The Malta Independent 18 January 2022, Tuesday

Prince Philip and his Malta connection

Albert Galea Friday, 9 April 2021, 17:12 Last update: about 10 months ago

It is well known that Malta has a special place in the heart of the Royal Family – particularly that of Queen Elizabeth II and her now late husband Prince Philip, who passed away on Friday morning at the age of 99.

In all its years of rule, the British Empire had made great and extensive use of Malta in order to support its naval interests in the Mediterranean.

It is therefore perhaps fitting that the connection between Prince Philip – a person who came to be one of the foremost symbols of the British monarchy, despite his constitutionally limited role compared with his wife – and Malta is based on the navy.

Philip joined the Royal Navy in 1939 at the age of 18, graduating from the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth as the best cadet in his course. 

He served in the Royal Navy during the Second World War – even as two of his brother in laws fought on the German side – in the Pacific and Mediterranean theatres of war. 

He partook in the invasion of Sicily in July 1943 as second in command of the HMS Wallace - a ship he saved from a night bomber attack by launching a raft full of smoke floats in order to distract the bombers and allow the ship to slip away safety.

Prince Philip went on to marry the then Princess Elizabeth in a ceremony at Westminster Abbey on 20 November 1947 – but as he settled into administrative life, it became clear that Philip yearned for the waters.

In fact, he returned to active service in 1949 as the second-in-command of HMS Chequers, the leader of the first destroyer flotilla of the Mediterranean Fleet, which was based in Malta.

While the ship underwent a refit, he stayed at his uncle Lord Mountbatten’s house – Villa Guardamangia in Pieta, which the government recently acquired and which it is restoring.

A month later, on the couple’s second wedding anniversary, Elizabeth flew out to Malta to join her husband.

Insight to their stay on the islands can be found in a rare interview given by Lady Pamela Mountbatten – Lord Mountbatten’s daughter and one of Elizabeth’s bridesmaids and closest confidantes.

"They were magical days of endless picnics, sunbathing and waterskiing… It was the only place that she was able to live the life of a naval officer's wife, just like all the other wives", Lady Pamela said of Elizabeth’s stay in Malta.

While Malta could provide the soon-to-be-Queen with as close to a normal life that there can be, it provided Philip with the naval life that he yearned for.

On 16 July 1950 he was promoted to Lieutenant Commander and given command of the frigate HMS Magpie – which would be the only vessel he would command.

Malta was not lacking on the entertainment side either: Lady Abel Smith, one of Elizabeth's ladies-in-waiting, said: "There were some very wild parties with spoons and buns being thrown, though luckily not butter. She was amazed by the spoons though.

“Apparently when the games became too boisterous, Philip would lift his wife on to the piano together with ladies-in-waiting to keep them out of the firing line", it was said.

That would all come to an end come 1951 though.

With King George VI’s health worsening, the couple were forced to return to the UK – with Philip going on indefinite leave from the navy in July 1951.

Less than a year later – on 6 February 1952 – the King passed away, and Philip’s wife became the Queen of England as Elizabeth II.

While their lives living in Malta had ended, the royal couple still found the time to visit Malta on more than one occasion.

They first visited in 1954, only a year after Elizabeth was officially crowned Queen, as part of a tour of the Commonwealth, before returning in 1967, 1992, 2005, 2007, and 2015.

Philip himself visited alone on several other occasions – the foremost of which came in 1964, when, in front of over 30,000 Maltese at the Granaries in Floriana, he handed the formal documents granting Malta’s independence to Prime Minister George Borg Olivier – so therefore closing one of the most important periods in Malta’s history, and opening the next.

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