The Netherlands had been neutral during the First World War, but the German invasion on 10 May 1940 changed everything. Juliana and her two daughters had been sleeping in a shelter by Huis ten Bosch, and Wilhelmina ordered her heir to leave the country. The initial plan was for her and her daughters to go to Paris, but that was soon no longer an option. England was plan B.
In the early morning of 10 May, Queen Wilhelmina issued a proclamation protesting the attack on the Netherlands and the violation of the neutrality. Huis ten Bosch, with its rural setting, was considered to be too vulnerable to an attack and so Wilhelmina moved to Noordeinde Palace, which is located in the centre of The Hague. They would spend the nights in a shelter in the gardens of Noordeinde Palace. On 12 May, Juliana and her family finally managed to board a British ship. The goodbye between mother and daughter was difficult. Bernhard accompanied his wife and daughters to England, but he was also an officer in the army and felt that he should be staying. Bernhard immediately returned to the Netherlands when Juliana was safely in London.
Queen Wilhelmina had been told by her cabinet that she should be leaving the country as well. In the early hours of 13 May, Wilhelmina received a visit from General Winkelman, who told her that the situation was dire. Wilhelmina spoke on the phone with King George VI of the United Kingdom before bursting into tears in the shelter. There was no other option left – she would need to go as soon as possible. Wilhelmina boarded the HMS Hereward at Hook of Holland and initially wanted to travel to the province of Zeeland. This turned out to be impossible, and the HMS Hereward set sail for England.
While Queen Wilhelmina set up a government in exile in London, it was decided that Juliana and her daughters should go to Canada for their safety. Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone, Wilhelmina’s first cousin and her husband, who was the Governor-General of Canada, had offered to help. After all, England could be invaded as well. On 2 June 1940, Juliana, her daughters and several others boarded the HNLMS Sumatra, which was accompanied by the HNLMS Jacob van Heemskerck. Juliana’s husband Bernhard waved her off from Milford Haven while Queen Wilhelmina bade her daughter farewell from Lydney Park. Wilhelmina later wrote in her memoirs, “I gazed after the car as it drove off from Lydney Park – when and where would we meet again? Bernhard returned late in the evening, very unhappy at the prospect of their long separation. Several weeks passed before Juliana’s first letter brought a ray of light for him and myself.”1They arrived safely on 10 June 1940 and stayed at Government House at first. A month and a half later, they moved to a villa in Ottawa.
Juliana often wrote to her mother and her husband in England. It would be a long time before she would see them again. Wilhelmina wrote to her daughter, “Your letters are my lungs that will allow me to breathe to continue to live and work.”2 Juliana was kept informed of state business, she would need to be able to take over if it ever came to it after all. Their letters went by diplomatic post.
They would not meet again until June 1942. Wilhelmina wrote, “Our happiness at seeing each other again was indescribable. How I enjoyed Juliana’s charming house in Rockliffe Park, in the middle of the woods overlooking a little lake.”3 Bernhard also visited Canada several times. At the end of 1942, Juliana moved to Stornoway, which was a little bigger. By then, she was expecting her third child – Princess Margriet. Juliana also visited the United States several times and met with President Roosevelt, who was quite proud of his Dutch roots. During his inauguration in 1933, he swore the presidential oath on his Dutch family bible.
Juliana was concerned with the life her husband led in England and he hardly ever wrote to her about it. It will come as no surprise that he had an affair, and even though he never mentioned her by name, it is likely to be Ann, Lady Orr-Lewis, the wife of Sir Duncan Orr-Lewis. Bernhard later confirmed in an interview that Juliana knew about it and after the war, Ann sometimes went skiing with the entire family. After the war, he would father two daughters with two different women, and he later acknowledged them.
Juliana left Canada for England in September 1944, but there was little she could do there. In March 1945, Queen Wilhelmina made her first visit to the partially-liberated Netherlands. Juliana would have to wait a little bit longer. In June 1945, she travelled to the United States with 15,000 American troops, and she was deeply touched by their reception in New York.
On 2 August 1945, Juliana and her three daughters landed at Teuge Airport near Arnhem. The years of exile were over.