Duke of Kent (1934-1942)
Born 1902 Died 1942
George Edward Alexander Edmund was born on the 20th December 1902 at York Cottage at the Sandringham Estate in Norfolk. At the time of his birth his parents were the then Prince and Princess of Wales, who later became better known as George V and Queen Mary. Styled as HRH Prince George of the United Kingdom from birth, George was the fourth son born to his parents and although baptised under the surname of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, he adopted the surname of Windsor in 1917 together with the remainder of the royal family.
For various reasons George remains one of the most interesting of the Windsors if only for all the wrong reasons. Pushed into following a Naval career like his father and brothers, this proved an unfortunate choice as the young prince suffered dreadfully from seasickness and he was eventually invalided out of the service in 1929. After which he became a civil servant variously employed in both the Home and Foreign Offices.
Of more interest of course, is George's private life which was decidedly colourful even by the standards of the British Royal family. To put it simply, George was a promiscuous bisexual alcoholic and one-time cocaine addict and all-round party animal who seemed eager to make the most of the various opportunities for hedonism provided by the jazz age.
Some of this was down to the influence of his older brother Edward, known as 'David' to his nearest and dearest, who enjoyed a similarly hedonistic lifestyle, although sans the cocaine and bisexuality it seems. It was certainly David who introduced George to the pleasures of flying, who was soon flying his own planes and found of surprising his guests by landing on the front lawn.
But apart from flying, sex appears to have been George's main recreational activity; aside from a nineteen year relationship with the playwright Noel Coward, George's many conquests included Jessie Matthews, Florence Mills, Poppy Baring (one of the banking Barings), the future Duchess of Argyll and others to numerous to mention. Rumours circulated that he was once the subject of a blackmail attempt by a rent boy in possession of compromising letters and that he was once arrested by the police for soliciting, whilst strolling around in full drag and make-up.
There was an obvious sense of relief when in 1934 he married Princess Marina of Greece and showed all the signs of settling down. It was in anticipation of his marriage he was granted on the 12 October 1934 the title of Duke of Kent together with the subsidiary titles of Earl of St. Andrews and Baron Downpatrick. Thereafter George certainly appears to have knuckled down to the business of being a minor royal. He become known as ‘the democratic duke’ due to his habit of visiting factories where he questioned the workers about the details of their pay and conditions and displaying a keen interest in their welfare. His interest in aviation encouraged him to travel extensively throughout the British empire, becoming the first member of the royal family to fly across the Atlantic, and earning himself the title of 'salesman of the empire' for his tireless promotion of British interests.
With the advent of World War II, George was obligied to rejoin the Navy, although he was was given the rank of Rear Admiral and placed in the Intelligence Division which meant that he didn't actually have to put to sea. In 1940 he transferred to the Royal Air Force, which was much more to his taste, where he served in the Training Command, and later as the Air Commodore of the department of Inspector General of The Royal Air Force. This later post involved George in making morale-boosting trips to various RAF stations, and it was thus that on the the 25th August 1942 that George climbed aboard a Mark 3 Sunderland flying boat W4026 from 228 Squadron, that took off from Invergordon on the east coast of Scotland, where George was to put in an appearance in Iceland.
About half an hour take-off, the plane crashed into the side of a hill named Eagle's Rock in Caithness in northern Scotland. Apart from the tailgunner named Andy Jack, all other occupants of the plane including the Duke of Kent were killed outright. It seems that bad weather had disorientated the pilot and driven him off course. The finding of the subsequent Official Enquiry was that the pilot Flight Lieutenant Frank Goyen was to blame for the accident.
George was intially buried at St Georges Chapel in Windsor on the 29th August 1942, but exactly twenty-six years later his remains were moved to a plot near the Royal Mausoleum at Frogmore House in Windsor. A memorial cross was erected at the crash site on Eagle's Rock.
Since when the conspiracy theorists have come out to play. George, like many other British aristocrats of the time is known to have flirted with fascism in the 1930s. His friendship with Rudolf Hess with whom he shared an interest in aviation, is well attested and he was certainly the subject of German propaganda efforts in the 1930s and had contact with various Nazi diplomats keen to impress their point of view on George, and through him the remainder of the royal family.
It has been alleged that his true destination on the 25th August 1942 wasn't Iceland but rather neutral Sweden where he was due to participate in talks with the German government regarding a deal that would involve the removal of Winston Churchill from power. And that this plot may or may not have involved an attempt to free Rudolf Hess who was involved in contacts with an alleged 'peace party' within Britain.
Alternatively there is a story that is said to come from the only survivor Flight Sergeant Andy Jack, whose niece claimed that her uncle had told her that he had found George dead at the controls of the plane, with the clear implication that the Duke had been flying the plane when it crashed despite not having been trained to fly Sunderlands.
There is also some talk of the "mystery of the fifteenth person" as one of the fifteen passengers was supposedly unidentified. It is therefore suggested that the mysterious guest was either Rudolf Hess or the Duke of Kent's boyfriend. However since other sources list all fifteen names of the RAF personnel who formed the plane's flight crew there does not seem to be much of a mystery.
Aside from a few visits to Germany and his pre-war contacts with notable members of the Nazi party there is little to suggest that George was anything other than mildly interested in fascist ideology and nothing at all to suggest that he was anything other than fully committed to the war effort. George had in fact been appointed as Liaison Officer for the soon to held talks in Washington regarding plans to invade Europe; if there was any secret behind that fateful flight of the 25th August 1942 it was that the destination was in fact ultimately the USA where George was to begin talks with the American authorities.
George accumulated the following honours during his life;
He was also the Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of England from 1939 until his death in 1942.
The residents of Fort George in British Columbia, Canada decided to rename their city as Prince George in 1915 in honour of George, Duke of Kent who was of course, a descendant of the George III in whose reign the city was founded and after whom it had originally been named. They do not appear to have been unduly bothered by any subsequent revalations concerning the duke's private life.
More details of the major conspiracy theory can be found in the work;
Lynn Picknett, Clive Prince, Stephen Prior, Double Standards: The Rudolf Hess Cover-Up (Warner Little Brown & Co Ltd, 2002)
(Not that this author has read that particular book; it simply appears to be the major source of the peace party/Rudolf Hess/Winston Churchill was a crazed warmonger theories.)
- The Duke of Kent Mystery at
- The crash of Sunderland W4026 "DQ-M" of 228 Squadron
- H.R.H. Prince George Duke of Kent at
- Royalty in Looe at
- Kent, George Edward Alexander Edmund, duke of
The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition, 2001.
- Prince George at
- A genealogical survey of the peerage of Britain at www.thepeerage.com
- Nazi Conspriracy and Aggression Volume 3:Document No.003-PS
- Prince George, British Columbia