Posts Tagged ‘World War I’

Prince Philip, 97, takes a carriage ride through the grounds of Windsor Castle. ca. October 20, 2018

As I mentioned in my blog post, “Prince Philip’s Mum had a Habit,” Prince Philip of the United Kingdom, known as the Duke of Edinburgh, the Prince Consort of Queen Elizabeth II, was born in 1921 on a kitchen table in Corfu, Greece, in a house that had no electricity or running water. But Philip was not of peasant stock. He was Prince Philip of Greece, born into a royal family with ties to German, British, Dutch, Russian, and Danish royal houses. Oddly enough, however, neither Philip’s parents nor his four beautiful sisters had a drop of Greek blood in them. Yet they were a branch of the Greek Royal Family.

Prince Philip’s mother was Princess Alice of Battenberg. Alice’s great grandmother, Queen Victoria of England, had been present at her birth in the Tapestry Room at Windsor Castle in England. Philip’s father, Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark, had been born in Athens, Greece. The two married in 1903 in Germany, the native country of Princess Alice’s parents.

Princess Alice of Battenberg and Prince Andrew of Greece, ca. their wedding 1903

Head spinning yet? There’s a reason Queen Victoria of England is called “the grandmother of Europe.” Her descendants fanned across the continent. She and other royal matriarchs and patriarchs were quite the matchmakers, shoring up old alliances and creating new ones, through arranged royal marriages. This proved to be a problem both health wise (hemophilia) and when European countries found themselves warring with one another, especially during both World War I and II, pitting blood relatives against one another in deadly warfare, a confusion of loyalties.

But I digress. My goal today is to shed some light on Princess Alice (1885-1969) and her struggle with mental illness. Alice was born with a large disadvantage in life: she was deaf. She learned to lip read and speak English and German. She studied French and, after her engagement to Prince Andrew, began to learn Greek.

Her husband, Prince Andrew (1882-1944), a military man, was a polyglot. His caretakers taught him English as he grew up, but he insisted upon speaking only Greek with his parents. He also spoke Danish (his father was originally a Danish prince), French, German, and Russian (his mother was Russian—a Romanov). Alice had spent her early years between her family homes in England and Germany whereas Andrew’s roots were in Denmark and Russia. She was Lutheran, although others say she was Anglican. He was Greek Orthodox.

Andrew—known to his friends and family as “Andrea”—had hoped that he and his new bride Alice could settle down permanently in Greece. From the beginning of their marriage, though, Prince Andrew and his family’s safety within Greece waxed and waned. The Greek political situation was always unstable. Prince Andrew fell in and out of favor with the reigning political parties. One moment he was forced to resign his army post and then, in 1912 during the Balkan Wars, he was reinstated. It was during the Balkan Wars that Princess Alice—sometimes referred to as “Princess Andrew”—acted as a nurse, assisting at operations and setting up field hospitals, work for which King George V of Great Britain awarded her the Royal Red Cross in 1913.

Writing to her mother, Victoria, Marchioness of Milford Haven, on November 2, 1912, Alice recalled a scene at a field hospital following the arrival of wounded soldiers from a victorious battle by the Greeks at Kailar:

Our last afternoon at Kozani was spent in assisting at the amputation of a leg. I had to give chloroform at a certain moment and prevent the patient from biting his tongue and also to hand cotton wool, basins, etc. Once I got over my feeling of disgust, it was very interesting….[A]fter all was over, the leg was forgotten on the floor and I suddenly saw it there afterwards and pointed it out to Mademoiselle Agyropoulo, saying that somebody ought to take it away. She promptly picked it up herself wrapped it up in some stuff, put it under her arm and marched out of the hospital to find a place to bury it in. But she never noticed that she left the bloody end uncovered, and as she is as deaf as I, although I shouted after her, she went on unconcerned, and everybody she passed nearly retched with disgust—and, of course, I ended by laughing, when the comic part of the thing struck me.”

The next day, Alice’s mother’s lady-in-waiting, Nona Kerr, arrived in Greece. She went to see Alice. Nona then wrote a letter to Alice’s mother, telling her how Alice seemed. Nona wrote to Victoria that it “would make you proud to hear the way everyone speaks of Princess Alice. Sophie Baltazzi, Doctor Sava, everyone. She has done wonders.” She also noted that Alice was “very thin…At present she simply can’t stop doing things. Prince Andrew wants to send her back to Athens to the babies [Alice and Andrew had three daughters by then: Margarita (b. 1905), Theodora (b. 1906), Cécile (b. 1911)] soon, but I don’t think he will succeed just yet….” Alice was suffering from mania, probably triggered by sleep deprivation, hunger, cold, exposure, and PTSD.

During the war, Andrew’s father was assassinated and he inherited a villa on the island of Corfu, Mon Repos. The family moved there.

In June of 1914, Alice gave birth to a fourth daughter, Sophie.

Margarita, Theodora, Cecilie and Baby Sophie in 1914

One month later, World War I broke out across Europe. Andrew’s brother, King Constantine of Greece, declared the neutrality of his country. However, the Greek ruling party sided with the Allies. During the war, Prince Andrew, unwisely, made several visits to Great Britain, one of the Allied countries. Rumors circulated in the British House of Commons that Andrew was a German spy. This stirred up suspicions in Greece. Was Prince Andrew indeed a spy for the Central Powers?

Prince Andrew and Princess Alice of Greece, 1916. Note Prince Andrew’s right eye monocle.

By 1917, the whole Greek royal family was forced to flee Greece, as they were suspected of consorting with the enemy. Most of the Greek royals, including Alice and Andrew and their family, took refuge in Lucerne, Switzerland. At the end of the war, in July of 1918, Alice’s two maternal aunts, Tsarina Alexandra (Alix) and the Grand Duchess Elizabeta Feodorovna (Ella), were killed by the Bolsheviks in the Russian Revolution.

So much suffering and tragedy, living in constant fear, doomed to exist in a world devoid of sound, living here, traveling there, led Alice to seek comfort in mystic religion. Together with her brother-in-law Christo, they performed automatic writing, a precursor to the use of a ouija board to receive supernatural messages from the spirit world. Alice was superstitious. She was often seen dealing herself cards and getting messages from this, especially when she had important decisions to make. She continued to read books on the occult.

After three years in Swiss exile, the political situation in Greece became more favorable to the Royals. In 1920, the Greek Royal family was invited to return home. Prince Andrew and Princess Alice happily re-established themselves and their family in their peaceful villa, Mon Repos. But the country was still in turmoil. Greece was embroiled in another regional military conflict, The Greco-Turkish War, AKA The Asia Minor Campaign. Prince Andrew was put in command of The II Army Corps.

All of this instability had transpired before their son Prince Philip was born on June 10, 1921, at Mon Repos. Prince Andrew was not present for his first son’s birth as he was on the battlefield.

Princess Alice of Greece holds newborn Prince Philip of Greece. June/July 1921


Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark holds his fifth child and only son, Prince Philip of Greece, born June 10, 1921.

Fast forward a year or so. The October 27, 1922 headlines in the New York Times read:


Constantine’s Brother to Be Interned at Athens

New Tribunal Arrests Four Others

The Greek defeat in Asia Minor in August 1922 had led to the September 11, 1922 Revolution, during which Prince Andrew was arrested, court-martialed, and found guilty of “disobeying an order” and “acting on his own initiative” during the battle the previous year. Many defendants in the treason trials that followed the coup were shot by firing squad and their bodies dumped in holes on the plains at Goudi, below Mount Hymettus. British diplomats assumed that Andrew was also in mortal danger. They called upon King George V of England to act. However, King George V refused to risk inflaming the situation further, causing an international incident, by allowing Andrew to settle in London. In December of 1922, he sent the British cruiser, HMS Calypso, to ferry Andrew’s family to France. Andrew, though spared the death sentence, was banished from Greece for life. Eighteen month-old Philip was transported in an improvised cot made from an orange crate. The family settled at Saint-Cloud on the outskirts of Paris, in a small house loaned to them by Andrew’s generous sister-in-law, Princess Marie Bonaparte, AKA Princess George of Greece. Andrew and his family were stripped of their Greek nationality, and traveled under Danish passports.

Princesses Sophie, Cecilie, Theodora, and Margarita of Greece, sisters of Prince Philip of Greece. ca. 1922

Alice and Andrew celebrated their silver wedding anniversary on October 8, 1928. Each member of the family had made it a point to be at Saint Cloud that beautiful autumn day so they could commemorate the special event with a group photograph in the garden.

Prince Philip poses with his family for a photograph to mark his parents’ silver wedding anniversary in October of 1928. A young Philip stands to the right of his mother, Princess Alice, and father, Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark. From left to right are Philip’s sisters, all Princesses of Greece & Denmark: Margarita, Theodora, Sophie, and Cecilie.

Five years into exile, the family of six often found themselves more apart than together, traveling a lot, scattered across the European continent, staying with relatives, enjoying the London social season, on holiday, or attending a royal funeral or wedding. It was an idle life which had no real purpose.

Two weeks after the anniversary, Alice privately gave up her Protestant faith and became a member of the Greek Orthodox Church. By May of 1929, she had become “intensely mystical,” and would lie on the floor so that she could receive divine messages. She told others that she could heal with her hands. She said she could stop her thoughts like a Buddhist. Her husband stayed away that summer and would not return until September. Alice wrote her mother that soon she would have a message to tell the world. She told Andrew’s cousin that she, Alice, was a saint. She carried sacred objects around the house with her in order to banish evil influences. She proclaimed she was the “bride of Christ.”

Andrew and Alice’s mother Victoria summoned Alice’s gynecologist who diagnosed her psychosis. Her sister-in-law the French Princess Marie Bonaparte, a great friend of the famous psychoanalyst Dr. Sigmund Freud, arranged for Alice to see one of Freud’s former co-workers, the psychoanalyst Dr. Ernst Simmel, just outside Berlin. Dr. Louros accompanied Alice in her journey and she was admitted to Simmel’s clinic. Dr. Simmel diagnosed Alice as “paranoid schizophrenic” and said she was suffering from a “neurotic-prepsychotic libidinous condition” and consulted Freud about it. Freud advised “an exposure of the gonads [ovaries] to X-rays, in order to accelerate the menopause,” presumably to calm her down. Was Alice consulted about this? Probably not. The treatment was carried out.

Alice did not improve. On May 2, 1930, she was involuntarily committed at the Bellevue private psychiatric clinic at Kleuzlingen in Switzerland. This event marked the end of their once-close family life. Though they did not divorce, Alice and Andrea’s marriage was effectively finished. Andrew closed the family home at Saint-Cloud and disappeared, moving to the South of France, where he frittered away his life drinking, gambling, and womanizing. The girls were ages 16, 19, 24, and 29, and would all be married by 1932, so they were less affected by the fallout of their mother’s breakdown and their father’s abdication of his family role. Unfortunately, two of the girls ended up marrying German Nazis. Philip, though, was only nine years old when his mother was institutionalized and his father abandoned him. Philip would have little contact with his mother for the rest of his childhood which was spent living with his mother’s relatives in England and in attending boarding schools in England, Germany, and Scotland.

Prince Philip of Greece, 1930 (AP)

Footnote: Philip’s aunt, Princess Marie Bonaparte, who had arranged for Princess Alice to be treated by Freud and his colleague, was very wealthy and influential. Her mother had owned the casino in Monte Carlo and Princess Marie had inherited this money. As you will remember, Marie had very generously provided Alice and Andrea with their house at Saint Cloud.  In 1938, Princess Marie Bonaparte paid the Nazis a ransom of 12,000 Dutch guilders to allow Dr. Sigmund Freud and his family the freedom to leave Vienna and move to London. The Nazis were rounding up and killing both Jews and psychoanalysts and Freud was a Jewish psychoanalyst.

Dr. Sigmund Freud arrives in Paris on his way to London, accompanied by Princess Marie Bonaparte and the American Ambassador In Paris William C. Bullitt. June 5, 1938

The Freud family relaxes in the garden at Princess Marie Bonaparte’s home in Saint-Cloud, France. June 5, 1938. Freud is lounging as he is deathly ill with oral cancer. He smoked 20 cigars a day.

Freud spent his first day of freedom in Marie’s gardens in Saint-Cloud before crossing the Channel to London, where he lived for his last 15 months. A few weeks later, Princess Bonaparte traveled to Vienna to discuss the fate of Freud’s four elderly sisters left behind. Her attempts to get them exit visas failed. All four of Freud’s sisters would perish in Nazi concentration camps.

Readers, for more on the European Royal Families here on Lisa’s History Room, click here. To read more about Prince Philip and Princess Alice, click here.

Eade, Philip. Prince Philip: The Turbulent Early Life of the Man Who Married Queen Elizabeth II.
Vickers, Hugo. Alice: Princess Andrew of Greece. 
wikipedia and various Internet sites

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Agatha at 16 in Paris. 1906

Agatha at 16 in Paris. 1906. Photo from the Christie Archive

Thinking back over her teenage years, English crime novelist Agatha Christie (1890-1976) wasn’t sure how long she had been at her finishing school in Paris. In her autobiography, she wrote:

I am hazy now as to how long I remained at Miss Dryden’s – a year, perhaps eighteen months, I do not think as long as two years.”

Upon one point, however, she was perfectly clear. It was during her stay at Miss Dryden’s that she discovered men:

Something happened to me at the sight of Rudy [an American college boy]….From that moment forward I stepped out of the territory of hero worship….I wanted to meet…lots of real young men – in fact, there couldn’t be too many of them.”

Girls and young women of this period believed, including Agatha, that in these packs of real young men lurked their future husband, commonly referred to as “Fate” or “Mr. Right.” She says:

You were waiting for The Man, and when the man came, he would change your entire life!…In the words of old nurses, nannies, cooks, and housemaids:

‘One day Mr. Right will come along.‘”

Back then, her name was Agatha Miller. When Agatha left finishing school (1907) and returned home to her mother in Torquay, England, her dream of becoming a concert pianist had faded, but not her desire to meet men – and lots of them. She was 17, and, in her own words, good-looking. She was tall and slender with masses of thick, wavy, and  golden hair – hair so long she could sit on it.

Agatha Christie as a child. She had fantastic hair.  Undated photo, ca. 1900

Agatha Christie as a child. She had fantastic hair. Undated photo, ca. 1900. Photo from the Christie Archive

She wore it up now, in the Grecian style, because, at 17, she was ready to “come out,” and that was the proper hairstyle for a girl going from a chrysalis to a butterfly.

Edwardian Era hairstyles had to be big and poufy to hold the enormous hats the Edwardians were so fond of.

Edwardian Era hairstyles had to be big and poufy to hold the enormous hats the Edwardians were so fond of.

This was the Edwardian Era (1901-1910) in England. It was traditional then for a girl of Agatha’s upper middle class status to mark the transition from girlhood to womanhood by “coming out.” A mother gave her daughter a dance. The daughter would “do a season” of parties in London. But as Agatha’s mother Clarissa was a widow and her wealth was a thing of the past,  there could be nothing like that for Agatha. So, the winter of 1910 they decided to go to Cairo, Egypt, where Agatha could ease her way into society (and meet men). Travel was relatively cheap then and they would lease their house out for extra income. They were going Agatha husband-hunting.

Clarissa Miller, Agatha Christie's mother, at her home in Torquay, England, before the start of the First World War (1914)

Clarissa Miller, Agatha Christie’s mother, at her home in Torquay, England, before the start of the First World War (1914). Photo from the Christie Archive

Mother and daughter set sail for Cairo where they would join other mothers and daughters with the same purpose. They were not disappointed. Three or four regiments were stationed in Cairo. There was polo matches to watch every afternoon and, five nights a week, there were dances in the hotels. Cairo was crawling with men – exciting ones, too.

Agatha and Clarissa stayed at the Gezirah Palace Hotel in Cairo for three glorious months. Agatha was so busy that she didn’t get as far as even falling slightly in love. Despite being a poor conversationalist, she had been popular among men of all ages and backgrounds, even an Austrian count, as she was both pretty and a great dancer. In the end, two men proposed marriage to her. (Men proposed very freely back then!) Her first suitor, a Captain Hibberd, never actually proposed marriage to Agatha. He timidly told Clarissa of his interest in Agatha. Clarissa didn’t even tell Agatha about it until they were sailing back to England, which made Agatha mad, as she liked to conduct her own love affairs. Agatha’s second marriage proposal came from a young man who was six-foot-five, a nice enough fellow, she admitted, but she didn’t love him, so she turned him down. Agatha would marry for love, as she was fully romantic.

British tourists pose in about 1910 at Giza outside Cairo, the Sphinx over their shoulders. Agatha Christie, too, visited this spot in 1910 but was not as interested in Egyptology and archaeology then as she would be in later years.

British tourists pose in about 1910 at Giza outside Cairo, the Sphinx over their shoulders. Agatha Christie, too, visited this spot in 1910 but was not as interested in Egyptology and archaeology then as she would be in later years.

Agatha returned to England with newfound confidence in herself – and still looking for “Mr. Right.” Over the next two years, she was courted by a string of eligible bachelors and became engaged to three of them. She spread her wings. She went up in an aeroplane. She visited a friend in Florence. She dreamed of becoming an opera singer but thought better of it. Then, one day, sick with the flu and stuck in bed, bored, she decided “to try her hand at a novel.” She began to write in earnest and, before long, she had formed the habit of writing stories.

Meanwhile, she was engaged to Reggie Lucy (who hated dancing and parties) when, in December of 1912, she was asked by some family friends to attend a dance being given for the members of the Garrison from Exeter. She reluctantly agreed. She traveled the 12 miles distance by train then car to Chudleigh.

Her friend Arthur Griffiths, who was stationed at that same Garrison in Exeter, wrote her to say that, sadly, he was not one of the officers able to attend the dance but to look out for a friend of his who was indeed going,

Christie by name….He’s a good dancer.”

Later, when Agatha was at the dance, she said:

Christie came my way quite soon in the dance. He was a tall, fair young man, with crisp curly hair, a rather interesting nose, turned up, not down, and a great air of careless confidence about  him….We got on together very well; he danced splendidly…I enjoyed the evening thoroughly.”

Ten days later, back in Torquay, Agatha was having tea with the Mellors across the street from her home. She and Max Mellor were practicing the tango. The phone rang. It was Agatha’s mother asking her to “Come home at once, will you, Agatha?” A young man was waiting for her in the parlor. Clarissa didn’t give his name.

Agatha was irritated at having to abandon her fun at the Mellors; she felt sure that her gentleman caller was a “rather dreary young naval lieutenant, the one who used to ask” her to read his poems. She left sulkily for home.

But it wasn’t the dreary young naval lieutenant standing nervously in the family drawing room. It was Archie Christie (1889-1962), the man from the dance.


Archibald Christie, 1915

He made up some lame excuse about having been in the neighborhood and deciding to look her up, but it was clear he was taken with Agatha. They chatted uncomfortably at first, then, after a few minutes, it got better. The afternoon wore on. Clarissa asked Archie to stay for a  “scratch dinner” of cold turkey, cheese, and salad. For the next several weeks it was like that, him arriving unexpectedly on his motorbike, spending the day, then motoring off “in a series of explosive bumps to Exeter.”

Agatha’s interest in fiancé Reggie Lucy was waning. Within a month, she broke that engagement and became engaged to Archie Christie. Now he was “Mr. Right.” They broke the news to Agatha’s mother. Clarissa knew that it would be hard for them, with Archie’s meager salary as a soldier and Agatha’s even more meager allowance of 100  pounds a year from her grandparents’ estate. She counseled then to wait, but did not object to the marriage. She could see that the two of them were terribly in love.

It was Archie’s mother Peg Hemsley who went and spoiled it all.

Agatha recalled the scene when Archie told his mother he was engaged to her:

‘Would she now be one of those girls that’s wearing one of these new-fangled Peter Pan collars?’

Rather uneasily Archie had to admit that I did wear Peter Pan collars. They were rather a feature of the moment.

1914 day dresses featuring Peter Pan collars.

1914 day dresses featuring Peter Pan collars.

We girls had at last abandoned the high collars to our blouses, which were stiffened by little zigzag bones, one up each side and one at the back, so as to leave red, uncomfortable marks on the neck. A day came when people determined to be daring and achieve comfort.

1911 Queen Mary with Ladies in Waiting. These women were not "Go-Ahead Girls"; they still wore the stiff collars of the Edwardians.

1911 Queen Mary with Ladies in Waiting. These women were not “Go-Ahead Girls”; they still wore the stiff collars of the Edwardians.

The Peter Pan collar was designed, presumably, from the turned-down collar worn by Peter Pan in Barrie’s play.

Maude Adams starred as Peter Pan in a 1905 British play. The collar on her costume, known as the Peter Pan collar, became popular.

Maude Adams starred as Peter Pan in a 1905 British play. The collar on her costume, known as the Peter Pan collar, became popular.

It fitted round the bottom of the neck, was of soft material, had nothing like a bone about it, and was heaven to wear.

1914 Dress featuring Peter Pan collar and a more relaxed dress line. Ladies were abandoning rigid clothing and corsets.

1914 Dress featuring Peter Pan collar and a more relaxed dress line. Ladies were abandoning rigid clothing and corsets.

It could hardly have been called daring. When I think of the reputation for possible fastness that we girls incurred, just by showing the four inches of neck from below the chin, it seems incredible….

Anyway, I was one of those go-ahead girls who, in 1912, wore a Peter Pan collar.

‘And she looks lovely in it,’ said the loyal Archie.

‘Ah, she would, no doubt,’ said Peg.”

Agatha Christie ca. 1926

Agatha Christie ca. 1926. Photo from the Christie Archive

Regardless of Peg’s disapproval, Archie and Agatha did marry – two years later. It was at Christmas and England was at war with Germany (1914). Archie was on leave; he was then a pilot with the Royal Flying Corps. They were staying at Bristol with his mother and stepfather. Archie decided that getting married was the only sensible thing to do. They hunted down the vicar and, outside the church, saw a friend of Agatha’s who agreed to witness the wedding. Agatha was wearing an ordinary coat and skirt with a small purple velvet hat, and hadn’t had time even to wash her hands and face. The ceremony was performed with only bride, groom, witness, vicar, and organist present. The newlyweds then had two days together before Archie returned to France and the dangerous business of being a fighter pilot in the First World War (July 1914-November 1918).

It would be six months before Agatha would see her husband again. She resumed volunteer work at the hospital in Torquay – and, more importantly, writing story after story at home, and seeing them published. In good time, Agatha Miller  – now Agatha Christie –  would be regarded as the world’s best-selling novelist, her literary success having been made possible despite “Mr. Right,” not because of him, contrary to what she had been brought up to believe.

Source: Christie, Agatha. Agatha Christie: An Autobiography. New York: Berkley Books, 1977.

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