As the Second World War began in its earnest, Christoph was often away. He volunteered for active service in September 1939. He was promoted to First Lieutenant on 1 May 1940, followed by a promotion to Captain on 1 September 1940. From January to May, he was stationed at Bad Homburg. He was then transferred to Luxembourg until the end of June where he did mostly staff work. He was awarded the Iron Cross second class as recognition for his work helping to plan the bombing of Rotterdam and Eindhoven. On 21 May, he wrote to Sophie, “We are in a little summer Schloss about 25 km north of Lotti’s (Grand Duchess Charlotte of Luxembourg) capital. And soon we will move on towards the West… What do you say to our success? Isn’t it marvellous! I wonder what will happen next?”1 He was then assigned to Belgium before being transferred to Calais. In June 1941, he was transferred to the Eastern front. He wrote to Sophie, “If you should not have any letters for some time, don’t be worried. You can guess the reason.”2 During his time there, he was transferred to a fighting squadron.
He underwent training for active combat and began to prepare for flying missions. By the end of November 1941, he had already done 18 missions over enemy lines. He was recalled from combat later that month as a result of orders prohibiting princes from engaging in combat. He was incensed and went crazy sitting inside all day. Christoph was eventually ordered to Sicily, and he was briefly able to see Sophie on the way there. In December 1942, he was transferred to Tunisia, and he witnessed the gradual defeat of General Rommel. Christoph moved around North Africa for a while before being told to evacuate in May 1943. He was allowed on leave for the month of June, and he took the opportunity to write a will at Kronberg. Little did he know, it would also be the last time he would see Sophie and his children. He left behind a pregnant Sophie at the end of June 1943 and headed back to the front in Sicily. Despite the ban on princes serving in combat, Christoph found his way to a plane.
Circumstances surrounding his death remain mysterious. On 7 October 1943, Christoph and another pilot named Wilhelm Gsteu embarked on a Siebel 204 and around 5.30 p.m. the plane crashed into a mountain near Monte Collino in the Apennine Mountains. Their bodies were not found until two days later. They were eventually buried in a cemetery near Forli. Their true destination and the cause of the crash remain unknown. Sophie and their children were living at Friedrichshof at the time of Christoph’s death. Her grandmother wrote, “Poor dear Tiny (Sophie), she loved her husband & had been so anxious about him ever since he was in Sicily… I am so sorry for Mossie (Princess Margaret of Prussia – his mother) too; this is the 3rd son she has lost in war, the eldest two in the last one & now her favourite in this one.”3
General Siegfried Taubert made an unannounced visit to Sophie in November 1943 to “sniff around” on the orders of Heinrich Himmler. He was “astonished by her terrible appearance; she has become thin and looks to be suffering a great deal, probably because she is expecting her fifth child.”4 On 6 February 1944, she gave birth to a daughter named Clarissa. When her mother visited a few months later, Alice wrote, “I went to Tiny, who is so brave when she with her children and us, being her usual self and making jokes but her hours in her room alone are hardly to be endured… I never suffered ‘the accident’ (Cecilie’s plane crash) as I did those three weeks with Tiny and I certainly will never forget them as long as I live. Her children are perfectly adorable, you would love them, and the new baby is too sweet for words.”5 On 3 December 1944, Sophie’s father Andrew died at Monte Carlo.
On 29 March 1945, the Americans arrived at Friedrichshof, and a few weeks later, the entire family was ordered to leave within four hours. Sophie’s mother-in-law was ill with pneumonia and refused to vacate until a soldier threatened to shoot her. They eventually ended up separated over several homes. In May 1945, Sophie moved to Wolfsgarten where Cecilie’s brother-in-law and his wife lived. They took in several refugees from their family.
In January 1946, Sophie became engaged to Prince George William of Hanover, who became the headmaster of Salem School. He had served in the army as well under the command of General Guderian, and he had fought at Smolensk and Kyiv. When Sophie requested to wear some of the Hessian jewels for her wedding, it turned out that they were stolen. Her younger brother Philip attended their wedding on 23 April 1946. The groom’s father, the Duke of Brunswick – as a male-line descendant of George III – applied for formal consent for the marriage under the Royal Marriages Act 1772 to his cousin, King George VI, in 1945. However, Germany and the United Kingdom were still in a state of war, and King George VI was advised not to reply. He privately sent his best wishes, and his mother Queen Mary was happy that Sophie had found a new husband. Sophie and her two surviving sisters were not invited to Prince Philip’s wedding to Princess Elizabeth in 1947 due to the politically sensitive situation. They were able to make private visits to the United Kingdom, and Sophie was the first of Philip’s sisters to visit him in 1948.
Between 1950 and 1953, the estate of her late husband underwent a posthumous identification trial to determine if Sophie and her children were entitled to their shares of the inheritance. If Christoph was placed in Category I or II, his property was subject to seizure by the state. It wasn’t until March 1953 that he would not have been in Category I or II, or even III, and all restrictions on his estate were lifted. Sophie and George William went on to have three children together: Welf Ernst (born 25 January 1947), Georg (born 9 December 1949) and Friederike (born 15 October 1954).
Sophie and her sisters were able to attend the coronation of their sister-in-law, Queen Elizabeth II, at Westminster Abbey. They sat in the royal box behind the Queen Mother with their mother, Alice. In 1964, Sophie was asked to be the godmother of Queen Elizabeth’s youngest son Prince Edward. Prince Philip helped to send some of his nieces and nephews to boarding school. Sophie, in turn, was fond of Prince Charles and she sometimes stayed with him at Highgrove. On 16 October 1969, her sister Theodora died quite suddenly, followed by her mother on 5 December 1969 at Buckingham Palace. Sophie gave her three dressing gowns to the nurses who had cared for her. Sophie and Margarita attended the funeral at St George’s Chapel. Alice was eventually moved to Jerusalem per her own wishes in 1988. By then, Margarita had passed away as well – she had died on 24 April 1981.
She accompanied Prince Philip to Jerusalem in 1994 when their mother was being as recognised as Righteous Among the Nations for hiding a Jewish family. She spent her final years living quietly at Schliersee, near Munich. She was also in regular contact with Princess Margaret of Hesse, the wife of Cecilie’s brother-in-law. In the summer of 2001, she moved to a nursing home where she died on 24 November 2001 at the age of 87. She was survived by her second husband as well as seven of her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She was buried in the Schliersee Cemetery and was joined there by her second husband when he died in 2006.