Luxembourg mourns war hero Duke, who helped liberate country from the Nazis

James Crisp
Grand Duke Jean of Luxembourg and his wife wave to the crowd at the end of his 36-year reign.  - AFP

Grand Duke Jean of Luxembourg, a World War Two hero who, fighting in the British Army, took part in the D-Day landings and helped liberate his country from Nazi oppression, has died aged 98.

After a glittering wartime service seeing combat across Western Europe, Grand Duke Jean spent almost 36 years as Luxembourg’s head of state. During this time the country transformed from rural backwater to a financial services centre, before Jean abdicated in favour of his son Henri in 2000.

As Luxembourg plunged into mourning on Tuesday, Grand Duke Henri said, "It is with great sadness that I inform you of the death of my beloved father, His Royal Highness Grand Duke Jean, who has passed away in peace, surrounded by the affection of his family."

“Like all the people of Luxembourg, I had great esteem for this man of commitment, kindness and courage who throughout his reign, and in all circumstances, gave the best of himself to his country,” Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission and former prime minister of Luxembourg, said. 

“Grand Duke Jean has always been close to Luxembourgers who are today united in the same sadness,” he added.

Grand Duke Jean of Luxembourg in 1955 with his wife Josephine-Charlotte of Belgium.  Credit: AFP

Grand Duke Jean, then 19-year-old heir to the Luxembourg throne, was forced to flee the Grand Duchy under the protection of the French army as Nazi forces invaded overnight on May 9 1940.

After stints in France, Portugal, the United States and Canada, the royal family, led by Grand Duchess Charlotte, arrived in Britain.

Jean volunteered for the Irish Guards in November 1942, was trained at the Royal Military College in Sandhurst, and promoted to lieutenant in 1943.

The future Grand Duke broadcast messages from London into occupied Luxembourg, urging resistance to the Germans. Resistance fighters were known to cry “Long Live Charlotte!” before being shot by the invaders.

On June 11 1944, Jean landed near Bayeux during the D-Day landings. He fought in the battle of Caen before taking part in the liberation of Brussels.

Charles Michel, the prime minister of Belgium, paid tribute to the Grand Duke. Jean married Princess Joséphine-Charlotte of Belgium in 1953 and the couple had five children. She died, aged 77, in 2005.

Queen Elizabeth, Grand Duke Jean Of Luxembourg And President Ronald Reagan At the 40th anniversary celebrations of D-Day in France. Credit: Geoffrey White/Rex

On September 10, 1944, Jean returned to Luxembourg, crossing the border at Rodange, which was the same place he had fled the country. Keen to continue fighting to liberate Europe, he returned to the fighting just three days later.

He saw action around Arnhem and in the Ardennes before taking the fight into Germany until the Nazi surrender on May 8.

In April 1945, he welcomed his returning mother to liberated Luxembourg. In November 1964, he succeeded her to become a popular Grand Duke, who was described today as gentle and warm. In  March 1995, Queen Elizabeth appointed him an honorary general of the British Army in recognition of his wartime career.

Jean Benoît Guillaume Robert Antoine Louis Marie Adolphe Marc d'Aviano was born on 5 January 1921, the eldest child of Grand Duchess Charlotte and Prince Felix. He died a week after being hospitalised with a lung infection.

A guard walks in front of The Grand Ducal Palace in Luxembourg, 23 April 2019.  Credit: Rex