The King who jeopardized the Monarchy

The cover of Prince Harry’s memoir was released last week, in mounting anticipation of the day it hits the shelves next January. Since their wedding in May 2018, Harry and Meghan have proven to be distracting – to say the least – for the Royal Family. Their staunch desire to center everything around their desires, feelings and intentions goes against the grain of an institution based on selflessness and duty.

Even though the revelations contained in his book will probably rock and ruffle Buckingham Palace, Prince Harry’s fifth position in the line of succession to the throne render his tribulations much less catastrophic than those posed by his late grandmother’s uncle, King Edward VIII. On December 10, 1936, this Monarch deposed the scepter and the orb for the sake of marrying the Queen of his heart, the American-born divorcee Wallis Simpson.

His brother, George VI, was left to pick up the pieces. He was neither supposed nor prepared to accede the throne. The reputation of the institution was severely tarnished, but the history of the world can be grateful that George Windsor was tasked with this mission because his brother David (Edward VIII)’s presence on the throne would have proved catastrophic in the period leading to and during World War II.

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« Je pense que Harry couche avec le fantôme de sa mère »

L’historien et biographe Jean des Cars (source: The Limited Times)

Le comte Jean des Cars est un personnage des plus sympathiques et généreux. Sa bibliographie est impressionnante et il est le spécialiste de référence des têtes couronnées européennes. Il m’a accordé il y a quelques jours un long entretien à propos de la monarchie britannique, dans la foulée du décès de Sa Majesté la reine Elizabeth II survenu le 8 septembre dernier.

« J’ai été le premier journaliste francophone reçu à Buckingham Palace par le prince Charles [maintenant le roi Charles III]. C’était en 1982, avant son mariage avec Diana », de mentionner fièrement l’auteur du récent livre à succès Pour la reine (Perrin) qui en est à sa cinquième réédition. « J’avais appris qu’il allait venir en France, pour honorer la mémoire des combattants de la Royal Air Force qui s’étaient cachés dans les caves à champagne et qui avaient vécu des moments épouvantables. Il devait être accompagné de Lord Mountbatten. J’ai donc dit au journal (Le Figaro) : « Et si on demandait un entretien au prince de Galles? » Tout le monde me regarde et me dit : « vous êtes fou. » J’ai donc pris l’annuaire téléphonique de Londres. J’ai appelé Buckingham et j’ai demandé à parler à l’officier de presse en charge du prince de Galles. On me passe alors un Australien avec un accent de crocodile qui me demande de lui envoyer par télécopieur une photocopie de mon passeport et ma liste de questions. Deux jours plus tard, on me confirmait un rendez-vous qui était prévu le surlendemain. Personne n’a cru que j’avais simplement obtenu cet entretien simplement à cause d’un appel à Buckingham Palace », de se remémorer l’historien avec gourmandise.

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In Afghanistan “with bayonet and kukri”

HRH Prince Harry (right) pictured while he was deployed with Gurkha soldiers in Afghanistan (source: Nepal News Blog)

Having devoured General Sir Peter Duffell’s book The Gurkha Odyssey (which I reviewed here recently) and being interested in anything related to these élite and legendary soldiers, I was extremely worried about the evacuation of the 100 Nepalese Gurkhas who had been tasked with guarding the Canadian embassy in Kabul. I was relieved when I heard that they had been safely taken away from the country.

Nonetheless, the whole episode reminded me of the chapter Sir Peter devoted to the Gurkhas contribution to Britain’s fight in Afghanistan – during the 1st Afghan War (1839-1842), the Second Afghan War (1878-1880), the Third Afghan War (1919) and the Fourth Afghan War (2001-2021). Since 2001, the Gurkhas took part in no less than 24 deployments!

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“When you know you are with the Gurkha, I think there is no safer place to be”

In themselves, these words from His Royal Highness Prince Harry encapsulate the ethos and history of those soldiers who are called the best in the world. Having completed two tours of Afghanistan, notably for two months in Helmand, the Duke of Sussex has seen for himself what those legendary fighters are made of.

In his amazing book, Gurkha Odyssey: Campaigning for the Crown (Pen & Sword), retired General Sir Peter Duffell took upon himself to explain what kind of mettle these exceptional fighters who first encountered the British red coats as enemies on the battlefield of the war on Nepal between 1814 and 1816 are made of. Few people could know the subject better, since the author was himself commissioned into the 2nd Gurkha Rifles at the beginning of his military career.

Having lived for several months in Edinburgh (Scotland), I visited the National War Museum on a few occasions. I was always impressed to read that, during World War I, Germans used to call Scottish soldiers “the ladies from hell” – a distinct reference to their kilt and warrior prowess.

I don’t know how Kaiser Wilhelm II’s troops (or other battlefield enemies throughout history) called the Gurkhas south of Ypres in the first months of the Great War, but I can easily imagine a similar fright must be instilled in whoever sees one of those Nepali soldiers advancing toward his / her position. Just to give you an idea of the kind of fighter we are talking about, the author recounts that, in the last stages of the Burma campaign:

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Prince Harry in Australia

Photo credit: Bauer Griffin. Montage: Pinso.
Photo credit: Bauer Griffin. Montage: Pinso.

His Royal Highness Prince Harry will arrive in Australia next week for a four weeks long attachment to the ADF. If there is one trademark of Captain Wales, as he is know in the British Army, it’s that he puts his money where his mouth his. Far from shying away from grunting, he seems to relish those assignments. It will therefore be a real pleasure to follow him during his presence in Australia and also when he travels to Gallipoli for the 100th anniversary Remembrance ceremonies.