In 1939 the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg had celebrated the 100th anniversary of its independence in grand fashion but a year later came the biggest thread to the country's freedom when Nazi-Germany invaded the tiny Grand Duchy on May 10th, 1940. Today, members of the Grand Ducal Family are commemorating the landing of allied forces in the Normandy in 1944 alongside other world leaders. However, the only (former) head of state present who actually participated in those landings is Grand Duke Jean. And so I thought we'd take the opportunity to chronicle his life during the war years.
|The Grand Ducal Family prior to the war|
Grand Duke Jean and his sisters were accompanied by two aide-de-camps and the original plan was to bring them to Esch-sur-Alzette where they should have stayed with the friend of one of the aide-de-camps until further instruction. However, the friend wasn't home and so they made their way via various towns and villages along the French border as the aide-de-camps weren't entirely sure whether to leave the Grand Duchy behind or not. Just outside of Niederkerschen they almost came into contact with German soldiers when a plane landed on a meadow nearby. Out of the plane jumped armed German soldiers though the car carrying Grand Duke Jean, Princess Marie-Gabrielle and Princess Alix was able to turn around. Another critical situation happened when they had to cross a German road block but in the end they - just as the rest of the family - were able to leave Luxembourg safely.
|At the Château de Bostz,|
where the family stayed
between May 20th and
June 16th, 1940
(Photo: Collections grand-ducales)
On June 18th, Prince Felix and his children made their way to Saint-Jean-de-Luz close to the French-Spanish border where they stayed at the property of the Spanish Carlist politician Rafael Olazabal. A day later, Grand Duchess Charlotte also arrived there and it was decided that the aide-de-camp who had already brought Grand Duke Jean and his sisters out of Luxembourg would travel with all of the Grand Duchess' children to Spain where they would stay in San Sebastian. Grand Duchess Charlotte and Prince Felix followed them a day later but very soon afterwards the Family received a letter by the Spanish dictator Franco that they were not welcome in Spain. After already having received visas from Aristides de Sousa Mendes, the Grand Ducal Family then made their way via Vitoria, Burgos and Valladolid to Salamanca and then finally arrived in Portugal on June 24th.
|On board the USS Trenton|
In October 1940, the Grand Ducal Family as well as Luxembourg's exiled government took up residency in Canada. This relocation enabled the Grand Ducal as well as the children of the ministers to continue their education in French. Soon after Grand Duke Jean attended Université Laval in Québec where he majored in Political Science. In February 1941, Grand Duke Jean participated in a state visit to the United States alongside his parents. During the state visit President Roosevelt, who simply called the Grand Duchess 'my dear child' and Hereditary Grand Duke Jean and Prince Felix by their first names, told the Grand Duchess, "Don't worry, dear child, I'll bring you home again."
Just like his parents, Grand Duke Jean participated in a number of goodwill tours travelling all over the US. He also held a number of speeches on Luxembourg's behalf. On the invitation of emigrated Luxembourgers, he also paid a visit to Brazil in June 1942.
|Near Bayeux after landing|
in the Normandy
(Photo: Cour grand-ducale)
In August 1943, the Grand Duke Jean regained the Guards’ training battalion at Lingfield. During this time, he served as a guard at Buckingham Palace. Interestingly, he was on guard during an official visit by his mother and sisters during which he had to remain motionless the whole time.
In February 1944, he joined the 3rd battalion of the Irish Guards at the Guards Armoured Division based at Malton, Yorkshire, where the battalion received their training for the Normandy landings on D-Day. On March 3rd, 1944, Prince Jean was promoted to the rank of lieutenant. At the end of April of the same year, the battalion was redeployed to Eastbourne.
|Photo: Tony Krier / Cour grand-ducale|
While at Leopoldsburg on September 7th, Grand Duke Jean received the order to join his father, Prince Felix who had fought with the American Fifth Armoured Division. On September 10th, 1944, he returned to Luxembourg, crossing the border at Rodange, the very same place where the Grand Duchess had had to leave the country on May 10th, 1940. Once recognising Hereditary Grand Duke Jean and Prince Felix, the Luxembourgish population carried them around on their shoulders.
|Photo: Photohall Bertogne|
At the beginning of April 1945, Grand Duke Jean received the order to return to Luxembourg where the arrival of Grand Duchess Charlotte was expected. On April 14th, 1945, he was in the country to greet his mother who was greeted by an overjoyed population. Following the surrender of Germany, he was later detached to the allied military mission in Luxembourg. Dispatched to Berlin, he became particularly concerned about the deported Luxembourg nationals and the question of their repatriation. After the war, from 1984 until his abdication, he served as Colonel of the Regiment of the Irish Guards, often riding in uniform behind Queen Elizabeth II during the Sovereign's Birthday Parade.