the age of knights and musketeers, kings, emperors, and princes personally led their armies into the battlefield, and a number of these fighting royals, not surprisingly, were killed in action.

However, the 20th century saw only a handful of royal princes serving the armed forces during the war. And saw action in the front line. In the current British royal family, only three.

British princes who saw action on the battlefield

Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh was still Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark when he served the British Royal Navy during World War II. 

Prince Philip and Prince Andrew
Prince Philip and his son, Prince Andrew, served on the battlefield at a different time

He was a naval officer aboard the British warships fighting against Germany during the war. One of the youngest lieutenants in the Royal Navy, Prince Philip became second in command of the British warship destroyer, HMS Wallace. He was present in Tokyo Bay when the Japanese forces surrendered to the Allies. 

Prince Philip's son, Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, also served in the British Royal Navy and was a helicopter pilot during the Falkland wars. While Prince Harry served as a tank commander during his tour of duty in Afghanistan.

Royal death during the war

There were several royals who died serving on the front line. Prince George, Duke of Kent, younger son of King George V, who was an officer in the Royal Air Force during World War II, died in a plane crash in Scotland while heading to Iceland to visit the British troops. He was 39.

British princes who died during the war
Prince George, Duke of Kent, died in 1942 during WWII

Prince Maurice of Battenberg, first cousin of King George V, and son of Queen Victoria's youngest child, Princess Beatrice, and Prince Henry of Battenberg, was killed in action in October 1914, during World War I. 

For the record, Prince Maurice was the only British prince, post-Hanoverian era, who died in combat during the war. The prince was the brother of Queen Eugenie "Ena" of Spain.

British princes who died during the war
Prince Maurice of Battenberg (1891-1914)

Prince Maurice, who was born in Balmoral Castle, was serving as a lieutenant of the King's Royal Rifle Corps in Zonnebeke in the Ypres Salient (West Flanders, Belgium), and was leading his troop for an attack when they came under shellfire. He was hit at the top of the ridge and died instantly. He was 23.

His mother, Princess Beatrice, allowed his body to be buried in Ypres Salient. He died three years before his cousin, King George V, changed the British royal family name to Windsor and the Battenbergs adopted Mountbatten, so he was known as Prince Maurice of Battenberg throughout his life.

Queen Victoria’s great-great-grandson, Prince Wilhelm of Prussia, died fighting for the Germans in the Battle of France. Wilhelm, the grandson of the last German emperor, Wilhelm II, renounced his place in the line of succession to marry a woman of unequal birth.

In May 1940, he took part in the invasion of France and was wounded during the fighting in Valenciennes. He died in a field hospital in Nivelles days later due to his injuries. 

British princes who died during the war
Prince Christoph of Hesse (1901-1943)

Due to his death, a decree known as the Prince's Decree was issued, barring all members of the former German royal houses to serve in the war. The decree prompted three brothers-in-law of Prince Philip (the future Duke of Edinburgh) to be recalled from the military service - Prince Berthold of Baden (husband of Princess Theodora), Prince Ernest of Hohenlohe-Langeburg (husband of Princess Margarita), and Prince Christoph of Hesse (first husband of Princess Sophie).

However, Prince Christoph was not lucky enough. Following the release of the Prince's Decree, he was ordered to come home from Italy. But on his way home in October 1943, his plane crashed on the hillside of the Apennine Mountains in Italy, killing him and his pilot instantly.

Two more great-grandsons of Queen Victoria died during World War I, Prince Friedrich of Hesse in 1916, and his younger brother, Prince Maximilian of Hesse, in October 1914, while in the battlefield. They were older brothers of Prince Christoph.

George Lascelles, Queen Elizabeth II's first cousin, and the eldest son of Princess Mary, was not killed during World War II but was almost executed. Lascelles joined the British Army and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Grenadier Guards in 1942.

He was promoted to the rank of captain and fought with the 3rd Battalion of the regiment in North Africa and Italy during World War II. On June 18, 1944, he was wounded and captured at Monte Corno in Italy.

He was held as a prisoner of war and Adolf Hitler ordered his execution. But the SS General in Command of POW camps,  Gottlob Berger, realized that the war was nearly over so he refused to carry out the order. George Lascelles was released in May 1945 and was sent to Ottawa, Canada as an aide-de-camp to his uncle, Prince Alexander, Earl of Athlone. He became the 7th Earl of Harewood in 1947 upon the death of his father, Henry Lascelles.

British princes who died during the war
Prince Alastair Windsor died in 1943 during his active service in the armed forces

But the case of Prince Alastair Windsor, Duke of Connaught and Earl of Sussex, was different. He was the only child of Prince Arthur of Connaught (grandson of Queen Victoria) and Princess Alexandra of Fife (great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria). 

In 1935, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant into the Royal Scots Greys. And was promoted a lieutenant in 1939. He was sent to Ottawa, Canada, to serve as aide-de-camp to his uncle, Prince Alexander Cambridge, 1st Earl of Athlone, who was serving as Governor General of Canada.

In 1942, Alastair succeeded his grandfather, Prince Arthur, as Duke of Connaught and Strathearn and Earl of Sussex. However, the following year, 1943, he was found dead in his room in Ottawa at the age of 28. 

The cause of his death was reportedly hypothermia. On his death, his mother, Princess Alexandra, Duchess of Fife, left without direct successors. The title was eventually inherited by his cousin, James Carnegie, 3rd Duke of Fife.

The case of Princess Mafalda of Savoy

There were other royals who died during the war but not due to serving the armed forces, for instance, Princess Mafalda of Savoy, sister-in-law of Prince Christoph (wife of his older brother, Prince Philipp), and daughter of King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy. 

In the late part of 1943, while arriving in Italy after attending the funeral of her brother-in-law, Tsar Boris III, in Bulgaria, Princess Mafalda was tricked by the Gestapo, Hitler's notorious police, to believe that her husband, who was held under house arrest by Hitler, wanted to talk to her.

Prince Philipp of Hesse and Princess Mafalda of Savoy
Princess Mafalda of Savoy and Prince Philipp of Hesse

When Princess Mafalda traveled to a German embassy to wire her husband, she was arrested by the Gestapo on the ground of suspicion of being a traitor. She was brought to Munich in Bavaria for interrogation, then to Berlin.  And later put into prison at Buchenwald concentration camp near Weimar, Germany. 

She would not see her family again. Prince Philipp and their children were not informed that she was being held prisoner by the Nazis. All her letters for her husband were intercepted by the Gestapo and were not delivered. 

Later, the Buchenwald concentration camp was heavily bombed by the Allies, and Princess Mafalda was buried under the pile of debris. When she was pulled out, her arm sustained severe injuries and was later infected. 

The medical staff decided to amputate her injured arm but during the operation, she bled profusely. She slipped into a coma and did not regain consciousness until she died. She was 41.

Prince Donatus of Hesse and Queen Elizabeth
Prince Donatus of Hesse and Queen Elizabeth II

Her family was only informed about her death a year later when Germany was defeated by the Allies. She was reburied at Kronberg Castle in Hesse in 1945.

Prince Donatus of Hesse, who represented the House of Hesse at the funeral of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, on April 17, 2021, in Windsor, is Princess Mafalda's grandson. Prince Donatus is close to both Prince Philip and the Queen.

Remembrance Day (November 11)

Armistice Day (November 11), which marked the end of World War I, also known as Remembrance Day, is a special day to pay tribute to the Fallen heroes, the war veterans, and those who are currently serving in the Armed Forces around the world. 

World War I started in August 1914 when Germany entered Belgium and did not effectively end until November 11, 1918. The war was triggered when Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated in Sarajevo, Bosnia.

World War II started in September 1939 when Germany invaded Poland and Britain joined the war. The war effectively ended in October 1945.

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