Friday, June 6, 2014

Luxarazzi 101: Grand Duke Jean During World War II

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
Plans of an imminent invasion by the German forces became known already a few days prior to the actual invasion. The Grand Ducal Family had decided that they would stay on Luxembourgish territory until the last moment possible and Prince Felix, Grand Duke Jean's father, had drawn up plans for the family to leave the country via two separate ways. While Grand Duke Jean and his sisters Princess Marie-Gabrielle and Princess Alix were to travel in one car, Grand Duchess Charlotte and Prince Felix as well as Grand Duchess Maria-Ana would try to make their way out of the country by a number of other ones. After all, the Germans should not be allowed to capture the entire Grand Ducal Family, and especially not Grand Duchess Charlotte and then-Hereditary Grand Duke Jean, at once. (The other children of the family were staying with their paternal aunt Empress Zita of Austria near Brussels at the time)

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)
The Family reunited during the evening hours in Sainte Menehould before making their way to Paris, which was about 220 kilometres away, the following day. On the day of Belgium's capitulation to Germany (May 28th), the family stayed together with their Habsburg and Bourbon-Parma cousins at the Château de Bostz, owned by Prince Xavier of Bourbon-Parma, a brother of Prince Felix, in Besson about 300 kilometres south of Paris.

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
After a few days of uncertainty it was Prince Felix who sent a cable to the United States of America asking for asylum for the Grand Ducal Family and the few employees that had fled with them. As luck would have it, Prince Felix and Grand Duke Jean had personally met President Roosevelt a year earlier and so their request was immediately accepted. On July 15th, Prince Felix and his children boarded the USS Trenton while Grand Duchess Charlotte stayed behind in Europe. When the ship arrived to the United States in Annapolis near Washington D.C. the members of the Grand Ducal Family were welcomed with 21 canon salutes. The first point on the Family's agenda after arriving to the United States was a luncheon at the White House.

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)
On October 6th, 1942, then-Hereditary Grand Duke Jean and his father made their way to Great Britain. About ten days later, there were received at Buckingham Palace by King George VI and during their meeting it was agreed that the future Grand Duke was to enter the Irish Guards. After entering the military on November 29th, his first few months of training led the then-Hereditary Grand Duke to Caterham and Pirbright. Being based at the Mons barracks in Aldershot, he completed his education at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst after having obtained the rank of second lieutenant. His passing-out ceremony on July 28th was attended by Prince Felix and the exiled government. On the same day, the future Grand Duke addressed the people of Luxembourg via BBC Radio. 

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
On June 11th, 1944, five days after the D-Day that is commemorated today, Hereditary Grand Duke Jean landed in Normandy as member of a reinforcement unit. Subsequently, he served in the 32nd brigade of the Guards Armoured Division in Normandy thus taking part in the Battle of Caen. Having suffered major losses, the Guards Armoured Division was placed under the orders of the 30th Corps and received the order to advance to the Belgian border. On August 25th, which was also the day of the liberation of Paris, they crossed the Seine near Vernon and arrived at the Somme four days later. Liberating Arras and Douai on the way, they reached Brussels on the evening of September 3rd. The following day the division took part in the military ceremonies before the monument to the Unknown Soldier and at the Town Hall and then continued on to the East. 

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
After spending a few days in the now liberated Luxembourg, Grand Duke Jean returned to his unit, which had been involved in Operation Market Garden (Arnhem) since September 17th. They subsequently also took part in the Battle of the Bulge as well as the Reichswald attacks south of Nijmegen in February 1945. Once the German resistance had been broken in the region, the Guards Armoured Division began moving towards Bremen and Hamburg in the north of Germany. 

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.


  1. Very informative. Thank you so much for sharing this with us.

  2. It must have taken a great understanding between the military leaders and the diplomats to have another country's future head of state serve for another nation. The fact that GD Jean was able to be in Luxembourg to see his mother return to their country most likely wasn't a coincidence but would the allies have had a group in that part of Luxembourg had GD Jean NOT been in the company? (This is a rhetorical musing.) I do wonder how his British military discharge looks "Left our military to serve his own country." Many thanks to him and the rest of the "Greatest generation." (And the folks at Luxarazzi for providing the background information!)