The Prince, his lover & a royal cover-up

Prince Ge­orge, the Duke of Kent, was des­tined to be­come Aus­tralia’s Gov­er­nor-Gen­eral, but when he died in a plane crash at 39, he was mys­te­ri­ously air­brushed from royal his­tory. Seventy-five years later, Christo­pher Wil­son un­cov­ers the shock­ing truth.

The Australian Women's Weekly - - Family - Christo­pher Wil­son is the au­thor of a num­ber of royal bi­ogra­phies, in­clud­ing Danc­ing With The Devil: The Wind­sors And Jimmy Don­ahue.

He was wicked, way­ward and brim­ful of charm – an in­trigu­ing mix of pub­lic so­bri­ety and pri­vate bad be­hav­iour, des­tined to be­come Aus­tralia’s Gov­er­nor-Gen­eral and ex­pected to rule the coun­try with a dance band on the ra­dio and a cock­tail glass in his hand.

Prince Ge­orge, Duke of Kent, had all the raff­ish glam­our of the present-day Prince Harry, but was far more badly be­haved. Bi­sex­ual, he was a vo­ra­cious wom­an­iser who didn’t mind the oc­ca­sional ro­mance with a bloke. He drank deep, took drugs and danced the night away – but peo­ple loved him.

His pre­ma­ture death at the age of 39 robbed Bri­tish roy­alty of one of its most ex­otic char­ac­ters and re­mains a dark and un­set­tling mys­tery to this day.

Aus­tralia-bound

In 1938, Ge­orge – the youngest brother of Kings Ed­ward VIII and Ge­orge VI – to­gether with his Greek-born wife, Princess Ma­rina, were named as the next rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the Crown in Can­berra.

Ini­tially re­luc­tant, they had been per­suaded to take on the job by their close friend Lady Mil­banke. An un­in­hib­ited Lon­don society host­ess born Sheila Chisholm in Wool­lahra, NSW, she rose to achieve the re­mark­able dou­ble of be­ing the mis­tress of both Ge­orge’s king­broth­ers. At the time of the Duke’s ap­point­ment, The Aus­tralian Women’s Weekly promised, “Lady Mil­banke has been a great favourite of the Duke for many years and there’s very lit­tle she hasn’t told him about [Aus­tralia].” Hasty ar­range­ments were made to the tidy up the ram­shackle Gov­ern­ment House in time for the Kents’ ar­rival in 1939 and the Duchess even got as far as choos­ing the cur­tains and soft fur­nish­ings.

Then came the war and gov­ern­ing Aus­tralia had to be put on hold. Prince Ge­orge du­ti­fully joined the Royal Air Force, but his ser­vice was all too short – in Au­gust 1942, his plane took off from a Scot­tish air­field and crashed into the side of a moun­tain. All but one on board were killed in­stantly.

Aus­tralia’s loss was not con­fined to its fu­ture Gov­er­nor-Gen­eral. The oth­ers killed in­cluded the pi­lot, Flight Lieu­tenant Frank McKen­zie Goyen, from Shep­par­ton, Vic­to­ria, and the sec­ond pi­lot, Pi­lot Of­fi­cer Syd­ney Wood Smith, from Ash­field, Syd­ney, as well as Sergeant Ed­ward Black­lock from Dunedin, New Zealand.

Frank Goyen, though only 24, was al­ready one of the war’s young he­roes with more than 1000 fly­ing hours to his credit and a ser­vice record which ex­tended from Moscow to Alexan­dria, Crete to Gam­bia. He had been res­cued twice af­ter forced land­ings at sea.

In the of­fi­cial in­quiry, he was blamed for the crash. Yet the of­fi­cial cover-up which fol­lowed and re­mains in force had noth­ing to do with him.

Se­crets and lies

No­body knows what hap­pened to Sun­der­land Fly­ing Boat W4026. All doc­u­men­ta­tion re­lat­ing to the of­fi­cial court of in­quiry into its loss disappeared years ago. In the UK, The Na­tional Ar­chives, RAF Air Historical Branch and Royal Ar­chives at Wind­sor all deny hav­ing pos­ses­sion of the key records re­lat­ing to the deaths of the Duke and his fel­low avi­a­tors. Most sig­nif­i­cantly, the flight briefing which Frank Goyen was in­structed to fol­low has also disappeared.

The fam­i­lies of the air­crew who lost their lives were plunged into a limbo which re­mains to this day. And, for what­ever rea­son, Prince Ge­orge, un­cle of the present Queen, was sud­denly and dra­mat­i­cally air­brushed from his­tory.

No statue was erected to him – even though he was the only ma­jor royal in cen­turies of Bri­tish his­tory to give his life in war­fare. No of­fi­cial bi­og­ra­phy was com­mis­sioned, no me­mo­rial bears his name. He was writ­ten off, dis­carded, for­got­ten.

Some years ago, I set out to write the bi­og­ra­phy of Prince Ge­orge. At the heart of my quest was a de­sire to solve the rid­dle of his death. Yet the doors of the Royal Library at Wind­sor re­mained shut to me. The royal fam­ily never wanted such a book to be writ­ten about their most orig­i­nal son.

The fog of si­lence, like the fatal fog which cov­ered the moun­tain­top at Ea­gle’s Rock, in the most re­mote part of the Scot­tish High­lands, was im­pen­e­tra­ble. Yet, as time went on, I slowly be­gan to dis­cover peo­ple who wanted to talk.

First, those most closely con­nected to the crash – the rel­a­tives – seemed eager to tell me how they heard about it.

No statue was erected to him, no me­mo­rial bears his name.

The first ac­count came from the Queen’s cousin, the Hon­ourable Mar­garet Rhodes. As a 17-year-old, she had been in­vited to spend the week at Bal­moral Cas­tle in late Au­gust 1942 and was at din­ner in the din­ing room when a page came in and whis­pered to King Ge­orge VI’s pri­vate sec­re­tary, Sir Eric Mieville. “He got up and went out. When he came back, he whis­pered in the King’s ear and then the King got up and disappeared. At a din­ner party for 14 peo­ple, that was un­prece­dented,” re­called Mrs Rhodes when I vis­ited her be­fore her death last year. “We knew some­thing very se­ri­ous had oc­curred and peo­ple were spec­u­lat­ing whether Churchill had been as­sas­si­nated, or the whole Fleet had been bombed – you could tell it was as se­ri­ous as that.”

The King’s sud­den exit had the ef­fect of end­ing the din­ner party and the Queen (later Queen Mother) led the guests back into the draw­ing room. “Be­fore long, the King came back and told us the news. It was im­mensely shock­ing,” re­called Mrs Rhodes.

Noth­ing hap­pened im­me­di­ately.

“It’s like when Princess Diana died. The at­ti­tude was, let’s keep do­ing what we do nor­mally, that’s the way to do things,” said Mrs Rhodes.

Other rel­a­tives were de­nied so gen­tle an in­tro­duc­tion to the dis­as­ter. “Some­body rang me up and told me point-blank my hus­band was dead,” re­called Mrs Arielle Ewe­son when I vis­ited her New­port, Rhode Is­land, home. “That was it – we never learned any more. But it was the war, none of us knew what the pro­to­col would be about be­ing in­formed of a death. There were a lot of deaths, you just had to ac­cept it and carry on.”

Mrs Ewe­son had mar­ried Prince Ge­orge’s equerry, the Hon­ourable Michael Strutt, three years ear­lier. He was just 27 when he died in the crash. “I was in Amer­ica at the time and it was dif­fi­cult to get any news. I was never told the findings of the in­quiry. No ef­fort was made, no ex­pla­na­tion of­fered as to what might have hap­pened.”

The Goyen fam­ily learned of Frank’s death on ABC ra­dio news. Again, no of­fi­cial ex­pla­na­tion was ever of­fered to the fam­ily as to what hap­pened and Frank’s brother Joe, a dec­o­rated RAAF vet­eran, ques­tioned the cover-up. “He was trans­port­ing the Duke of Kent – the King’s brother. They’ve lost all the pa­pers about it. Funny, isn’t? Strange ... and Buck­ing­ham Palace doesn’t have any records of it ei­ther. He was the King’s brother!”

So what did hap­pen?

At the heart of the cover-up is the loss of the of­fi­cial records. When I vis­ited The Na­tional Ar­chives at Kew in Lon­don and asked for the file on the Duke’s death, I was handed a piti­fully thin folder con­tain­ing lit­tle more than a hand­ful of memos be­tween civil ser­vants and a few press cut­tings.

The Duke, it has to be re­mem­bered, was one of the most im­por­tant peo­ple in Bri­tain and his loss was both a tremen­dous blow to na­tional morale and, at the same time, a bond­ing mo­ment be­tween the rul­ing fam­ily and those lesser fam­i­lies who had suf­fered sim­i­lar losses.

It was in­ex­pli­ca­ble there could be such a pa­thetic rep­re­sen­ta­tion of this dis­as­ter in the na­tion’s his­tory store – un­less a de­lib­er­ate “weed­ing” of the file had taken place.

Then there’s the ques­tion of the ac­tions of King Ge­orge VI. Three weeks af­ter the crash, he vis­ited the site, but by that time the ev­i­dence had all been cleared away and heather re­planted to try to dis­guise the fact there had ever been an ac­ci­dent. One of the res­cue party who at­tended the site the day af­ter the im­pact told me that the clear-up – unique in wartime – was on the King’s in­struc­tions.

Then I was told that many of the ser­vice­men who had taken part in the search-and-res­cue op­er­a­tion re­turned to their units with or­ders from their com­mand­ing of­fi­cers never to dis­cuss what they had seen. Some units were dis­banded, their per­son­nel bro­ken up and dis­persed to dif­fer­ent parts of the coun­try.

I tried to track down peo­ple who might have been part of the res­cue par­ties at the crash site and, even­tu­ally, I dis­cov­ered a man called Arthur Baker, who lived in eastern Eng­land.

Mr Baker had been a Lead­ing Air­craft­man in the RAF reg­i­ment whose job it was to guard Air Force bases in the UK. He had been based at RAF Skit­ten near the crash site and was among the first to reach the wreck­age. What he saw was as­ton­ish­ing and, if cor­rob­o­rated, fi­nally ex­plains the des­per­ate cover-up which has lasted from 1942 up to the present day.

“I’d just re­turned from leave. We were put in lor­ries and taken to the

The King told us the news. It was im­mensely shock­ing.

site. We were told, ‘Find the bod­ies, bring them here’,” re­called Mr Baker. “The site was a ter­ri­ble mess – the air­craft had to­tally dis­in­te­grated, smashed to bloody bits.

“There was one body thrown well away. He didn’t seem very dam­aged, but his eyes were out, hang­ing on his cheeks. In his left hand, he still had a fan of play­ing cards – Lex­i­con, I think. He was ly­ing on his back.

“It was bed­lam at the [point of im­pact], but he had been thrown a good 50 yards from the rest of the crash, land­ing on thick heather. It was the Duke of Kent, in­stantly recog­nis­able.

“We got him back to where the main crash was, car­ry­ing him on a piece of metal from the wreck­age.

“Then we car­ried on the search. There was a strong smell of scent in the air and I saw ladies’ clothes ly­ing about, and a jewel case.

“Then I saw this body, badly dam­aged, with one leg nearly sev­ered. I thought, ‘That’s not a man’, and to [make cer­tain] I opened up [the front of her clothes] and there were breasts.

“I shouted to my sergeant, ‘Woman!’, and he told me to cover her up quick and get her away, which we did. The sergeant or­dered, ‘What you see here, you speak about to no­body.’ ”

If what Mr Baker dis­cov­ered was in­deed the body of a woman, it would ex­plain a great deal about what hap­pened next.

Why the cover-up?

In wartime, it was for­bid­den for women to fly in com­bat air­craft. It would be un­likely – given their pre­cious and im­por­tant cargo, the Duke – that any crew mem­ber would have smug­gled a girl­friend aboard the plane. There­fore, if there was a woman on board, she had to be there by in­vi­ta­tion of the Duke. Given his track-record of serial in­fi­delity, that per­haps comes as no great sur­prise.

In 2003, the niece of the sole sur­vivor, rear-gun­ner Flight Sergeant An­drew Jack, broke cover to make a star­tling ad­mis­sion. Sergeant Jack, badly burned, was taken to hos­pi­tal and the first per­son to visit him, she said, was a se­nior of­fi­cer, who or­dered him to sign the Of­fi­cial Se­crets Act. Af­ter that, he never spoke pub­licly of the cir­cum­stances of the crash, but Mar­garet Har­ris re­vealed that her un­cle had told his brother – Mrs Har­ris’ fa­ther – he could no longer

keep the se­cret from his fam­ily. “A mys­te­ri­ous ex­tra per­son was on the plane,” she said, with­out spec­i­fy­ing the ex­tra pas­sen­ger’s gen­der.

When the crash oc­curred on Au­gust 25, 1942, the Al­lies’ for­tunes in the war were at their low­est ebb. To­bruk had fallen, the vic­tory at El Alamein was yet to oc­cur. Al­to­gether, 39,652 Aus­tralians and 11,928 New Zealan­ders lost their lives in the war be­ing waged for King and coun­try. If it had been dis­cov­ered the brother of that King had wil­fully breached mil­i­tary reg­u­la­tions for his own plea­sure, what would it have done to ser­vice­men’s morale?

At that most vul­ner­a­ble point, could it have al­tered the course of the war for the worse? Could it fi­nally scup­per the House of Wind­sor, not six years since the ab­di­ca­tion cri­sis holed them below the wa­ter­line?

The next ques­tion to be an­swered is, if the ex­tra body was that of a woman – who could she pos­si­bly have been? Why did no­body de­clare her missing? I spent many months look­ing at likely can­di­dates – women within the Duke’s cir­cle who might have mys­te­ri­ously disappeared in un­ex­plained cir­cum­stances.

Fi­nally, I turned to the Earl of Dud­ley, whose fam­ily had been close to the roy­als for two gen­er­a­tions and who was the god­son of Ge­orge’s el­dest brother, the Duke of Wind­sor.

Lord Dud­ley’s home was where the Duke and Duchess of Kent had spent the first few days of their hon­ey­moon in 1934. He was all too aware of Ge­orge’s wan­der­lust. In­deed, he found him­self vy­ing with the Prince for the at­ten­tions of a woman who may well have been Ge­orge’s last girl­friend be­fore his death.

“It was late 1941 and we were in the Grosvenor Square flat of Edythe d’Er­langer,” said Lord Dud­ley. “There was a large party of peo­ple – drinks and so on – and Edythe was play­ing the pi­ano. The Duke was lean­ing over the pi­ano and whis­per­ing in her ear as she played. I was in­trigued by her, but she was the Prince’s in­amorata dur­ing that time. She was quite a lot older than me, but I was flirting with her. How­ever, she only had eyes for the Prince.”

In a pre­vi­ous life, Mrs d’Er­langer had been the cel­e­brated boo­gie-woo­gie pi­anist Edythe Baker from Kansas, but had mar­ried into a su­per-rich bank­ing fam­ily – her hus­band was the son of Baron d’Er­langer – and had set­tled down to a priv­i­leged life.

Al­though Edythe disappeared from society head­lines dur­ing the war years, she sur­vived, so can­not have been the woman by Prince Ge­orge’s side when the Sun­der­land crashed.

The mys­tery con­tin­ues

How could some­one go missing and not be re­ported? One his­to­rian of the Lon­don Blitz I spoke to put for­ward the the­ory that it would be easy to trans­port a body back to the bombed­out city and place it in a de­mol­ished house, but this seemed as un­sat­is­fac­tory as the fan­ci­ful sto­ries of Ge­orge be­ing drunk at the plane’s con­trols, or on a special mis­sion to take the Nazi leader, Ru­dolf Hess, to a peace con­fer­ence.

So, 75 years on, the an­swer still re­mains be­yond reach. That there was a cover-up at the time is be­yond doubt. That some­thing ir­reg­u­lar oc­curred on the flight is in­escapable. That the veil of se­crecy is as firmly in place as it was in 1942 is unar­guable.

That Aus­tralians lost their lives along­side a more fa­mous fig­ure and lie for­ever half a world away from their nat­u­ral rest­ing-place is cer­tainly true. Their fam­i­lies, even af­ter all this time, de­serve an an­swer.

Jeff Goyen, Frank’s nephew and to­day a re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion con­sul­tant in Coffs Har­bour, NSW, told me his fa­ther, Al­lan, a war hero who was in­car­cer­ated in an Aus­trian prison camp af­ter the fall of Greece, made it his first duty af­ter be­ing freed to travel to Eng­land to talk to An­drew Jack. The whole fam­ily yearned to know the true story.

Yet Sergeant Jack, the lone sur­vivor, had been gagged. He ob­sti­nately stuck to a num­ber of part rec­ol­lec­tions and de­spite many prompts dur­ing the rest of his life, never said any­thing of note to any­body. Ex­cept, on that one oc­ca­sion, to re­veal there was an ex­tra body on board.

A mys­te­ri­ous ex­tra per­son was on the plane.

RIGHT: Prince Ge­orge, the Duke of Kent, in 1923. BELOW: The wreck­age of the Sun­der­land Fly­ing Boat in which the Duke and all but one crew mem­ber were killed in 1942.

LEFT: The Duke of Kent and Princess Ma­rina mar­ried on Novem­ber 29, 1934. ABOVE: A huge crowd greeted the cou­ple at Buck­ing­ham Palace.

Like Prince Harry (above, right), Prince Ge­orge (left) was the younger brother of a king-in­wait­ing, charm­ing, known for his devil-may-care at­ti­tude and pop­u­lar with the pub­lic.

FROM TOP LEFT: The Duke of Kent with his dog, Dushka, in the 1920s; Prince Ge­orge and his wife, Ma­rina, at As­cot races in 1939; their son, Prince Ed­ward, to­day’s Duke of Kent, in 1935; Prince Ge­orge and Princess Ma­rina on the cover of The Sketch, to mark their wed­ding in 1934; the royal fam­ily in 1925, with Prince Ge­orge at right; the Duke of Kent about to fly back to Lon­don af­ter an of­fi­cial visit to York­shire in 1929.

ABOVE: One of the search-and-res­cue team amid the de­bris of the crashed Sun­der­land in the Scot­tish High­lands, in Au­gust 1942. RIGHT: The Duke of Kent (left) with RAF of­fi­cers af­ter his ap­point­ment as Group Cap­tain, Train­ing Com­mand, in 1940.

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