Following the great success of the film. ‘The King’s Speech’ it is interesting to take a look behind the scenes of the Royal Household just before and during World War II. Whilst it could be described as more of a reference book that a gripping read, ‘King’s Counsellor Abdication and War: The Diaries of Sir Alan Lascelles’ provides a fascinating glimpse into a world about which very few ordinary people know very much; the British Royal Household.
Sir Alan Lascelles
Sir Alan was born in 1887. His father was the Honerable Frederick Lascelles, brother to the 5th Earl of Harewood. He was educated at Marlborough College before going to Trinity College, Oxford. He served as an Infantry officer throughout World War I during which time he was wounded and was awarded the Military Cross. After the War he held posts as ADC and Assistant Private Secretary to various diplomats as well as the Prince of Wales. In 1929 he resigned from the Prince’s service. However in 1935 he returned to Royal Service when he became Assistant Private Secretary to King George V. He retained the posts of Assistant Private Secretary and Private Secretary to the reigning monarch until he retired in 1953.
As the title implies, the book is in two very uneven parts. The abdication is barely touched on at all. The only impression the reader can form is that Lascelles did not particularly like King Edward VIII. He felt much more at ease when Edward abdicated and his brother George became king.
The War Years
One of the lasting impressions based on the details Lascelles has committed to his diaries is of a man dedicated to his duty. At the outbreak of the war he moved his family out of London and into the country to be safe from the bombs while he remained at the King’s side. Yet despite the war some aspects of the life of the Royal Family continued as normal. For example holidays in Scotland at Balmoral continued. In his entry for Friday 14th August 1942 Lascelles writes, “The King started grouse-driving in earnest – hitherto they have only been walking, in the afternoons. They left at 9.30 and didn’t reappear till 5.30. the ladies having gone out to luncheon.” He goes on to talk about going fishing with one of the military officers and how he had had to give up shooting because of his work load. Apart from the reference to the officer there is no indication that the country is at war.
Other entries in the Diary are purely about the War. That for Sunday 25th July 1943 states,“This evening, Rome radio announced that Mussolini has resigned, and Badoglio has taken over all his offices. As the popular song has it, ‘Oh, what a surprise for the Duce.'”
An insight into to the work done by a Personal Secretary to the King can be gleaned throughout the book. Typical of the tasks Lascelles carried out is described in his entry for Thursday 16th March 1944. “My wedding-day; and, appropriately, I called upon King Peter after breakfast and told him (by direction of the King, who left London to visit 1st Airborne Division overnight) that if he would arrange to be married at the Yugoslav Embassy on Monday afternoon, Their Majesties would both be present and give him their blessing. (I had taken the precaution the night before of ascertaining that the Foreign Office had no political obstacles to put in the way, and that Eden would undertake to attend the ceremony himself.)”
Taken all-in-all, this is an account of World War Two as seen through the eyes of someone who was at the very heart of the events as they unfolded. It is unlikely that these diaries were ever intended for public consumption and it is because of that that they are such a fascinating record. It is the level of fine detail such as the type of fly Lascelles used for fishing or the titles of the books he read that make it a very intimate volume.