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by Kevin Griffin, The Cruise People, Ltd.
While Prince Philip, who celebrated his 90th birthday on Friday, is not known as an inveterate cruiser, but he has spent a good deal of time at sea, starting from a very young age. Philip was born on June 10, 1921 in Corfu, to Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark and Princess Alice, and first went to sea at the young age of eighteen months. On September 22, 1922, Andrew’s brother, King Constantine I, was forced to abdicate the Greek throne and a revolutionary court then sentenced Prince Andrew to banishment for life.
Fortunately, King George V of Britain heard of this and ordered the cruiser HMS Calypso to evacuate the family, with Philip being carried to safety in a cot made from an orange box.
After graduating from Gordonstoun School in 1939, at the age of 18, Philip joined the Royal Navy, graduating from the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, in 1940 as best cadet in his course. Commissioned as a midshipman, he spent six months on the battleship HMS Ramillies in the Indian Ocean and in January 1941 was posted to the Mediterranean fleet in the battleship HMS Valiant. There he took part in the Battle of Crete and was mentioned in despatches for his service during the Battle of Cape Matapan, also being awarded the Greek War Cross of Valour.
One particular incident for which Philip is known occurred in August 1941, at which time he was still a midshipman, travelling in the troopship Empress of Russia from Halifax to the Clyde. The real Empress of Russia, for whom the ship had been named in 1913, Czarina Alexandra – the Alexandra of Nicholas and Alexandra – was actually a great aunt to Prince Philip, but had been assassinated with the Czar and their four daughters in July 1918.
On August 26, 1941, the Empress had left Halifax in such a hurry that she left behind 92 Chinese stokers (the ship had been engaged in Canadian Pacific’s Transpacific service). A call went out for volunteers amongst the troops and those on board and among the volunteers was 20-year-old Prince Philip of Greece. Travelling in Canadian troop convoy TC.12B with destroyers as escorts, Empress of Russia reached the Clyde on September 1, a remarkably quick time for a ship with volunteer stokers.
Philip’s subsequent postings included the destroyers HMS Wallace, where he was involved in convoy escort and the Allied invasion of Sicily, and HMS Whelp, where he saw service in the Pacific, including being present in Tokyo Bay when the Japanese surrender was signed. He also spent short spells in the heavy cruisers HMS Shropshire and HMS Kent.
In November 1947, he married Princess Elizabeth and for a time remained in the Royal Navy, taking command in 1950 of the frigate HMS Magpie, but he left active service with the rank of commander in 1951.
Prince Philip has cruised various parts of the world in HMY Britannia between her entry into service in 1954 and decommissioning in 1997. In a career of forty-four years, Britannia carried Queen Elizabeth II and the Royal Family on no fewer than 968 official voyages.
In more recent years, the Royal Family have taken to cruising in Hebridean Island Cruises’ Hebridean Princess, a vessel that they have twice chartered exclusively for family cruises. On Friday, Prince Philip was honoured by the Queen with the title of Lord High Admiral of the Royal Navy, a title that the Queen herself had previously held.
Prince Phillip, the Duke of Edinburgh, has also been named honorary admiral and general in the Canadian Armed Forces, to celebrate his 90th birthday.
“I am delighted that His Royal Highness has accepted this honour from Canada in recognition of his significant contribution to our national life,” said Prime Minister Stephen Harper in a release. “His unwavering support of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and his commitment to the Canadian Armed Forces, as well as to many other fields of endeavour in this country, are worthy of our highest recognition and deepest gratitude.”
It is the first time that an honorary rank has been granted at the highest level of the Canadian Armed Forces. With these appointments, The Duke of Edinburgh becomes an admiral in maritime command and a general in land forces command and air command, and Prince Philip may choose to wear these ranks on all three uniforms of the Canadian Armed Forces.