Princess Cecilie: Royal Tragedy
Cecilie had never liked flying. She wasn't looking forward to this journey. She kept her fears to herself though. Her husband Georg loved flying, so did her kid brother Philip. She was looking forward to the wedding though. Georg’s brother Ludwig and his fianceé Margaret were a lovely couple and Cecilie’s little boys were excited at the prospect of being pages at the ceremony.
She'd miss the baby of course, but at one year old, little Joanna was too young to travel abroad and they'd only be away for a few days. And soon, there'd be another baby. Cecilie was very pregnant and this was another reason why she didn't want to fly.
But as Georg said, the flight from their home in Germany to the wedding in London was such a quick trip…
Princess Cecilie of Greece and Denmark & Grand Duke Georg Donatus of Hesse.
The year was 1937. Cecilie was the Princess of Greece and Denmark. Her husband was Grand Duke Georg Donatus of Hesse.
Her kid brother? That was Prince Philip, sixteen in 1937 but he would become the Duke of Edinburgh and the husband of Queen Elizabeth II.
But that was in the future. On that November day in 1937, Cecilie boarded the aircraft at Cologne along with Georg, her two little boys, her mother-in-law, a family friend who was to be best man at the wedding and the boys’ nurse.
The weather was fine when they took off.
The plane was scheduled to stop at Brussels in Belgium to collect more passengers but by that time, there was a severe fog so they continued to the next scheduled stop, Ostend. But the fog was there too. However the pilot, the experienced Tony Lambotte, decided to land. The reasons for his decision will be discussed below.
Meanwhile, members of the wedding party were at Croydon Airport near London, were eagerly awaiting the arrival of their family.
In the early afternoon, an eyewitness saw the plane approaching the Ostend airstrip. He continued to watch in horror as the wing of the aircraft hit a tall factory chimney.
This ripped of a wing and an engine. The plane burst into flames and crashed into the factory buildings below. There were no survivors.
Tragically, amongst the bodies of the eleven passengers and crew, there was also the body of a stillborn baby - a boy.
The saddest royal wedding
The distraught bridegroom, Ludwig (who became Louis, Prince of Hesse and by Rhine) and his bride-to-be's father, Auckland Campbell-Geddes, decided that the wedding should go ahead.
Campbell-Geddes made a statement appealing for privacy.
It was a small private affair and the guests wore mourning clothes.
Margaret Geddes, the English bride, who had intended to wear a German peasant dress in honour of her husband's homeland, wore black, as did her bridesmaids.
After the ceremony, the newly-married couple left for Ostend where they visited the crash site and claimed the bodies of Ludwig's family to be returned to Germany for burial.
This included the tiny coffin of the stillborn baby.
The funeral took place a few days later in Germany. Sixteen year-old Prince Philip was in attendance, walking behind the coffins in the funeral procession. Other notable Britons also attended.
Goering sent a wreath, as did Adolf Hitler.
Why did the pilot attempt a landing?
Initially newspapers reported that the pilot had tried to land the plane at Ostend because the Princess had either gone into labour or actually given birth aboard the aircraft.
I suspect that this was newspaper sensationalism.
The princess was twenty six years old. She'd had three children. The children's nurse was also on board and would have assisted with the birth if necessary. Ostend is 176 miles from Cologne, where the family boarded the aircraft.
Could Cecilie really have gone through labour and birth in the short time it took to fly that distance? With no warning?
We shall dwell no further on the matter but I'm afraid that I suspect that the truth about the baby is even more tragic.
Later newspapers reported that the Brussels Airport had sent an urgent message to the Ostend facility advising that the royal aircraft should not land at Ostend but continue to England because of the situation with the thick fog. This message was allegedly sent at 1pm.
The operator at Ostend, a Captain Daems, did not transmit this message. At first, he claimed that it been received too late. Investigating magistrates were not happy with this and ordered that further inquiries should be made to determine the exact timing.
It transpired that Daems had in fact received the message in time to warn the aircraft. He had not done so.
You can see a video of the crash site here.
The final tragedy
What happened to Joanna, the one year old baby that the family had left in Germany?
The tragic newlyweds, Ludwig and Margaret, adopted their niece.
Sadly, the little girl died of meningitis before she was three years old. Louis and Margaret were unable to have further children of their own.
Her brothers had been aged four and six when they died in the aircraft. Cecilie, their mother, was twenty six and their father, thirty-one.
The family had had so many tragic losses that people believed that there was a family curse.
Scroll down to see a video showing photographs of the young family.
The two ceremonies connected to this story have a curious mix of attendees.
At the wedding, members of the British royal family were present, as was the German ambassador, Herr Ribbentrop. After the ceremony, the groom gave the Nazi salute.
In the photograph you see here is the sixteen year old Prince Philip, amid Nazi uniforms and again, the Nazi salute is being given.
Queen Victoria, by having nine children, had ensured that most European royal families contained at least one British member.
This book is a fascinating exploration of this.
Related royal stories
Two of the guests at the saddest royal wedding were the Duke and Duchess of Kent. Just five years after the tragic deaths of the Hesse family, the duke too was killed in an aircraft. Read more here.
Thirty years after the death of the duke his nephew, Prince William, was also killed in an aeroplane. Read his story here,
Cecilie's brother, born in 1921, has had an eventual life. But few people today know about his sister's tragedy. Today he is known as Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh. Read more.
The story of British Prince Charles Edward ids a typical example of how Queen Victoria spead her family throughout Europe. Charles Edward became a Nazi official. Find out more.
© 2014 Jackie Jackson