The Military Museums

HRH Queen Elizabeth II

Despite fears for their own safety, the Royal Family continued to live at Buckingham Palace throughout the Second World War as a gesture of solidarity with the British people.

HRH Queen Elizabeth II

Despite fears for their own safety, the Royal Family continued to live at Buckingham Palace throughout the Second World War as a gesture of solidarity with the British people.

HRH Queen Elizabeth II

Princess Elizabeth wanted to play her part in the war effort, and tried to register in 1942 at the age of 16, only to be told that she was too young.

This painting shows the Queen (then Princess Elizabeth) after she had enlisted as an officer in The Auxiliary Territorial Service during 1945. Princess Elizabeth also had some reassuring words for the British people during this time of war, when she spoke to the nation on the BBC radio, saying, "We know, every one of us, that in the end all will be well."

Princess Elizabeth

Queen Elizabeth developed her sense of duty as a young princess during the Second World War. She was determined to do "her bit", mounting a persistent campaign to be allowed to serve much to her father King George VI’s consternation.

Princess Elizabeth kept up the pressure to be allowed to do her part and was finally allowed to join the Auxiliary Territorial Service. Her duties required her to work on, in and under motor cars and lorries. She learned how to read a map, drive in convoy and how to strip and service an engine.

HRH Queen Elizabeth II pledged her life, whether it be long or short, to the people. As all those of her generation who matured in the crucible of war, she shares the memories, experiences and respect for the military.

The Royal Family continues its traditional connection to the military in many ways all over the world as can be seen by the Queen always taking the time to stop and chat with a veteran on her walkabouts and reviews and laying wreaths at cenotaphs.

Here, in Calgary, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II was the Colonel-in-Chief of three regiments: The Canadian Forces Military Engineers Branch Reserve, The Calgary Highlanders and The King’s Own Calgary Regiment. On June 30, 1990, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II officially opened the Museum of the Regiments to the public (now The Military Museums). She revisited her three regiments at the museum again in Alberta’s Centennial year May 25, 2005.

Her Royal Highness The Countess of Wessex, Sophie, the wife of the Queen’s son, Prince Edward, represented the Queen in the ceremony renaming The Military Museums in 2006, returning again three years later in 2009 to officially open our newly expanded facility, which now represents the three services under one roof.

With the celebration of Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee and as our beloved Queen of Canada, Long May She Reign Over Us.

The Making of a Queen

Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor, born in London on April 21, 1926, lived a quiet, carefree life for many years with her parents, the Duke and Duchess of York and her sister, Princess Margaret, four years her junior, in a large house near Hyde Park.

It was not expected that her father would become king nor that she would become queen after her father’s death. But when King Edward VIII abdicated the throne in late 1936 to marry Wallis Simpson, an American divorcee, Princess Elizabeth’s father, George, was crowned King on Dec. 11, 1937, taking the name King George VI.

This made Princess Elizabeth, now 10 years old, the Heir Presumptive. She was not seen as the Heir Apparent because if her parents had a son, he would have become the Heir Apparent. Even though they didn’t, Princess Elizabeth remained the Heir Presumptive until her coronation.

And while she was never formally considered the Heir Apparent, as Arthur Bousfield and Garry Toffoli point out in their biography of Queen Elizabeth, Fifty Years the Queen: A Tribute to Elizabeth II on her Golden Jubilee, the princess readily embraced the Heir Apparent’s motto: "I Serve".

Princess Elizabeth’s commitment to serve began during the Second World War. She was 13 years old when Great Britain declared war against Germany on Sept. 3, 1939. She emerged from the war when it ended as a 19-year-old princess who understood by the example set by her parents throughout the war, what it meant to serve the people of the Commonwealth.

No doubt she was influenced by the Queen Mother who famously proclaimed when conservative politicians insisted that the princesses Elizabeth and Margaret be sent to Canada for their safety with a no-nonsense refusal, stating that, "The children won’t leave without me. I won’t leave without the King and the King will never leave."

This example of duty and patriotism was continuously illustrated to Elizabeth by her parents who commiserated with their people by visiting the bombed streets and homes in war stricken London.

Windsor Castle

But rather than remain at Buckingham Palace, the young princesses were moved—a well-kept national secret—to a more secure location at Windsor Castle, which was defended by anti-aircraft guns and fortified with sandbags.

It proved to be a fortuitous decision. At the height of the Battle of Britain, the palace was bombed on Sept. 13, 1940, and the King and Queen escaped injury only because a window in their room had been open at the time.

If the window had been closed when the bomb hit the palace, it would have likely shattered and sprayed the King and Queen with broken glass. In all, the Palace was bombed seven times, including once by a V1 flying bomb that landed near one of the Palace walls.

Despite living at a secure and secret location, and one that was not bombed during the war, Princess Elizabeth admitted in a letter to her cousin that she was afraid. In the same letter, however, she also showed her determination and her pragmatism.

"I am still just as frightened of bombs & guns going off, as I was at the beginning," she wrote. "I turn bright red, and my heart hammers—in fact I’m a beastly coward, but I do believe that a lot of people are, so I don’t mind! . . . Tinkety tonk old fruit, & down with the Nazis."

She added that she had learned how to shoot a revolver, just in case the castle came under attack and she was forced "to make a final stand against German paratroopers."

While at Windsor Castle, she was determined to help the war effort. Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret, held pantomimes, or comedic family plays, to raise money for the Queen’s Wool Fund.

Princess Elizabeth also began to make public appearances with her parents, and on Oct. 13, 1940, at the age of 14, she spoke to children listening in the United Kingdom and beyond during a popular children’s radio program, the Children’s Hour, to tell them that it would be up to them to build a better world when the war ended.

"We children at home . . . are trying to do all we can to help our gallant sailors, soldiers and airmen, and we are trying to bear our own share of the danger and sadness of war," Princess Elizabeth said during the broadcast. She added, "When peace comes remember, it will be for us, the children of today, to make the world of tomorrow a better and happier place."

The Auxiliary Territorial Service

The young princess longed to do more for the war effort beyond the plays and radio spots, and in time, her father relented. He appointed her colonel-in-chief of the Grenadier Guards, and in what was her first formal public appearance, she inspected the Grenadiers in 1942. She also began accompanying her parents to functions.

Finally, in 1945, at the age of 19, Princess Elizabeth joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS), the women’s branch of the British Army, as a second subaltern, where she learned to drive and maintain army vehicles. The Princess did not serve with the ATS for long with Victory in Europe Day declared May 8, 1945, but it was nonetheless an important role for her as it further reinforced what it meant to serve.

The End of the War

With the end of the war, the young princess was given a rare opportunity to celebrate with the crowds that had gathered on London’s streets. Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret took to the streets with their uncle and a few other members of the King’s staff.

They finally made their way to Buckingham Palace where they joined in the crowd’s boisterous calls for the King and Queen. When Japan surrendered August 14, 1945, Princess Elizabeth once again celebrated with the jubilant crowds.

With the war over and a firm understanding of what would be required of her, Princess Elizabeth formally pledged her commitment and dedication during a radio broadcast on her 21st birthday while touring South Africa with her family in 1947.

"I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong," the Princess said during the broadcast.

Speaking directly to young people in the Commonwealth, she added that "it is surely a great joy to us all to think that we shall be able to take some of the burden off the shoulders of our elders who have fought and worked and suffered to protect our childhood."

For many years, Princess Elizabeth had been captivated by a young naval officer from Greece, Philip Mountbatten. Both the great-great-grandchildren of Queen Victoria, they were distant cousins but still he was not considered an appropriate suitor for the Princess. Philip had come from a fractured family with a controversial background. Princess Elizabeth worked to gain the approval of her parents and in July 1947 they announced their engagement.

They married at Westminster Abbey Nov. 20, 1947. The Royal couple’s first two children were born, Prince Charles, in 1948 and Princess Anne in 1950. Ten years later, they would welcome the arrival of Prince Andrew in 1960 and Prince Edward in 1964.

Just five short years after her Birthday speech from Kenya, Princess Elizabeth would have to take up her father’s burden. King George, plagued by health problems, died of a heart attack on Feb. 6, 1952 at the age of 56. Ironically, Princess Elizabeth learned of the news while touring Kenya with the Duke of Edinburgh.

The Coronation

Following the death of her father, Princess Elizabeth was crowned HRH Queen Elizabeth II June 2, 1953. As a constitutional monarchy, Canada’s Parliament declared Queen Elizabeth II the Queen of Canada on May 29, 1953.

As a constitutional monarchy, the Queen acts as our head of state within the written parameters of the constitution. Although our Queen is a symbolic and majestic figure, it is the elected Prime Minister in parliament who has the political power to govern the country.

The Crown, presently Queen Elizabeth, "embodies the continuity of the state and is the underlying principle of its institutional unity. The Crown heads all three branches of government: the Executive, where the Prime Minister is the principal advisor; the Legislative, which recognizes the Crown as one of three constituents of Parliament, acting with the consent of the Senate and the House of Commons; and the Judiciary, since all decisions made by the courts are given in the name of the Queen."

As Canada’s monarch, the Queen embodies the Crown in Canada serving to unite Canadians, to create a "sense of belonging" and to anchor Canadians’ national identity, which is why Canadians swear allegiance to the Queen rather than a flag or office.

Since the monarchy is based in the U.K., the Queen is represented in Canada by the Governor General of Canada federally, a lieutenant governor in each province and a commissioner in the Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavet.

Queen Elizabeth takes her responsibility as the Queen of Canada seriously. She has proven this throughout her reign, beginning with her first official tour, which took place in 1951, accompanied by her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh. At the end of their 35-day rail tour of the country, Princess Elizabeth said that she felt at home on Canadian soil.

"In almost every mile that we have travelled through fields, forests, prairies and mountains we have been welcomed with a warmth of heart that made us feel how truly we belong to Canada... From the moment when first set foot on Canadian soil the feeling of strangeness went, for I knew myself to be not only amongst friends, but amongst fellow countrymen."

Queen of Canada

Following her coronation, Queen Elizabeth II made her first visit to Canada as Queen, and now as the Queen of Canada, in 1957. She would return to Canada 21 times between 1959 and 2010. Each of her visits had a different purpose, some were celebratory, while others had a more formal air.

Where the Queen’s first Canadian tours were used to get to know Canada and its people, during many of her later tours, she began to influence Canadian culture and identity and became a symbol for Canadian nationalism.

Her Royal Highness also approved changing the colour of the maple leaves in the Royal Arms of Canada from green to red—a significant move as it led to red being the central colour in Canada’s current flag, the Maple Leaf, which her Royal Highness proclaimed in 1965. In 1967, she presided over Expo ’67.

Her Majesty’s 1965 visit to Quebec was a way to assert Canadian nationalism in the face of rising Quebec nationalism, while in 1970, her visit to Canada’s Arctic had a more political tone, as it was used to affirm Canada’s sovereignty. The Queen proclaimed Canada’s revised Constitution in 1982, and in 2002, she arrived in Canada for her Golden Jubilee Tour.

Through it all, she has stood as a champion of Canadian nationalism and identity. During her 1959 tour, the Queen stated: "If I have helped you feel proud of being Canadian, if I have reminded you of the strength which comes from unity and if I have helped to draw your attention to the bright vision of the years ahead, I shall feel well satisfied because I believe with all conviction that this country can look to a glorious future." While on another Canadian tour, she said, "the Crown represents everything that is best and most admired about Canada."

In return, Queen Elizabeth’s enduring loyalty and dedication to Canada has earned her the respect and admiration of Canadians. The Hon. Marjory LeBreton, a Progressive Conservative senator from Nepean, Ontario, said in 2012 during the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee that the monarchy continues to stand as an "enduring symbol in Canada—one that has seen us through good times and bad."

During her reign, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II has demonstrated her pride in being part of the Canadian family. She holds a place dear in her heart for Canada, which is, in her words, a "vast, rich and varied country that has inspired its own and attracted many others by its adherence to certain values."

End of the Reign of HM Queen Elizabeth II

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II passed away on 8 September 2022 at Balmoral Castle in Scotland. HM Queen Elizabeth II was the longest-serving monarch in British history. She reigned over the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth for over 70 years with steadfast loyalty, commitment and grace. She was a truly remarkable lady who will be sadly missed.


Sponsored by an Anonymous Donor in honour of Her Majesty the Queen

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