Crown jewels hidden from Nazis in buried tin at Windsor Castle
Priceless gems from the crown jewels were hidden underground in a biscuit tin at Windsor Castle during World War II to ensure that they did not fall into Nazi hands.
The operation to hide the jewels was ordered by George VI and was such a closely guarded secret that the Queen has only just found out precisely what happened, during the filming of a BBC documentary.
There has long been speculation the jewels were taken from the Tower of London to Windsor in the war. Other theories have included them being kept in a vault in Canada, a secret tunnel at a prison in Devon and a cave in Wales.
The story of how they were buried at Windsor in a Bath Oliver biscuit tin, with the grass left to regrow to conceal their hiding place, has come to light from confidential correspondence in the Royal Collection. It was discovered by royal commentator Alastair Bruce, who spoke to the Queen for the BBC documentary Coronation to be broadcast tomorrow.
Described by Mr Bruce as “an electric set of letters”, they were from Sir Owen Morshead, the royal librarian, to Queen Mary, the mother of George VI.
They tell how a deep hole was dug in the grounds beneath a sally port, one of the secure entries to the castle, and two chambers con- structed with steel doors. During the works the excavations had to be covered at night.
Mr Bruce said: “They dug out this fresh, very virgin white chalk and they had to hide it with tarpaulins so when the aircraft flew over at night no clue was given to the German Luftwaffe that anything was going on.”
The crown jewels were then locked inside but access was possible through a trapdoor, which exists today.
In his letter Sir Owen described how the most precious jewels were removed from the Imperial State Crown — worn at the state opening of parliament — so that they could be kept separately in case of emergency.
Sir Owen levered the Black Prince’s Ruby and St Edward’s Sapphire from their clasps and stored them in the biscuit tin, Mr Bruce said. The Queen was no older than 14. Mr Bruce told her what had happened. “What was so lovely was that the Queen had no knowledge of it,” he said. “Telling her seemed strangely odd.
“There had been in a book in our research that the Queen had been shown them during the war when they appeared at Windsor.”
The 2016 book Operation Big: The Race To Stop Hitler’s A-Bomb said the jewels were known to be hidden at Windsor by the time in 1940 the government was trying to hide stocks of heavy water, vital for nuclear energy. No clue was given as to where the gems were buried — or the fact that the most important were in a biscuit tin.
One of the replica sets of the crown jewels made in honour of the Coronation in 1953 at Sotheby's in London yesterday