Government House, Perth
We learned last night of the passing of His Royal Highness Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. Our thoughts are immediately with Her Majesty and the Royal Family.
Prince Philip was Her Majesty’s steadfast supporter through 73 years of marriage. On their Golden Wedding Anniversary in 1997 Her Majesty described him as ‘my strength and stay’. That resolute cast of mind was manifest in a major public presence; witty, humourous, frank, intelligent, energetic and outspoken.
The Duke developed a role where none had been defined. He had multiple causes. Most notable were his commitment to the environment, fascination with technological change, focus on children doing it tough and more broadly the physical, mental and leadership potential of young people. But his royal duties required attention to the breadth of British, Commonwealth and global interests. From 1952 he completed some 22,219 solo engagements. Very fit, he was an avid sportsman as a participant and spectator, active in encouraging British sporting teams in particular. He served in senior positions of British and in British branches of major global organisations. These included the World Wildlife Fund, Industrial Society, International Equestrian Foundation, British Heart Foundation and BAFTA. A small proportion of many commitments.
He was a naval officer in WWII and had a hard war. His earliest connection with Australia was as an officer on the battleship Ramillies, protecting the Australian Expeditionary Force in the Indian Ocean on the way to the Middle East. He was engaged in numerous naval battles in the Mediterranean being mentioned in dispatches for actions in the battle of Cape Matapan. As he advanced in rank he shifted to destroyers, ultimately second in command of HMS WHELP. Shifted again to the Pacific, he was at the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay. He had graduated top of the midshipman’s course at Dartmouth and topped four of the five exams for promotion to sub-Lieutenant. Giving up his naval career was a serious sacrifice.He would have achieved flag rank. As it was his service enhanced the authenticity of his many honourary positions in all three services. The navy in particular will engage with his funeral.
Government House, Perth 1981.
As with Her Majesty, he was deeply committed to her role as Australia’s Head of State. He entrusted part of the education of the Crown Prince to an Australian school. He visited Australia and Western Australia many times. I was privileged to meet him on a number of occasions both here and in the east, as was Susie. I recollect as Minister of Defence being deputed to escort him. He was a critic then of the education system for British Military Officers. He was fascinated by the Australian system which he admired. He was humourous. I remember being with him at a wreath laying at the Kings Park Memorial. A saluting gun discharged to the shock of participants ‘What was that?’ someone asked. “All I know”, he grinned, “was that it didn’t get me!”
The deepest connection with him is through the Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award. Over 1.3 million people are taking part in it around the world right now, 25,000 starting it here. 775,000 have participated in it since its inception here. Having attended award ceremonies I have been deeply impressed by the commitment of young people to the course. This is a great legacy. It is also very practical.
Since his passing memories of all those engagements return. He could be irascible but never disengaged. Quick, intelligent and appreciative. The perfect consort for Her Majesty. He trained himself to be a Statesman. It steadily sinks in that the loss to Her Majesty must be unbearable. They will sing the naval hymn at his funeral, “Eternal Father, Strong to Save.” He will have heard it many times. He lived it in extremity; he was ‘in peril on the sea.’ He has reached safe haven now. Duty defined and done. Deeply loved and respected. We now mourn.
Deepest sympathy to Her Majesty and the Royal Family. And to the people of Great Britain where he made his home and where he will lay.
Government House, Canberra 2000.