Documentary to reveal the Queen's role during WWII

How the Queen’s role during WWII as first female member of royal family to serve in the armed forces helped shape a teenage princess Elizabeth into the country’s longest reigning monarch

  • Our Queen At War, due to be broadcast on ITV 1 at 9pm tomorrow, will chronicle the Queen during wartime
  • It will draw on interviews with a childhood friend, people who shared her experiences, and royal experts 
  • Will chronicle how the Queen had to broadcast to the British Empire and endure the terror of a V-1 bomb 
  • Comes as Her Majesty turns 94 today as she marks the occasion away from her family due to the coronavirus 
  • Learn more about how to help people impacted by COVID

A new documentary is to explore how the Queen’s role as a driver and mechanic during WWII helped shape a teenage princess Elizabeth into the country’s longest reigning monarch.  

Our Queen At War, due to be broadcast on ITV 1 at 9pm tomorrow, will tell the story of how what she called ‘the terrible and glorious years of WWII’ forged her character for years to come.    

Drawing on interviews with a childhood friend, people who shared her experiences, and royal experts, it will explore how The Queen had to endure great pressure in her younger years. 

It comes as Her Majesty turns 94 today as she marks the occasion away from her family due to the coronavirus lockdown. She is with her husband of 72 years, the Duke of Edinburgh, at Windsor Castle in Berkshire.   

From the demands of making a radio broadcast to the British Empire and the terror of a V-1 bomb, to being the first female member of the royal family to serve in the armed forces, Princess Elizabeth had to grow up fast. 

As the UK prepares to mark the 75th anniversary of VE Day in May, the 60 minute documentary, also chronicles how the Queen met the man she would later marry, Phillip Mountbatten, at the age of just 13. 

As a young woman, the Queen became the first female member of the Royal Family to join the Armed Services as a full-time active member when she became a member of the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) in 1945 (she is pictured doing technical repair work during her WWII military service 1944). She reached the rank of Junior Commander after completing her course at No. 1 Mechanical Training Centre of the ATS and passed out as a fully qualified driver. When the Women’s Royal Army Corps (WRAC) was founded in 1949 as a successor to the ATS, she became an Honorary Senior Controller and later Honorary Brigadier. She resigned these appointments on becoming Queen in 1953

Princess Elizabeth talking to her father, King George VI while he goes through the Royal boxes in a study at Windsor Castle, Berkshire on April 11, 1942. Elizabeth succeeded her father George to the throne. George, known as the ‘reluctant king’, was crowned following his brother Edward VIII’s abdication. His coronation was held at Westminster Abbey in May 1937. One month after George’s coronation, Edward VIII married American socialite divorcee Wallis Simpson at the Château de Candé in Monts, France. Four months into their marriage, the couple went to visit Nazi Germany as Adolf Hitler’s guests. Meanwhile King George’s popularity soared as a wartime monarch and he became a figure of stability despite previously being marred by his speech impediment as well as a reputation for being unprepared. The boon to his reputation was aided by his decision to remain in London as the bombs of the Blitz rained down on the capital. George died of ill health in 1952, leaving his daughter Elizabeth, 25, to take over as Queen in a spell that has seen her become Britain’s longest-reigning monarch

It was at Windsor Castle – back in 1940, at the height of the Blitz – where 14-year-old Princess Elizabeth delivered her very first public address – to Britain’s child evacuees. Some 75 years after the end of WWII, a new documentary will draw on interviews with a childhood friend, people who shared her experiences, and royal experts to explore how what the Queen called ‘the terrible and glorious years of world war two’ transformed her from a teenage princess into the nation’s longest serving monarch (she is pictured alongside Princess Margaret during her wartime speech in 1940)

The Queen’s relationship with the Armed Forces began when, as Princess Elizabeth, she joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) in 1945, becoming the first female member of the Royal Family to join the Armed Services as a full-time active member (she is pictured next to an Army ambulance during WWII). During her time in the ATS, the Princess learnt to drive and to maintain vehicles. Since then, The Queen has maintained a close relationship with the Armed Forces through regular visits to service establishments and ships. She holds many military appointments and honorary ranks

Unlike many of her peers who were evacuated abroad, Elizabeth remained in Britain. 

She was prepared for the throne by studying the British constitution at Eton College, while putting on fund-raising pantomimes at Windsor Castle and worrying about the safety of her parents who remained at Buckingham Palace.

By the time she was 16, Princess Elizabeth was inspecting the troops and launching ships while living in a secret location and keeping up with developments in the war by watching weekly newsreels.

At the age of 18 the Princess joined the women’s arm of the British Army, the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS), and became the first female member of the royal family to serve in the armed forces.     

The Queen Mother and Princess Margaret standing by a tree in the grounds of Windsor Castle in England on 8 July 1941.  Elizabeth and Margaret were often photographed in matching outfits, sometimes even with their hair styled in the same way. They also indulged in some fancy dress together, wearing exotic jackets as they ‘dressed for Aladdin’ in 1943

Collected by a friend of the Queen, pictures reveal how traditional pantomimes were an integral part of the wartime festivities at Windsor Castle. Of course, the shows weren’t your average am-dram productions. Starring the Queen, then Princess Elizabeth, and younger sister Princess Margaret, music was provided by the Salon Orchestra of The Royal Horse Guards (pictured, Queen Elizabeth II (as Princess Elizabeth), Princess Margaret (right) and two other cast members performing the tea party scene in a production of ‘Aladdin’ at Windsor Castle, Berkshire). In 1942 the show was Sleeping Beauty with the young Queen playing Prince Salvador and Margaret Fairy Thistledown. The following year saw a production of Aladdin with Princess Elizabeth in the starring lead and her sister as Princess Roxana. The final show in 1944 was Old Mother Red Riding Boots with the young Queen as Lady Christina Sherwood and Margaret as the Honourable Lucinda Fairfax

The four royal pantos were staged during the war after the future Queen and her younger sister were evacuated from Buckingham Palace at the conflict (pictured Elizabeth and Margaret during Aladdin in 1943). The pair stayed at the Royal Lodge, in Windsor, until 1945. Their parents King George VI and Queen Elizabeth stayed in London during the week and returned to them at weekends. The idea to stage a panto came after the two young princesses appeared in a concert with children from the Royal School to aid the war effort. Funds from the show went towards the Royal Household Wool Fund which provided comforts for the troops. It was Princess Margaret who first suggested a panto and school head Hubert Tannar was invited to write the script and produce the first show in December 1941

These days no-one would expect to find the 86-year-old monarch getting her hands dirty in Camp Bastion – but there was a time when she pulled on her fatigues and mucked in alongside her future subjects. Princess Elizabeth’s adolescence took place in the shadow of World War II and, with the country in crisis, she did not shy away from her royal duties. Her first solo public appearance came at the age of 16, with a visit to the Grenadier Guards. By then she had already been named Colonel-in-Chief of the regiment – effectively the link between the infantrymen and the Royal Family. And by 18, changes to the law meant she could act as a Counsellor of State, meaning she would be one of five royals holding the fort in the event of her father going abroad or becoming incapacitated. Shortly after that, in February 1945, she signed up with the Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service and was given the service number 230873. She joined as an honorary Second Subaltern but must have impressed in her duties as a driver and mechanic, as she rose to the rank of honorary Junior Commander within five months

Unlike many of her peers who were evacuated abroad, Elizabeth remained in Britain. She was prepared for the throne by studying the British constitution at Eton College, while putting on fund-raising pantomimes at Windsor Castle and worrying about the safety of her parents who remained at Buckingham Palace. By the time she was 16, Princess Elizabeth was inspecting the troops and launching ships while living in a secret location and keeping up with developments in the war by watching weekly newsreels. At the age of 18 the Princess joined the women’s arm of the British Army, the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS), and became the first female member of the royal family to serve in the armed forces (she is pictured studying at her desk in Windsor Castle on June 22, 1940)

Royal biographer Jane Dismore says: ‘The war gave Princess Elizabeth a humanity that she might have taken longer to discover she shared a lot in common with ordinary people in that she saw their suffering, she knew about it. She knew that people looked to her as that new generation, that new generation of hope. ‘

When the end of the War came, on VE day in May 1945, she mingled with the crowds outside Buckingham Palace incognito in her ATS uniform – seven years before taking the throne.

Ingrid Stewart, editor in chief of Majesty magazine, says: ‘She actually described it as the most exciting night of her life.’

Using rare archive – including home movie footage – Our Queen at War tells the story of how Queen Elizabeth II’s reign was forged by the events of the second world war. 

The new documentary explores how the Queen – yet to be crowned Britain’s monarch – was shaped by the events of WWII (she pictured alongside Margaret speaking to evacuees in October, 1940). Drawing on interviews with a childhood friend, people who shared her experiences, and royal experts, this programme looks at how the war transformed a teenage princess into the country’s longest-reigning monarch. Marking 75 years since the end of the war, the programme chronicles how from meeting her now-husband Philip at 13, to the demands of making a radio broadcast to the Empire, to experiencing the terror of a V-1 bomb, Princess Elizabeth had to grow up fast

Royal governess Marion Crawford (‘Crawfie’) accompanies Princesses Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth II, centre) and Margaret (left) to the headquarters of the YWCA (Young Women’s Christian Association), off Tottenham Court Road, London, on May 15, 1939. The princesses have just had their first ride on the London Underground

Princess Elizabeth is pictured among a syringa bush in the grounds of Windsor Castle. A new documentary will chronicle her life during the war tomorrow. It comes as the Queen celebrates her birthday today. She is with her husband of 72 years, the Duke of Edinburgh, at Windsor Castle in Berkshire with a reduced household for their protection. Like the rest of the nation, the royals are staying away from one another as they follow the social distancing rules amid the coronavirus pandemic. Family members are expected to be telephoning and video-calling the Queen privately to deliver their birthday messages

The Queen is pictured during a production of Aladdin at Windsor Castle during the war. It is notable that the future Queen took a male part in three of the four productions, while her younger sister Margaret always got a female role. Our Queen At War, due to be broadcast on ITV 1 at 9pm tomorrow, will tell the story of how what she called ‘the terrible and glorious years of WWII’ forged her character for years to come. It will include detail of the performances at Windsor Castle

Tom Giles, Controller of Current Affairs, ITV said: ‘The Queen is not only our longest-reigning monarch, she is an important emblem of Britain, able to represent us across the world and as we have seen recently, to provide leadership and reassurance in times of crisis. 

‘This documentary provides a timely and vivid insight into those key years of her life when she developed into a monarch.’ 

Chris Granlund, Executive Producer of BBC Studios, which was commissioned to make the programme, added: ‘Our Queen at War with its perceptive interviews and extraordinary archive material – much of it in colour – promises to offer a fascinating insight into HRH The Queen’s life during those influential war years and during such an important chapter of the UK’s history.’

This is BBC Studios Production’s second commission from ITV, following Prince Charles: Inside the Duchy of Cornwall, which transmitted last autumn and achieved a consolidated audience of 3 million.

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