Death of Air Commodore His Royal Highness the Duke Kent

– in the House of Commons on 8th September 1942.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Winston Churchill Mr Winston Churchill , Epping

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty to express the deep concern of this House on the loss which His Majesty has sustained by the death on active service of Air Commodore His Royal Highness Prince George Alexander Edmund, Duke of Kent, and to condole with His Majesty on this melancholy occasion;and to assure His Majesty that this House shares the general feeling of sorrow for the heavy bereavement which His Majesty and His Majesty's Family have sustained by the death of a Prince who was regarded with universal affection and esteem by His Majesty's subjects, and will ever participate with the most affectionate and dutiful attachment in whatever may concern the feelings and interests of His Majesty. I also propose to move a second Motion: That this House do condole with Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Kent on the great loss which Her Royal Highness has sustained by the death on active service of Air Commodore His Royal Highness the Duke of Kent. The loss of this gallant and handsome Prince, in the prime of his life, has been a shock and a sorrow to the people of the British Empire, standing out lamentably even in these hard days of war. To His Majesty the King it is the loss of a dearly-loved brother, and it has affected him most poignantly. I knew the late Duke of Kent from his childhood, and had many opportunities of meeting him during the war, both at the Admiralty and thereafter. His overpowering desire was to render useful service to his King and country in this period when we are all of us on trial.

There are difficulties which attend a King's brother and of which those who are not of an exalted station can hardly be aware. But the Duke of Kent was ready to waive his rank, to put aside all ceremony, and to undergo any amount of discomfort and danger or, what is harder still, of monotonous routine conscientiously performed, in order to feel quite sure that he was making a real contribution to our national struggle for life and honour. The field he made his own was that of the welfare and comfort of the Royal Air Force, which entailed an immense amount of work and travelling and yet yielded a continuous and useful result to which the personal qualities of the Duke contributed markedly. It was while performing these duties as an Air Commodore, he having given up his previous rank of Air Marshal, that the hazards of the air claimed their forfeit. He and all his companions save one were dashed instantaneously to death.

There is something about death on active service which makes it different from common or ordinary death in the normal course of nature. It is accepted without question by the fighting men. Those they leave behind them are also conscious of a light of sacrifice and honour which plays around the grave or the tomb of the warrior. They are, for the time being, uplifted. This adds to their fortitude, but it does not in any way lessen their pain. Nothing can fill the awful gap, nothing can assuage or comfort the loneliness and deprivation which fall upon the wife and children when the prop and centre of their home is suddenly snatched away. Only faith in a life after death in a brighter world where dear ones will meet again—only that and the measured tramp of time can give consolation.

The Duke of Kent had a joyous union and a happy family. The British people are devoted believers in their ancient Monarchy, regarding it as one of the bulwarks of their liberties and one of the essential elements in their constitutional processes. They, therefore, always follow with solicitude the joys and sorrows of the Royal Family, and they rejoiced in the spectacle of this happy home. I speak here in this famous Assembly, the champion and the successful practiser of democratic government, in this Assembly elected on universal suffrage, and I say without hesitation that all our thoughts go out in sympathy to Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Kent, the beautiful and stricken Princess who, in her turn, tastes the bitter tribulation which war brings to so many. That she may make a home for herself and her children here in the hearts of the British nation is the fervent wish of the House of Commons and of all those for whom the House of Commons has the right to speak.

Photo of Mr Arthur Greenwood Mr Arthur Greenwood , Wakefield

I rise to second the Motion for the Address to His Majesty moved in such eloquent and very moving terms by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. We all heard with the deepest regret of the death of His Royal Highness the Duke of Kent on active service. He had won esteem and admiration among the people of this country, not only for his distinguished services during this great struggle, but for the deep interest he took in our industrial life and in the social welfare of our people. We express our deep sympathy to His Majesty the King and to the Royal Family. Our hearts go out to Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Kent and her children in the cruel loss which has befallen them. In peace and in war the widowed and the orphaned demand universal sympathy. In Royal Household and in humble cottage alike, the poignant grief of a bereaved wife with young children around her is inexpressible. We all trust that Her Royal Highness will gather strength from her sorrow to sustain and inspire her children for that public service which dominated the life of His Royal Highness. I would add one further sentence. To the relatives of the Duke's companions we must also extend our heartfelt sympathy in the heavy loss they have suffered through the tragedy which has deprived this country of brave men and valued citizens.

Photo of Sir Percy Harris Sir Percy Harris , Bethnal Green South West

May I be allowed to associate my hon. Friends and myself with the eloquent tribute paid by the Prime Minister and so well supported by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood)? It is only a few months since I supported a similar Motion on the death of His Royal Highness the Duke of Connaught, but in that case there was this vital difference. The Duke of Connaught had reached a ripe old age and had a long life of public service behind him, while the Duke of Kent, who promised to rival him in good work, was cut down in the very prime of his life. It seems only the other day that, with all the pomp and circumstance associated with a Royal wedding, the Duke married that gracious lady who is now left a widow with three small children, and I am sure the sympathy of the whole people goes out to her all the more because she was originally a stranger within our gates. The whole nation is in this war. There is scarcely a family in the land which has not a husband, a brother or a son facing the dangers and risks of war. That makes our sympathy and understanding of the Royal bereavement all the greater, and I am sure the nation therefore would want us, as their representatives, to express their feelings, so well stated by the Prime Minister and embodied in this Motion.

Photo of Mr John McGovern Mr John McGovern , Glasgow Shettleston

On behalf of my colleagues and myself I want to say that we regret that this specific Motion has been put down by the Prime Minister, in relation only to the Prince who has been, unfortunately, killed. We do not wish to say anything that would take away from sympathy with the anguish that must be felt by the widow of the Royal Prince. We know that death brings its sting to every quarter, no matter how high or how low a person may be placed.

At a time during war when large numbers of men are being done to death in excruciating anguish and pain on every field of struggle, on the sea, by bombs from the air, and on the battlefield, we regret that the Prime Minister did not embody in his Motion sympathy for the whole of the bereaved parents, relatives and friends who have lost loved ones in this war. I know that sympathy is a grand thing, often the only thing that can be conveyed to people in their sorrow and in their anguish, but we do feel that it comes even worse to those who are steeped in poverty very often and in slums, because poverty and bereavement are two very evil companions when they are jointly associated with a death.

While we do not take away from anything the Prime Minister says in regard to the death even of a Royal Prince, we do say that, associated with that message, there should have been an expression of regret to every family in the land. Therefore, I only protest in so far as no expression has been given by the Prime Minister to those in lowly places throughout the land, and I regret it especially that on the B.B.C., on the morning that I heard it, mention was made only of the Royal Prince, and no reference was made to the companions who were associated with him. I am glad to know that on this occasion death was swift and that no suffering ensued, and I only want to protest against the failure to include all those who have suffered likewise throughout the land.

Question put, and agreed to, nemine contradicente.

Resolved, That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty to express the deep concern of this House at the loss which His Majesty has sustained by the death on active service of Air Commodore His Royal Highness Prince George Edward Alexander Edmund, Duke of Kent, and to condole with His Majesty on this melancholy occasion; and to assure His Majesty that this House shares the general feeling of sorrow for the heavy bereavement which His Majesty and His Majesty's Family have sustained by the death of a Prince who was regarded with universal affection and esteem by His Majesty's subjects, and will ever participate with the most affectionate and dutiful attachment in whatever may concern the feelings and interests of His Majesty.

To be presented by Privy Counsellors or Members of His Majesty's Household.

Resolved, nemine contradicente,That this House do condole with Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Kent on the great loss which Her Royal Highness has sustained by the death on active service of Air Commodore His Royal Highness the Duke of Kent."—[The Prime Minister.]

Ordered, That a Message of Condolence be sent to Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Kent, and that Miss Lloyd George, Mr. Lambert, Mr. Pethick-Lawrence, and Sir Hugh O'Neill do attend Her Royal Highness with the said Message."—The Prime Minister.]