On September 3, 1939, Great Britain, along with France, Australia, and New Zealand, declared war on Germany. On this day, a German U-boat submarine torpedoed a British passenger ship named the Athenia traveling from England to Canada. One hundred eighteen of the fourteen hundred civilians aboard were killed. And British Parliament member Winston Churchill was named First Lord of the Admiralty.
My father, George Edwin Farrar, turned eighteen years old on this day. Although the United States had not yet entered World War II, and would not for two more years, he, like many other American boys of a certain age, would be destined to join with Great Britain and the other Allies to fight the common Nazi enemy.
Heir to the British throne, Princess Elizabeth, born April 21, 1926, was a thirteen year old teenager when her country entered the war. She would spend all of her teenage years in the wartime of World War II.
But Elizabeth’s introduction to war and the Nazi’s started much earlier than her teenage years. She likely did not remember a time in her early youth when Great Britain and the world were not threatened by Nazi destruction.
Elizabeth’s Childhood Years
Five years before Elizabeth was even born, Adolf Hitler became the leader of the National Socialist (Nazi) Party, a party that later became the second largest political party in Germany when Elizabeth was only four years old.
I’m sure it was impossible for the young princess to have anything resembling a normal childhood considering she was born into the British Royal Family. But the timeframe in which she grew up was very volatile and her childhood was likely very different than if she had grown up in peacetime.
In January 1933, just a few months before Elizabeth turned seven, Adolf Hitler was named Chancellor of Germany. In February, the Nazi SA and SS were sworn in as auxiliary police.
Later the same month, the Reichstag building, seat of the German government, burned after being set on fire by the Nazis. This created a crisis atmosphere and enabled Adolf Hitler to seize power under the pretext of protecting the nation from threats to its security. Emergency powers were granted to Hitler as a result of the Reichstag fire.
In March 1933, the Nazis began opening concentration camps for those they deemed political enemies of the Third Reich. The German Parliament passed the Enabling Act giving Hitler dictatorial powers.
Even though these events were happening in Germany, I’m sure the British Royal Family was attuned to the possible future threat to their own country.
In April 1933, the month of Elizabeth’s seventh birthday, Hitler ordered boycotts against Jewish owned shops and professions, and enacted laws against Jews who he decreed to be “non-Aryans.”
The Gestapo was also created this month by Hermann Göring, the Commander-in-Chief of the Luftwaffe, in the German state of Prussia. Göring was also President of the Reichstag, Prime Minister of Prussia, Plenipotentiary for the Implementation of the Four Year (economic) Plan, and designated successor to Hitler.
By July of Elizabeth’s seventh year, the Nazi Party was declared Germany’s only political party. All other political parties were outlawed.
In 1934, when Elizabeth was eight, Adolf Hitler, Hermann Göring, and Heinrich Himmler conducted a purge of the SA leadership. The purge and shooting of the leadership began on June 30 and continued to the early morning hours of July 2, and came to be known as The Night of Long Knives.
To give the appearance that life was returning to normal, Hitler hosted a tea party on the evening of July 1 for cabinet members and their families in the garden of the Chancellery. An exact number of deaths is not known as all Gestapo reports were destroyed. Estimates range from 200 to over 1,000, less than half of which were SA officers. An unknown number were murdered by mistaken identity.
In August 1934, German President Hindenburg died and Adolf Hitler declared himself Führer. He announced the law that the office of Reich President would be combined with Reich Chancellor and dated it August 1 in order to seize total power in Germany.
Just before Elizabeth’s ninth birthday, in March 1935, Hitler violated the Treaty of Versailles by introducing military conscription. In September, Nuremberg Race Laws were enacted, stripping Jews of citizenship and most civil rights.
In February 1936, two months before Elizabeth’s tenth birthday, the Gestapo, under Heinrich Himmler, assumed absolute control over internal German security, placing it above the law.
In August, the Olympic Games (11th Olympiad) began in Berlin. The games had been awarded to Germany before Hitler came to power. During the Olympics, a three-week moratorium on anti-Jewish measures was put into effect to create a favorable impression upon foreign visitors.
Shortly after Elizabeth turned eleven years old in 1937, Neville Chamberlain succeeded Stanley Baldwin as prime minister of Great Britain. Later that year, on November 5, Adolf Hitler held a secret conference in the Reich Chancellery during which he revealed his plans for the acquisition of Lebensraum, or living space, for the German people at the expense of other nations in Europe.
By the time Elizabeth was twelve in 1938, the Nazis ordered Jews over age fifteen to apply for identity cards from the police, to be shown on demand to any police officer.
Later that year, British Prime Minister Chamberlain and Adolf Hitler signed the “Munich Agreement,” which ceded Czechoslovakia’s Sudetenland (brings the western areas of Czechoslovakia with high German population) to Germany. Chamberlain claimed the agreement brings “peace for our time.” German troops soon occupied Sudetenland and the Czech government resigned.
In October, Nazis arrested 17,000 Jews of Polish nationality living in Germany, then expelled them back to Poland which refused them entry, leaving them in ‘No-Man’s Land’ near the Polish border for several months.
In November, Ernst vom Rath, third secretary in the German Embassy in Paris, was shot and mortally wounded by Herschel Grynszpan, the 17-year-old son of one of the deported Polish Jews. Rath died on November 9, precipitating Kristallnacht, the “Night of Broken Glass.”
On November 9, mob violence broke out as the regular German police stood by and crowds of spectators watched. Nazi storm troopers along with members of the SS and Hitler Youth beat and murdered Jews, broke into and wrecked Jewish homes, and brutalized Jewish women and children.
All over Germany, Austria and other Nazi controlled areas, Jewish shops and department stores had their windows smashed and contents destroyed. Synagogues were especially targeted for vandalism, including desecration of sacred Torah scrolls. Hundreds of synagogues were systematically burned while local fire departments stood by or simply prevented the fire from spreading to surrounding buildings.
About 25,000 Jewish men were rounded up and later sent to concentration camps where they were often brutalized by SS guards and in some cases randomly chosen to be beaten to death.
Following Kristallnacht, Hermann Göring fined the Jews one billion marks for damages which the Nazis themselves had inflicted. He also warned of a “final reckoning with the Jews” if Germany should get involved in war, a sentiment also repeatedly expressed by Hitler.
With Elizabeth thirteen years old in 1939, on August 31, the British fleet mobilized and civilian evacuations began from London.
On September 1, the Nazis invaded Poland (with the largest Jewish population in Europe of 3.35 million), initiating World War II in Europe. In Britain and France, general mobilization was declared.
On September 2, Britain and France issued a joint ultimatum to Germany to withdraw her troops from Poland within twelve hours or find herself at war with Britain and France. Instead, the German Luftwaffe raided Warsaw.
And as I noted earlier, on September 3, 1939, Great Britain, along with France, Australia, and New Zealand, declared war on Germany. Thirteen-year-old Princess Elizabeth would spend almost her entire teenage years with her country at war, with the end of the war not coming until she was nineteen in 1945.
From the American Air Museum in Britain: Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor
Princess Elizabeth spent most of the war years at Windsor Castle and, like many other British children, was often apart from her parents. In October 1940, 14-year-old Princess Elizabeth broadcast a message to evacuees on the radio programme Children’s Hour, urging them to have courage.
At the age of 19, Princess Elizabeth joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS). After joining, she trained as a driver and mechanic with the rank of Second Subaltern. Five months later she was promoted to Junior Commander, which was the equivalent of Captain. Her younger sister Princess Margaret was a Girl Guide and later joined the Sea Rangers.
As heir presumptive, Princess Elizabeth undertook public duties during the Second World War, which included visits to USAAF bases. B-17 serial number 42-102547 was nicknamed “Rose of York” for Princess Elizabeth (now Queen Elizabeth II), and she christened the aircraft on her Royal visit to the 306th Bomb Group at Thurleigh.
In 1952 she ascended to the throne, becoming Queen of the United Kingdom and 15 other Commonwealth Nations. She is the longest living and longest reigning monarch in British history.
In the Liberty Lady Book Project, The B-17 Rose of York, author Pat DiGeorge provides more details of Princess Elizabeth’s christening of the aircraft:
In May of 1944, a B-17G, #42-102547, was assigned to the 367th Bombardment Squadron of the 306th Bombardment Group, housed at Thurleigh Airfield, just north of Bedford. Of all the planes assigned to the 306th, this aircraft became the most famous because of its association with Great Britain’s royal family!
After 367th Squadron crew chief M/Sgt. Ed Gregory named the A/C first “The Princess,” and then “Princess Elizabeth,” he came up with the idea that his plane should be christened by none other than Princess Elizabeth herself.
The royal family thought it was a grand idea with one caveat. They were afraid that if a plane by that name went down, it would be a bad omen indeed, so the name was changed to “Rose of York.”
On July 6, 1944, the royal group made their visit: King George VI, Queen Elizabeth, daughter 18-year-old Elizabeth plus others in the entourage. Lt. Gen. James H. Doolittle led the American delegation.
M/Sgt Gregory presented the princess with two dozen York roses at the start of the ceremony. When the young princess officially christened the “Rose of York” with a bottle of English cider, the bottle shattered and the onlookers cheered.
Sadly, the Rose of York was lost on February 3, 1945, en route to Berlin, the aircraft’s 63rd mission. In addition to the 9 crew members, war correspondent Guy Byam was on board making a recording for the BBC.
On its way back from the target and somewhere over the North Sea, the pilot, 1st Lt. Vernor F. Daley, Jr., radioed that he thought he could make it back to England.
The plane was never found.
A Lifetime of Service to her Country
Elizabeth was nineteen years old when World War II ended with the Allies’ victory. According to Wikipedia, she and her younger sister Margaret were even reported to have, on V-E Day, “mingled incognito with the celebrating crowds in the streets of London.” Elizabeth later said in a rare interview, “We asked my parents if we could go out and see for ourselves. I remember we were terrified of being recognised … I remember lines of unknown people linking arms and walking down Whitehall, all of us just swept along on a tide of happiness and relief.”
Upon the death of her father, King George VI, on February 6, 1952, at the age of twenty-five, Elizabeth became Queen of the United Kingdom and other Commonwealth realms (with her coronation on June 2, 1953). It was less than seven years after the end of World War II.
Queen Elizabeth II lived through the horrors of the Second World War as a child and as a young woman. She carried those memories with her for the rest of her life like I know the American and British and other veterans of that war did and still do.
Queen Elizabeth II died on September 8, 2022, with the longest recorded reign, seventy years and two-hundred fourteen days, of any female head of state in history, and the second-longest verified reign of any sovereign in history.
A Message of Condolences from the 384th Bomb Group, Inc.
The group of post-war 384th Bomb Group veterans, family, and friends, remembered Queen Elizabeth with flowers and a message of condolences. Local Kettering-area resident and head of the 384th Bomb Group Museum Project, Neill Howarth, laid the flowers at St. James the Apostle Church in Grafton Underwood and shared the message to the group via a video on the group’s Facebook page.
The 384th Bomb Group wishes to express our sincere condolences in the passing of Queen Elizabeth II. She was truly a stalwart leader of the free world and will always be remembered for her regal presence.
No words will ever do justice to the impact of her legacy.
Wishing her countrymen peace and comfort during this difficult time.
American Air Museum in Britain (link may not be working until completion of site upgrade): Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor
American Air Museum in Britain photo (link may not be working until completion of site upgrade): “Rose of York” Christening Photo
Liberty Lady Book Project, with links to purchase Pat DiGeorge’s book: The B-17 Rose of York
Her Majesty the Queen, 1926 – 2022 – English Heritage
Wikipedia: Elizabeth II
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2022