Schoolboy Philip showed qualities of a natural leader – with a short fuse

Laura Elston, PA Court Reporter
·3-min read

At school, Prince Philip showed all the qualities of a natural leader, but even his teachers’ reports revealed he had a rather short fuse.

Assessments written in 1938, when he was around 17, called him kind and firm, but suggested he was too irritable when put in charge of games.

Philip with the cricket team
Prince Philip of Greece, tossing the ball in the air, with the junior cricket team at Gordonstoun School (PA)

Exiled in Paris, Philip was a cheerful toddler – snow-blond, boisterous and clearly well-fed.

He did have a broken home, but he was happy and much loved by an array of relations.

His formal education began at The Elms infant school in St Cloud, an establishment mainly for the children of diplomats and wealthy American expatriates.

Prince Philip’s classmates included Prince Jacques de Bourbon and his sister, Princess Anne.

The fees were high but were paid by Philip’s uncle, Christopher, who made a prosperous marriage to the widow of an American tin-plate tycoon.

At the age of eight, Philip progressed to Cheam prep school in England, where he studied from 1930 to 1933.

Cheam School
Young Prince Philip attended Cheam School, near Newbury, Berkshire (PA)

It was his Uncle George, second Marquess of Milford Haven, elder brother to the more dazzling Louis Mountbatten, and younger brother to his mother Alice, who entered Philip for Cheam.

Lynden Manor, George’s house on the River Thames at Maidenhead, was Philip’s home, so far as he had one at all, during the shorter school holidays.

George used to turn up in loco parentis for sports days and prize givings, on one occasion to see Philip receive an award for French.

In 1933 Philip was sent to Salem School in Baden, Germany, where German progressive educationalist Dr Kurt Hahn had established one of the world’s best-known private schools.

Prince Philip’s ancestry
(PA Graphics)

Close to Lake Constance, it was also near Schloss Salem, the home of the Margrave von Baden and his wife Theodora, Philip’s sister.

Salem aimed to combine academic excellence with character-building, emphasising the importance of each pupil realising his own potential.

But by the time Philip arrived, Dr Hahn had fallen foul of the Nazis, whose policies he resolutely opposed.

Dr Hahn was imprisoned for “the decadent corruption of German youth” and only the intervention of British Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald secured his release.

He fled to Britain and founded a new school, Gordonstoun, near Elgin, Morayshire, in the Scottish Highlands, where 13-year-old Philip became one of a handful of founding pupils.

Philip at Gordonstoun
Prince Philip (second from left) takes part in a historical pageant at Gordonstoun (PA)

For the next five years, Philip completed his schooling at Gordonstoun and it was later chosen for all three of his sons – including the Prince of Wales, who was bullied and disliked his time there – and two of his grandchildren.

The school motto is: “Plus est en Vous” – “There is more in you than you think”.

At Gordonstoun, Philip excelled at sports, becoming captain of both the hockey and cricket teams.

He was made guardian – or head boy – in his last term.

The school placed an emphasis on outdoor activities, particularly seamanship and expeditions, and later became the inspiration for Philip’s Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme.

His school report from 1938 was particularly revealing of his strong character.

Philip’s academic achievements were praised, including his “unusual grasp of cause and effect in human affairs” and his talent for languages.

Dr Hahn described him as an intelligent and courageous pupil, but clearly one not without his faults.

The headmaster wrote: “Prince Philip has unusual courage and endurance … and does not know what boredom is when intent on discharging his duties.

“The lure of the moment remains his danger … He has the makings of a first-class organiser; he is both kind and firm. As a leader of games he is at times too irritable.”

He added that Philip was: “Never failing where he has to consider other people’s rights or interests; when balked in his plans, still inclined to jump to angry conclusions.”