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OP-ED: A life devoted to his queen and country

  • Published at 07:02 pm April 12th, 2021
Queen and Philip

He has left behind a glowing legacy

Glowing and very touching tributes have been pouring in from around the world to Prince Philip, the late Duke of Edinburgh, following his passing away peacefully on Friday morning at Windsor Castle, just two months before his birth centenary.

By any account, his was an extraordinary life. For seven decades, he remained constantly by the side of the sovereign, and his continuous presence served as a stark reminder of how the British monarchy endured years of political upheaval and far-reaching changes in many spheres of life in the United Kingdom, a country which he came to know as his own from a very early age. 

But, to adapt to this new role for the rest of his life and be the royal consort (he was the longest serving royal consort in the UK), Prince Philip had to sacrifice a glittering career in the Royal Navy; however, from his career in the Navy to his charity work and efforts to modernize the monarchy, the Duke of Edinburgh has left behind his own, very personal legacy.

Despite being born in a royal family, he had a turbulent childhood. Born in Corfu, he was the fifth child and only son of Prince Andrew of Greece and his wife Alice, who was the sister of Lord “Dickie” Mountbatten. He was only 18 months old when his father was made the scapegoat for Greece’s disastrous defeats in Turkey and was only saved from the firing squad by King George V; the family was rescued and spirited away in a British warship.

The family eventually settled outside Paris where Philip was sent to an American-run school. When he was nine years old, however, an extraordinary series of events effectively left the little boy without home or family. His parents were separated and he was brought to Britain.

After leaving school in 1939, he joined the Royal Navy. He was greatly admired for his heroics during the allied invasion of Sicily in 1943, when he saved his ship HMS Wallace from a night bomber attack by distracting the enemy warplanes with a raft of smoke planes.

It was around that time that he started dating Princess Elizabeth, the heir to the British throne. He became a naturalized British citizen, taking the name Philip Mountbatten, and got engaged to the future monarch in July, 1947. On November 20 that year they got married. WWII, one could say, paved the way for the relationship that would define his life.

Princess Elizabeth had to ascend to the throne at the age of 25 after the death of her father. A totally new life was carved out for Prince Philip. By always being just “one step behind” the queen for seven decades, Prince Philip had been, through many acute crises, a great source of strength, encouragement, and love to the queen. He also played a very important role in the enduring of a very British institution.

It is true that the queen is the head of state, but when it comes to the family, Prince Philip was considered as the man everyone could turn to in good times or bad. This was because he was an avid listener and as his daughter Princess Anne said: “Lots of members of the family would always find him a good sounding board. But it was always done very quietly and he would never talk to anyone else about his conversations.”

It is widely acknowledged that he was a constant figure of support for his wife, who on more than one occasion described her husband to be her source of strength and guidance.

It was he who helped in modernizing the monarchy, himself being quite modern in his thoughts, and making the family more accessible to the public at large. A man much ahead of his time, he was showing concern about the environment and talking about the importance of conservation way back in the 1950’s. 

He devoted much of his time to philanthropy, being associated with nearly 1,000 charities throughout the world. He was particularly interested in scientific and technological research and development, and also in the welfare of young people, education, sport, and environmental conservation.

He was the first president of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), which was formed in 1961. After giving up the post of president of WWF in 1982, Prince Philip was made the international president and was, in 1996, appointed president emeritus.

One of Prince Philip’s greatest contributions to society and for which he will be remembered is the Duke of Edinburgh Award which was launched in 1956. He was its chair until his 80th birthday and remained a patron up until his death.

Under this project, 14-24-year-olds are encouraged to be involved in challenges designed to help support the community, the environment, physical fitness, the development of new skills, and training for and completing an expedition.

As one top executive of award said,“the Duke was a lifelong advocate for young people, believing in each individual’s potential and creating in the DofE what he saw as a “do-it-yourself growing up kit.’”

I had seen this remarkable person for the first time way back in 1961 when the queen, during an official visit to Pakistan, also visited its eastern wing and also went to Chittagong for a few hours. We, as school children, were lined up along the route from Patenga Airport to Chittagong Circuit House and waved the national flags as the royal visitors passed by. 

I remember being stationed just outside the airport and saw the queen accompanied by then governor of East Pakistan, Azam Khan, driving past in the first car, followed by the Duke of Edinburgh in the second.

More than a decade ago, Prince Philip had visited BBC World Service Radio at Bush House in London and dropped by the Bangla section to say hello to the members of the section. Incidentally, I was on duty at Bush House on that day, and was lucky to have met this remarkable person very briefly.

With the passing of Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, the queen has lost a companion who had given her the strength and support in her execution of her duties. 

This remarkable person carried out his public duties well into his 90s, which is hard to emulate. Prince Philip, while serving his country selflessly, was dedicated to his family and devoted to his queen.

Uday Sankar Das is a senior journalist and political commentator.

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