Devon proud of its long-held ties with Duke of Edinburgh
- Credit: Britannia Museum
Devon played a special role in the life of the Duke of Edinburgh – something local people are determined to remember as the nation mourns his loss.
Dr Jane Harrold has been under the spotlight recently, discussing the beginnings of a great Royal love story.
Jane is curator at Dartmouth’s Britannia Museum, part of the Britannia Royal Naval College (BRNC) where a (very promising) young cadet, Prince Phillip of Greece, and Princess Elizabeth first spent time together during a Royal visit in 1939.
When we speak, Jane, also a lecturer at the college, has just had a whirlwind 48-hours or so being interviewed by radio stations and television broadcasters across the country about how Prince Philip was assigned to chaperone Princess Elizabeth and her sister Princess Margaret, and how the three went into the Captain’s House to play with the electric train set before taking part in a game of croquet.
“We like to think that the college was hugely significant in bringing the two together at the right moment,” says Jane, chatting to me during a quieter moment. “Their great love story all started here and that will always be the case; nothing can change that.
“It’s very important to the college and it’s something I always tell the cadets when they start.”
Like many staff, Jane is only too happy to celebrate the Duke of Edinburgh’s lifelong connection to BRNC, Dartmouth and Devon as a whole.
The lecturer in strategic studies met Prince Philip on several occasions, including when he opened the Britannia Museum in 1999 and then later at Buckingham Palace in 2005. Jane and her colleague Dr Richard Porter had been invited to the Duke’s private library to hand over a copy of their book about the history of Britannia Royal Naval College, published for its centenary. HRH had written a foreword.
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“He was very polite, very interested - I was just in awe,” says Jane. “We asked him if he would mind signing our copies, which he very graciously did. It was only a ten or 15-minute meeting but it was a huge honour to meet this really special man.”
Naval expert Dr Richard Porter, honorary curator at the Britannia Museum, agrees it was a privilege to have met the Duke.
“He was very pleasant, quite quiet and I remember he just had this air of peace about him,” says Richard, talking about the time Prince Philip came to Dartmouth to open the Britannia Museum in 1999. “I took him past a portrait we have of Lord Mountbatten and he immediately exclaimed: ‘Ah, Uncle Dickie!’”.
Richard goes on to describe the moment the Duke went to pull back the velvet cover to unveil the opening plaque at the museum.
“The tassel was on the left, but it slid open from the right,” says Richard, adding that the Duke decided that he should stand by the tassel. “I had to ask if he would mind coming onto the right hand side,” says Richard, recalling the slight confusion and later realising that it was probably the Duke’s way of testing him and having a little joke at his expense – not that he minded.
“I’m just very thankful that I had the chance to meet him several times,” says Richard. “He led a wonderful life.”
The Duke made dozens of visits to Devon over the years, mainly because of his military connections.
As Captain General of the Royal Marines, he was a regular visitor to Bickleigh barracks and the commando training centre at Lympstone. He was awarded an honorary degree from the University of Plymouth in 2012 and was the patron and president of many county charities.
But Dartmouth always held a special place in his heart. Prince Philip returned many times to take the salute at passing out parades, including for his son, Prince Andrew in 1980.
His final official salute at the college was at a 2010 passing out parade for 150 new naval officers.
“He was an incredible person, regardless of the fact he married the Queen,” says Jane. “His life really was the stuff of movies. His lasting legacy will be to continue to tell his story.”
Inspired by the Duke of Edinburgh: the next generation
As well as his military roles, the Duke’s link to Devon lives on through his Duke of Edinburgh (DofE) award scheme. Hundreds of young people in Devon take part in the programme every year, designed to equip and empower 14-to-24-year-olds to build the skills, confidence and resilience they need to make the most out of life.
Torquay teenager Lizzie Harris, 17, has completed her bronze and silver Duke of Edinburgh and is hoping to try for her gold award soon. Her challenges have included swimming, playing squash, cooking and volunteering in a local charity shop.
“I’ve really enjoyed doing it. It’s given me a lot more confidence,” says Lizzie, a sixth-form student at Torquay Academy. She developed facial birth marks, called haemangioma, when she was a baby, and says taking part in the DofE has strengthened her belief that you can do anything, if you put your mind to it.
“I felt so good about myself once I’d done it,” says Lizzie, who is thinking about becoming a mental health nurse in the Navy or training to be a teacher for children with disabilities. “I felt sad when I found out the Duke of Edinburgh had died because he is responsible for the me doing the bronze and silver part of my award.”
Churston Grammar School pupil Abigail Bevan says it’s up to Devon’s young people to continue the Duke of Edinburgh’s legacy and support the scheme he first set up in 1956.
Abigail has just started her gold award after completing her bronze and silver stages, which has involved building on her music skills, helping out at her local Girl Guide group and trekking across Dartmoor.
“It’s an excellent way to show you can do things and work towards a reward,” says Abigail. “I would say to anybody thinking about doing it, just give it a go.”
Tributes from the county
People across Devon have paid tribute to the Duke of Edinburgh after his death on April 9. The Lord-Lieutenant of Devon, David Fursdon said: “He was a great man who contributed hugely to our country and county.”
The chairman of Devon County Council, Cllr Stuart Barker, said: The Duke was much loved in Devon and admired across the country and the wider commonwealth in the course of his public duties.
MP for Plymouth Moor View and Defence minister Johnny Mercer tweeted: "HRH Prince Philip was a totemic Captain General of the Royal Marines.
"The epitome of the Commando spirit, he was fantastic with the troops, and served this nation courageously in his own right in WW2.”