By: Lokelani Wilder
As the world mourns the death of Prince Philip, some in the islands are remembering his visits to Hawaii. In 1963, Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth II came to Hawaii after a stop in Fiji. A crowd of about 4,500 greeted the Royal couple, including the legendary Duke Kahanamoku and his wife. The Queen received a four-strand golden-orange ilima lei on the tarmac from then Governor John Burns. That type of lei is historically reserved only for Hawaiian rulers. Prince Philip was back in the islands in April 1987. After stepping off his private jet, he received a maile lei. Maile leis connote the divine scent of love and respect. Like the ilima lei that Queen Elizabeth received on the earlier visit, Prince Philip’s lei is also historically known as the Royal Lei because it too was prized by Hawaiian royalty. Prince Philip’s lei is typically given to denote honor and respect; however, maile leis were also used by people of all classes for many different occasions, and because of its more universal applications, it was entirely fitting for Prince Philip to receive it. During that particular visit in 1987, Prince Philip was the featured speaker at a symposium in Honolulu, where he talked about his passion for wildlife conservation and the need for the public to take an active role to protect flora and fauna. He also made the long trek to Mauna Kea to unveil a plaque at the James Clark Maxwell Telescope.
1963 and 1987 were not the only times that Prince Philip had ever been in the Pacific. The Duke of Edinburgh was married to the Queen for more than 70 years, but his service in the Royal Navy predated his relationship to the future monarch. Philip joined the Royal Navy in 1939 at the start of World War II, when he was only 18 years old. He served in the Mediterranean Sea on the HMS Ramillies initially, moving to the HMS Valiant shortly afterward, and the HMS Wallace after that. He was a searchlight control officer, acting in a pivotal role against Italian forces. In dispatches from the time, Philip was praised for his contributions to the Battle of Cape Matapan, during which Allied forces sank five enemy vessels and killed over 2,000 enemy officers, with only four seamen and four light vessels lost in the exchange. Philip swiftly rose through the ranks, earning the rank of first lieutenant by 1942 after the Battle of Crete. As a gunnery officer on board the HMS Duke of York, Philip was present in Tokyo Bay at the signing of Japan’s surrender in September 1945. The Duke was a consummate military man. He was heavily decorated for his service in World War II including medals for bravery but his service extended far beyond the Navy.
Philip’s active military service ended once the Queen acceded to the throne in 1952, four years after their wedding. Despite being married to the Queen, Philip took no active role with the Royal family, instead simply acting as royal consort – a role he held for longer than any other in British history. He was appointed at various times to serve as admiral of the Sea Cadet Corps, colonel-in-chief of the Army Cadet Force, air commodore-in-chief of the Air Training Corps, the Captain-General of the Royal Marines, and as colonel-in-chief for a number of British and overseas Commonwealth regiments. Philip only revealed frustrations at his diminished consort role during an interview to mark his 90th birthday, during which he said he struggled to find a role for himself. There was no precedent. Technically under the law, a royal consort does not even exist. When the Duke often asked what was expected from him, he often joked that all he
received in return were blank stares because no one had much of an idea. He said it was naturally disappointing for him at first reflection to give up his military career but when he stopped and thought about it, being married to the Queen was his first duty and that he had to serve her in the best way that he could. He often said that he could not ever let her down.
During his long and devoted service to the Queen, Philip was known for his occasionally deeply offensive remarks while energetically fulfilling more than 20,000 royal engagements to boost British interests at home and abroad until he quietly retired in 2017. He headed hundreds of charities, founded programs that helped British schoolchildren participate in challenging outdoor adventures, planted gardens, promoted art, and played a prominent part in raising his four children, including his eldest son, Prince Charles, the heir to the throne. Philip has often been reported to be a racist, but history often forgets Philip’s own personal history.
Born on June 10, 1921, on the dining room table at his parents’ home on the Greek island of Corfu, Philip was the fifth child and only son of Prince Andrew, the younger brother of the King of Greece. Philip’s mother was Princess Alice of Battenberg, a descendant of German princes. Like his future wife, Elizabeth II, Philip was also a great-great-grandchild of Queen Victoria. When Philip was 18 months old, his parents fled with him carried in an empty oranges box to France. His father, an Greek army commander, had been tried after a devastating military defeat by the Turks. After British intervention, the Greek junta agreed not to sentence Andrew to death if he left the country. The family was not exactly poor but, Philip said, “We weren’t well off” — and described how they got by with help from relatives. He later brought only his Royal Navy pay to a marriage with one of the world’s wealthiest women. Philip’s parents drifted apart when he was a child, and his father Andrew died alone in Monte Carlo in 1944. Alice founded a religious order that did not succeed and spent her old age at Buckingham Palace. A reclusive figure, Alice often dressed in a nun’s habit and was little seen by the British public. Although three of Philip’s sisters were accused of being married to Nazi Germans, Philip himself fought bravely against the Nazis. When his mother Alice died in 1969, she was posthumously honored by Britain and Israel for sheltering a Jewish family in Nazi-occupied Athens during the war. Philip carried his diversity throughout his service and that is further seen in the universal proclamations of condolences and admiration that he is receiving from the multiethnic Commonwealth heads of state who know the Prince.
Throughout his service and all his engagements, Philip remained a supportive husband, with courtiers saying he was the only person to treat Queen Elizabeth as a human being. In public, Philip deferentially walked three paces behind and referred to his wife as The Queen and Her Majesty. In private, he lovingly called her as Lilibet. The Queen said once that Philip was “quite simply … my strength and stay all these years”. On the occasion of their 50th Wedding Anniversary in 1997, the Queen said that the royal family owes Philip “a debt greater than he would ever claim, or we [the public] shall ever know”.
Seven years ago in the summer of 2014, I had the rare and distinct privilege of meeting and exchanging brief evening pleasantries with Prince Philip at Westminster Abby. At age 92, he was still a tall and imposing figure in his blue Captain-General of the Royal Marine’s uniform. Strikingly, there was no security around him. He was simply in the midst of his people. Not more than a day after that meeting, I happened to see photos of Prince Philip, the
Queen, their children, and grandchildren while on holidays aboard the Royal yacht Britannia. The happiness and ease of life captured in those rare family photos are an indication of Prince Philips’ success as father, grandfather, and devoted husband – the titles which meant the most of all to him.