Prince bemoans ‘pip-squeak place’ during Newfoundland visit
Edward, Prince of Wales, was truly a Prince Charming. The handsome, gregarious eldest son of King George V had become the toast of the British Empire by the end of the Great War of 1914-18.
So great was his appeal that Prime Minister Lloyd George decided that th e hei r to t he throne should make a series of tours around the Empire.
The king and the prime minister agreed that the first visit would be to North America, and that it would begin in Newfoundland.
On Aug. 5, 1919, the prince sailed westward, aboard HMS Renown, a British battle cruiser. She and her Royal Navy escorts anchored close to Bell Island in Conception Bay six days later, on the morning of the 11th.
The Prince went ashore near Topsail beach to stretch his legs. The next morning he sailed around Cape St. Francis aboard HMS Dragon, one of the light cruisers escorting Renown through the Narrows.
After being welcomed officially by the Governor, Sir Alexander Harris, and other local dignitaries, he was driven west along Water Street, up Queen Street to New Gower and on to the Colonial Building. He spent that night at Government House.
The next morning he went to Quidi Vidi Lake, and watched the Regatta. It had been moved from its normal first Wednesday in August to the 13th in his honour. From there he was driven to the harbour and his ship, which sailed at once for Halifax.
Sir Alexander described the entire visit as “an unqualified success” in a Secret Quarterly Report that he sent to Lord Milner, the Colonial Secretary, on Sept. 26, notwithstanding the implications that arose because of “ the decision that only the chief representatives of the [St. John’s Municipal] council should be directly presented to the prince.”
He went on to add that “as a matter of fact if all the council had been present on the landing stage to bid His Royal Highness welcome he woul d himself have caused them all to be presented as he did in other cases: the selfishness which prevented certain members from doing this courtesy defeated its own end. Those who were absent were proportionately annoyed and two of them were so misguided as to resign from the council.”
The Prince told his father that he had received “a rapturous reception” in Newfoundland. But he told a different story in his letter to his mistress, Freda Dudley Ward, a married woman with two small children. Here is what he told her in a letter written from Government House on Aug. 13, at two in the morning, after the ball held in his honour.
“Fredie darling darling beloved lit- tle sweetheart mine, my first night ashore since leaving England... I transferred to ‘ Dragon” in Conception Bay to steam round to this little hole where I landed officially at noon and it is a little pip-squeak place no mistake!!
“ Christ we have laughed as the governor of Newfoundland is the completest old dud and his wife is beyond description!! ... This seems to be an exceptionally loyal colony and they certainly gave me a good welcome, though it’s a cold audience and public as compared to Great Britain; it’s all very primitive ... and of course democracy rules but that is very refreshing!!”
Mrs. Ward’s romance with the prince lasted for 16 years, until she was supplanted by Wallis Simpson. (Mrs. Simpson became the Duchess of Windsor when Edward married her shortly after his abdication as King and Emperor in December 1936, after a reign of less than a year.)
Edward wrote to Mrs. Ward constantly, some 2,000 letters in all. The 263 written between March 1918 and January 1921, including the ones written from St. John’s, were published in 1998, in a collection edited by Rupert Godfrey, entitled “Letters from a Prince.”
Royal blood, it seems, is no bar to hypocrisy.
The 1919 visit to St. John’s wasn’t the first time the Prince of Wales had encountered Newfoundlanders.
Colonel Nicholson, in “ The Fighting Newfoundlander,” the official history of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, records that on Oct. 9, 1916, as the regiment was preparing to move into the British front line trench at Gueudecourt, two of its officers “encountered a British brigadier, who was accompanied by a young officer wearing captain’s rank badges. The younger man, whose face looked strangely familiar, gave them directions; it was only after they had moved on that the Newfoundlanders suddenly realized they had been talking to the Prince of Wales.”
As has often been said, it’s a small world.