As the Windsors tried to find their footing in a new world, international tensions rose to a boiling point. On 1 September 1939, Poland was attacked by the Nazis. The Duke sent a pleading cable to Hitler that he should not embark on a war. Hitler replied that he had no desire for war, but if it came to it, it would not be his fault.1 Two days later, the United Kingdom declared war on Germany. The Duke immediately offered his assistance and received word that King George VI wanted him and Wallis to return to London as soon as possible and that he would have a choice of two different posts: regional commissioner of Wales or a post with the British Military Mission attached to the French General Headquarters in Vincennes. However, he soon also learned that they would not be allowed to stay in a royal residence while in England, and the Duke promptly refused the offer.
A close friend later chastised the Duke, “You only think of yourselves. You don’t realize that there is at this moment a war going on, that women and children are being bombed and killed while you talk of your PRIDE.”2 The Duke and Duchess quickly began packing up their belongings, and they were soon on their way to Vichy, where they awaited further instructions. On 12 September, they arrived in Cherbourg, where the HMS Kelly waited to take them across the channel (Wallis hated flying). It had been almost three years since they had been in England.
As Queen Elizabeth wondered what to do about “Mrs S,” Winston Churchill had the thankless task of arranging something for the returning Duke and Duchess. He arranged for a naval guard of honour at Portsmouth, and as they descended the gangway, they were saluted by the Royal Marine Band. However, they did not even have a place to stay, and they spent the first night with Sir William James, commander in chief at Portsmouth. They then stayed over at the Metcalfes – Fruity Metcalfe was a friend and the Duke’s former equerry – but requests for accommodation were denied by the Palace, and a car for their use was also out of the question. Lady Alexandra Metcalfe wrote, “I do think the family might have done something. He might not even exist…”3
The Duke went to meet his brother on the 14th, and the Duke told his brother he wanted to take the job in Wales. However, King George VI had heard of the extensive press coverage of the Duke’s return and took the choice away from him. France would be his job, but the Duke had to learn this from someone else. It was yet another humiliation, and the Duke would meet with no other member of the Royal Family – they all stayed away. By the end of September, the Duke and Duchess were on their way back to France. Elizabeth wrote, “David’s visit passed off very quietly. He and Mrs S stayed with Baba & Fruity Metcalfe, & they have now returned to France, where let us hope they will remain. I think he at last realizes that there is no niche for him here – the mass of the people do not forgive quickly the sort of thing that he did to this country, and they HATE her.[…] I had taken the precaution to send her a message before they came, saying that I was sorry I could not receive her. I thought it more honest to make things quite clear. So she kept away & nobody saw her. What a curse black sheep are in a family!”4
When the Duke of Windsor was appointed governor of the Bahamas in 1940, Elizabeth wrote that she was certain that “a very difficult situation will arise over his wife” as she “has three husbands alive, will not be pleasing to the good people of the islands.” They were used to “looking up” to the King’s representatives, but “the Duchess of Windsor is looked upon as the lowest of the low – it will be the first lowering of the standard hitherto set, and may lead to unimaginable troubles, if a Governor’s wife, such as she, is to lead and set an example to the Bahamas.”5
When the Duke of Windsor visited the family after the war but he was told in no uncertain terms that “he cannot live here permanently owing to his wife & he is not prepared to offer D. any job here or anywhere.”[…] She does not like either us or this country & the life she has been accustomed to live no longer exists here.”6 The Duke and Duchess eventually settled in France. The Duke came over for his brother’s funeral in 1952, and he wrote to Wallis, “Cookie [their nickname for the Queen Mother] was as sugar as I’ve told you” and then continued to describe Queen Mary and the Queen Mother as “ice-veined bitches.”7 The icy reception was repeated the following year when the Duke returned for the funeral of Queen Mary.
- The Duchess of Windsor by Greg King p. 327
- The Duchess of Windsor by Greg King p. 328
- The Duchess of Windsor by Greg King p. 329
- Counting one’s blessings – The selected letters of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother p.280
- The Queen Mother by William Shawcross p.520
- The Queen Mother by William Shawcross p.600
- The Queen Mother by William Shawcross p.660