Prince Philip thought Australians 'hadn't got over' that Britain 'wasn't able to help them' in Second World War, letter reveals

Rebecca Taylor
·Royal Correspondent
·3-min read
Britain's Queen Elizabeth II (R) and Prince Philip wave goodbye as they board their flight at Perth International Airport following their 10-day visit to Australia on October 29, 2011. The queen wrapped up an immensely successful tour of Australia in which tens of thousands flocked to catch a glimpse of their monarch, perhaps for the last time.     AFP PHOTO / POOL / Lincoln Baker (Photo credit should read LINCOLN BAKER/AFP via Getty Images)
Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip wave goodbye as they board their flight at Perth International Airport in 2011. (Getty Images)

Prince Philip said he believed Australians had not “got over the fact that Britain was not able to protect them” during the Second World War, in a letter to a friend which is up for auction.

Philip, now 99, is known for gaffes which have sometimes offended nations, and in the letter from 1965, he turned his sights on Australia, after a royal tour there alongside his wife.

The Duke of Edinburgh also used a slur in the letter, sent to his friend Sir Harold Hartley, as he described how the visit down under had gone.

He said: “Australia is a fascinating place. They're absolutely mesmerised by the Americans and yet they take it as a personal insult that Britain should be in such a muddle at the moment.

“Australian nationalism is growing rapidly and naturally it is directed almost entirely at Britain. They still haven't got over the fact that Britain was not able to protect them from the Japs, in spite of the fact that she was fighting for her life in Europe.

“Therefore their gratitude to the US is almost excessive...”

The Duke of Edinburgh visits Narrabeen National Fitness Camp. May 15, 1968. (Photo by George Lipman; Alan Gilbert Purcell/Fairfax Media via Getty Images).
The Duke of Edinburgh visits Narrabeen National Fitness Camp in 1968. (Getty Images).

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Sir Harold was a chemist who was chairman of the British Overseas Airways Corporation, who died in 1972.

A speech at his memorial service described him as someone who “served Dulwich and Balliol with a loyalty that was fervent and painstaking”.

Author Tim Heald described Sir Harold as a “loyal and zealous adviser” to the duke, who was an “unquestioned influence” on his life, in his book The Duke: Portrait of Prince Philip.

Recalling events in Australia, the prince was rather disparaging of a man thought to be Sir Henry Bland, who was a public servant in the country at the time of the visit.

Philip described him as “a small dark balding man with large eyes and a rubbery face”.

The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh set off for Brisbane during their 1954 visit to Australia. (Photo by © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)
The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh during their 1954 visit to Australia. (Getty Images)

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He added: “He seemed quite friendly and obviously rather pleased with himself. It soon became apparent that his understanding of the conference concept and method was superficial and I'm fairly certain he was surprised to find that I knew anything about it at all! I buttered him up and he was soon purring!”

The duke went to Australia at the end of February 1965 and one of his engagements there was to open the Australian mint.

He and the Queen have made many visits to Australia over the years, through her role as head of the Commonwealth.

Their last visit there together was in 2011 for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM).

Perhaps one of his most famous ‘gaffes’ was in 2002 when he asked an aboriginal leader if they still “threw spears at each other”.

In 1974, he finished off the Queen’s tour of Australia when she was called back to the UK because of a general election.

The letter is up for auction with International Autograph Auctions Europe, and is expected to fetch €100 - €150 (£89-£134).