Duke of Edinburgh speaks to a bugler at Windsor Castle during a ceremony for the transfer of the Colonel-in-Chief of the Rifles from the Duke to the Duchess of Cornwall 220720 CREDIT PA
Prince Philip

Prince Philip Obituary: From Royal Exile To The Duke Of Edinburgh

The Duke served in the Royal Navy during the Second World War and held a number of honorary military ranks in the decades afterwards.

Duke of Edinburgh speaks to a bugler at Windsor Castle during a ceremony for the transfer of the Colonel-in-Chief of the Rifles from the Duke to the Duchess of Cornwall 220720 CREDIT PA

Prince Philip was born on 10 June 1921, on the Greek island of Corfu.

He was the fifth child and the only son of Prince Andrew of Greece and Princess Alice of Battenberg, and held the title 'Prince of Greece and Denmark'.

The future Duke of Edinburgh was born into political instability, and, on the orders of King George V, was evacuated along with his family from Greece by the Royal Navy cruiser, HMS Calypso, aged just one year old.

The family was first taken to Brindisi in Italy, before settling in Paris.

Like the Queen, Philip was a great-great-grandchild of Queen Victoria.

He would go on to join the Royal Navy, following in the footsteps of some of his ancestors by serving at sea, including his grandfather, Prince Louis, who was Admiral of the Fleet and First Sea Lord.

Philip served with distinction in the Second World War, and, although the Duke of Edinburgh would ultimately give up his military career to become consort to the woman he loved, he maintained a close connection with the Armed Forces during his lifetime.

Described as a "rugged, boisterous" boy, but also "remarkably polite", young Philip was sent to a school in Cheam in the United Kingdom in the late 1920s where he received a "conventional English education", according to biographer Tim Heald in 'The Duke'.

In 1933, he was sent to Schloss Salem in Germany for two school terms, a location where he had already spent holidays with his sister and brother-in-law, and a place he could be kept "under the watchful eye of his sister and her new Baden relations".

Prince Philip while a school boy, pictured in Germany in 1934 SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG PHOTO ALAMY
A young Prince Philip pictured while still a school student (Picture: Sueddeutsche Zeitung/Alamy).

Mr Heald states in his biography that: "Although Philip's sisters had all married Germans, he did not feel German himself."

'The Duke' attributes the Prince's brief stay at Salem to the fact that "the Nazis were moving in".

Prince Philip moved and continued his studies at Gordonstoun school in Scotland, although during summer holidays "he had no single and obvious home to go to", with his mother ill and his father living in Monte Carlo.

In 1939, Philip joined the Royal Navy, although admitted his uncle, Lord Mountbatten, played a part in that choice.

The Duke said in 1970 that he would have "without a doubt" joined the Royal Air Force, had he made the decision alone, however later, in 1995, he stated: "I think, left to my own devices I think I probably would've signed up for the Navy.

"I was eventually persuaded by my uncle, Lord Mountbatten, that it might be more sensible to go into the Navy."

The Prince would, however, go on to learn to fly a variety of aircraft later in his life.

It was as an officer cadet at the Royal Naval College in Dartmouth he first met the young Princess Elizabeth, when he was tasked with escorting her on a visit.

Soon, they began to exchange letters.

Graduating as the best cadet in his class, Philip was appointed a midshipman in January 1940 and formally began his active service career.

He spent several months on the battleship HMS Ramillies, before being transferred to HMS Kent and HMS Shropshire, in the Indian Ocean.

But after Italy's invasion of Greece, Philip was transferred to the battleship HMS Valiant, in the Mediterranean.

Here he was involved in the Battle of Crete and mentioned in dispatches for his role operating searchlights in the Battle of Cape Matapan, in 1941.

He worked his way up the ranks, and became one of the youngest First Lieutenants in the Navy in 1942, holding the post at the age of just 21 while on board HMS Wallace.

It was here Philip met Mike Parker, who would go on to become his private secretary and a close friend.

The following July, the Prince saved HMS Wallace from attack by night bombers, launching a smoking raft to distract the bombers, allowing the ship to escape without being noticed.

Watch: The the Duke of Edinburgh recalls one wartime experience when 'the whole ship bent' after HMS Valiant was hit by a series of bombs.

In 1945, he was on HMS Whelp when the vessel escorted the USS Missouri into Tokyo Bay for the signing of the Japanese surrender, which he saw first-hand.

Following the end of the Second World War, Philip became an instructor at HMS Royal Arthur in Wiltshire.

Lord Charteris, who also served in the Second World War, praised Philip's contribution during the conflict, saying: "He was a very gallant officer."

Philip himself was more modest, stating in 1948, upon receiving the Freedom of the City of London, that: "We did what we were told to do, to the very best of our ability, and kept on doing it."

Through this time, his relationship with Princess Elizabeth had deepened, and in the summer of 1946, Philip asked King George VI for his daughter's hand.

Within London society, it was a controversial choice. The heir to the throne was marrying an exiled Greek prince.

In February 1947, Philip abandoned his Greek and Danish royal titles, took the surname Mountbatten from his mother's family, and became a British subject.

He was known as Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten, with no mention of him being Prince of Greece.

On 20 November that same year, Philip and Elizabeth married at Westminster Abbey – although in post-war Britain his German relations were kept away from the wedding.

The Queen, then Priness Elizabeth, with Prince Philip the Duke of Edinburgh at Villa Guardamangia in Malta. Philip was First Lieutenant on HMS Chequers at the time 251149 CREDIT PA
The then-Princess Elizabeth and Philip in Malta together in 1949 (Picture: PA).

Philip was also now the Duke of Edinburgh, and he returned to the Navy, moving with his wife to Malta in 1949, the year after Prince Charles' birth.

But as King's George VI's health declined, they would return to the UK, and Philip would end his active naval career in July 1951.

Writing to biographer Mr Heald in 1990, the Duke admitted: "There has never been an 'if only', except perhaps that I regret not having been able to continue a career in the Navy."

Lord Lewin, who served with the Duke on HMS Valiant and went on to be First Sea Lord and Chief of the Defence Staff, went one step further in the 'if only' hypothesising.

He once said that had Prince Philip continued his active service in the Navy, it would have been Philip who became First Sea Lord, and not himself.

While Philip provided steadfast support to his wife over more than six decades, he was determined to carve out his own role as well.

Admiral Sir Jonathon Band, a former First Sea Lord, however, described him as "a naval officer to the end".

He gained his Royal Air Force wings in 1953, the same year he was given honorary five-star appointments in all three UK military services.

Three years later, he earned his helicopter wings, and his private pilot's licence in 1959.

The Royal Family website states Prince Philip completed 5,986 flying hours in 59 types of aircraft, with his final flight taking place on 11 August 1997, from Carlisle to Islay.

Prince Philip Royal Navy officer
The Duke of Edinburgh during his time as a serving Royal Navy officer (Picture: PA).

In 1956, the Duke of Edinburgh's Award was created, designed to give young people "a sense of responsibility, to themselves and their communities".

Five years later, he became president of the World Wildlife Fund.

The Duke held numerous military titles across all three services, including numerous colonel-in-chief roles in the British Army.

Prince Philip was no diplomat, and his habit of speaking directly sometimes caused offence.

His supporters saw him as a plain-speaking naval officer, but others called it tactless.

He was very much the head of the family, even if the Queen was the head of state.

Philip admitted to an occasionally difficult relationship with his eldest son, calling himself a "pragmatist" who sometimes struggled with the more "romantic" Prince Charles.

In 1997, as the Royal couple celebrated their golden wedding anniversary, the Queen called Prince Philip her "strength and stay all these years", and said the country owed the Duke of Edinburgh a debt "far greater than he would ever claim, or we shall ever know".

Mr Heald said he "always said to me that his first and most important role in life was to make it possible for the Queen to reign, and everything else was subsidiary to that".

Prince Philip in cockpit Oct 2014
Always keen to get hands-on, Prince Philip takes the controls in an Apache Attack helicopter in October 2014 (Picture: Crown Copyright).

Admiral Sir Jonathan Band said: "They were a fantastic double act, he was absolutely outstanding, and it was ultimate service.

"That was his duty and his joy."

Asked to sum up his contribution to British life, Philip said: "I've just done what I think is my best – some people think it was all right, other people quite evidently don't.

"I can't suddenly change my whole way of doing things. That's just too bad, you'll have to lump it."

In October 2006, Prince Philip made a surprise visit to Iraq to meet British Army troops.

He spent time with personnel from The Queen's Royal Hussars (QRH) deployed in Basra, who at the time were nearing the end of a six-and-a-half month tour in the country.

Watch: The Duke during a surprise visit to Basra, Iraq in 2006, when he met troops from The Queen's Royal Hussars.

It was the Duke's first trip to British forces in Iraq, and he took the time to meet soldiers and give promoted personnel their new rank patches.

On his 90th birthday, the Queen made Prince Philip Lord High Admiral of the United Kingdom – titular head of the Royal Navy – the service that saved his life as a toddler.

In 2011, approaching his 90th birthday, Philip said he would slow down and reduce his duties, saying he had "done his bit".

"I want to enjoy myself now," he said, "with less responsibility, less frantic rushing about."

Six years later, in 2017, Prince Philip announced he would withdraw from public duties and performed his final solo engagement at the Captain General's Parade at Buckingham Palace.

He was then succeeded as Captain General Royal Marines by his grandson Prince Harry in December of that year.

Buglers play at Windsor Castle during a ceremony for the transfer of the Colonel-in-Chief of the Rifles from the Duke of Edinburgh to the Duchess of Cornwall 220720 CREDIT PA
Prince Philip during a 2020 ceremony where he handed over the role of Rifles colonel-in-chief to the Duchess of Cornwall (Picture: PA).

In July 2020, the Duke of Edinburgh handed over his role as Colonel-in-Chief of The Rifles to the Duchess of Cornwall during a rare public appearance.

Camilla, who was almost 100 miles away at her Highgrove home in Gloucestershire, received the title during a concurrent ceremony.

Throughout his decades of Royal duty, Prince Philip maintained a close interest in the military, holding a number of honorary ranks, including Colonel of the Grenadier Guards.

In January 2021, the Duke of Edinburgh gave his seal of approval to the motto adopted by HMS Magpie, the name of an older Royal Navy vessel he commanded in the early 1950s. 

According to Mr Heald, Philip's time in charge of the frigate was a "mixture of naval routine and ceremonial visits".

Major General Sir Evelyn Webb-Carter, a former Lieutenant Colonel, said of the Duke: "He had this wonderful knack of a little quip here, a little quip there, and there was this trail of laughter.

"But he had a natural way of relaxing people.

"He'll be remembered with enormous affection, for the years he has served as our colonel, and for the intense interest he has taken."

Cover image: Prince Philip during a 2020 ceremony where he handed over the role of Rifles colonel-in-chief to the Duchess of Cornwall (Picture: PA).