The Duchess of Windsor’s life in the Bahamas (Part one)

wallis edward windsor
Keystone Press / Alamy Stock Photo

In the morning of 17 August 1940, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor arrived in Nassau, where the Duke was to act as Governor-General. Before their arrival, King George VI had sent a telegram with the following instructions to the officials, “You are no doubt aware that a lady when presented to HRH The Duke of Windsor should make a half-curtsey. The Duchess of Windsor is not entitled to this. The Duke should be addressed as ‘Your Royal Highness’ and the Duchess as ‘Your Grace'”1

Around 16,000 of New Providence’s 20,000 inhabitants had turned out to greet the Duke and Duchess. They were led to the Legislative Building, where the Duke took the oath of office on a throne beneath a velvet canopy embroidered with a golden crown. By then, the heat was already overwhelming. After the welcome, they were driven to their new residence, Government House. It was a mess – the pool was filled with debris, and the house itself had mould, peeling paint and falling plaster. Just one week into their stay, Wallis was working at her desk when a piece of the ceiling broke off and crashed next to her chair. The Duke called for an inspection, which concluded that the house was not safe to live in. Renovations were soon on their way, and in the meantime, the couple stayed elsewhere.

Even after moving back into Government House, frustrations remained. The Duke and Duchess were disappointed with the appointment, and Wallis wrote to her aunt, “We both hate it, and the locals are petty-minded, the visitors common and uninteresting.”2 However, they always kept their feelings to themselves and never vented their frustrations in public. The Bahamas had a total population of around 70,000, of which 80 per cent were black or of mixed race. They were mostly poorly educated and often dependent on white merchants known as the Bay Street Boys. Both the Duke and Duchess harboured certain colour prejudices. The Duke had never been exposed to close relations with black people before, and he found them unwilling to believe anything the latest Governor-General would have to say. Wallis came from Baltimore, where colour barriers ran deep, but she had more exposure to black people, and she was a bit more tolerant. When the Duke tried to introduce reforms to benefit the black population, he faced opposition from the Bay Street Boys and also Etienne Dupuch, editor of the Tribune, who, as a Catholic, not only believed they were living in open adultery, but he also believed that the establishment was corrupt.

In December 1940, Wallis became very ill from an impacted wisdom tooth. The dentist in Nassau recommended surgery and that Miami was the best place for it. They arrived to a large, cheering crowd, and Wallis waved and smiled through her pain. Upon arrival in the hospital, the doctor found an abscess and an infection to her whole lower right jaw. He operated on Wallis later that afternoon, and Wallis had to remain in the hospital for several days for the infection. She was released on 17 December, and they returned to Nassau just in time for their first Christmas there. She was still recovering but wanted to make it a grand celebration for the underprivileged children of Nassau. That first year and every subsequent year there, the Duke and Duchess gave presents to hundreds of children. The Duke happily played with the boys and their new train sets, while Wallis played with the girls and their new dolls.

In April 1941, the Duke and Duchess returned to Miami to meet with Sir Edward Peacock, who was the Duke’s financial adviser. The Duke met with him while Wallis shopped for summer clothes. On the 20th, they hosted a cocktail party for 300 guests and visited the British War Relief headquarters. However, as they were unable to find transport back to Nassau, Wallis had to face her fear of flying after Harold Vanderbilt offered them his private plane. On 22 April, she clutched her husband’s hand and closed her eyes for almost an hour until he told her to enjoy the view. They were able to return to the United States for a longer period in the autumn.

On 23 September, they arrived to visit not only the President at the White House but also Baltimore, New York and Chicago. They were greeted by a large crowd upon arrival before boarding a private train. The luncheon at the White House was cancelled when Eleonor Roosevelt’s brother became seriously ill, but Edward met with the President in private for several hours. It was reported that “Washingtonians received the famous pair with enthusiasm. Everywhere they went, peering, cheering, crowds gathered.”3 As they travelled to Chicago, Wallis suffered from an eye infection, but Edward duly waved to the waiting crowds. They also visited the Duke’s ranch in Canada, which he had purchased in 1919. While they were away, the Bahamas were hit by a powerful storm, leaving many families homeless. Wallis quickly sent cables to the Red Cross and the Daughters of the British Empire, telling them that she was confident they would be able to deal with the crisis but to “let me know if there is anything I can do or that you need.”4

The highlight of the trip was Wallis’s return to Baltimore, and they spent two private days with her uncle Henry Warfield and his wife, Rebecca. When the Duke and Duchess were publically welcomed on 13 October, around 200,000 people lined the street to “greet its most famous daughter.”5 The mayor told them, “Until the day of victory comes, and come it must, and always after that, we hope both of you will continue to regard Baltimore as another home, where you will always find peace and happiness.”6 Between the many functions, Wallis was again troubled by stomach issues. Doctors diagnosed a perforated duodenal ulcer, and they advised an immediate operation but Wallis did not want to interrupt their busy schedule.

Once in New York, Wallis visited a home for unmarried mothers, and with Edward, she also inspected 15 mobile army hospital units. They also toured the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund, the Brooklyn Naval Yard and housing projects. For Halloween, Wallis organised a party for underprivileged children. When they returned to Washington, Wallis decided to write a cookbook called “Some Favorite Southern Recipes of the Duchess of Windsor”, and the proceeds were all donated to war-relief agencies. Wallis later commented, “I’m not nearly so interested in clothes as people think. I’d rather talk about Red Cross work and infant welfare.”7

Read part two here.


Our book The Duchess of Windsor – A Collection of Articles is available now in the US and the UK.

  1. The Duchess of Windsor by Greg King p.353
  2. The Duchess of Windsor by Greg King p.356
  3. The Duchess of Windsor by Greg King p.362
  4. The Duchess of Windsor by Greg King p.363
  5. The Duchess of Windsor by Greg King p.363
  6. The Duchess of Windsor by Greg King p.364
  7. The Duchess of Windsor by Greg King p.365

About Moniek Bloks 2591 Articles
My name is Moniek and I am from the Netherlands. I began this website in 2013 because I wanted to share these women's amazing stories.

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