The Sunday Mail (Queensland)
A pillar of duty and service to the finish
Death is inevitable but a good life is not. Too late, alas, for Prince Philip to savour it, what’s now belatedly being recognised is how good and decent a man we have lost.
Part of the human stain is our tendency to look for the minor flaws in people rather than try to discern their fundamental strengths. At times, he suffered at the hands of the media, for supposed gaffes.
How small-minded that all seems, now that this pillar of duty and service has joined the spirit world; and those of us who scoffed at his humour or scorned the Crown he served have to face the awkward reality that he was almost certainly a better man than any of us.
On the occasion of her 21st birthday, the Queen uttered the immortal words: “my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family”.
Inevitably, with her coronation Philip’s role also changed utterly. No longer the up and coming naval officer with aspirations of his own, from that moment his unique duty was to provide the support and sustainment that the Queen needed to meet her own singular challenges.
It must have chafed but with the stoicism and quiet courage that marked his generation, he mostly just got on with it; so much so that the Queen observed after 50 years of partnership that she owed him “a debt greater than he would ever claim or that we shall ever know”.
On top of his distinguished active service throughout World War II, his life-long dedication to the well-being of the armed forces, his encouragement of conservation (in the days when that meant clean air and water and protecting the built and natural environment) and his creation of the Duke of Edinburgh awards for youth leadership, now operating in 144 countries, his main calling was to serve best the Queen so that she could better serve us.
It’s at least in part to Philip’s credit, that in all the storied history of our 1200-year-old Crown, there has not been a more distinguished reign.
Of course, the Crown is much more than the individual who bears it. As PM, I had restored knights and dames to the Order of Australia because I always thought, if we were to have an honours system, a knighthood for truly exceptional service should be its apex. I was conscious that we had given our highest award to Prince Charles in 1981, but never to the father.
And that Canada and New Zealand had given Prince Philip their highest awards.
I hope it gave him some satisfaction in his last years, especially as it’s so clear now, if not to everyone then, how much he deserved it.