Prime Minister John Curtin believed appointing a member of the royal family would improve chances Britain maintained its commitment to Australia’s defence during World War II.

King George VI and Queen Elizabeth farewell the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester as they depart for Australia. Photo: National Library of Australia

Australians will be deeply appreciative of his Majesty’s action in appointing a member of the Royal Family to be Governor-General of Australia. All in the country will look forward with affectionate and loyal interest to the arrival again in Australia of His Royal Highness.

Gloucester’s appointment also confirmed the Crown’s importance as the centre of Empire unity, rather than dependence on the United States.

Early Life

Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester, as Governor-General. Source: National Library of Australia.

Prince Henry was born on 31 March 1900, at York Cottage, Sandringham. He was the third son of George V of Britain and his wife Mary of Teck.

He attended Eton College and trained at Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, in 1919, before he spent a year at Cambridge University.

Prince Henry joined the Army in 1921—the 10th Royal Hussars. The Prince’s military career was put on hold in 1936 when his eldest brother Edward VIII abdicated and shared the royal family’s public duties. He resumed active service during World War II.

The Prince was a good athlete who enjoyed cricket, Rugby Union football, long-distance running and tennis. He also represented both his university and regiment at polo matches.

He was created Duke of Gloucester by his father, George V, on 31 March 1928.

The Duke visited Australia for Victoria’s Centenary celebrations in 1934.

He married Lady Alice Montague-Douglas-Scott on 6 November 1935 at Buckingham Palace. Australia’s wedding gift to the Duke and Duchess was a writing desk made from Australian timbers, worth £150.

They had two sons: William (1941-1972) and Richard (b 1944).

Governor-General

Prime Minister John Curtin. Photo: National Library of Australia

The position was originally offered to his younger brother, Prince George the Duke of Kent, but he was killed in a plane crash in Scotland during active war service in 1942.

E J Ward, the Member for East Sydney and Federal Minister for transport, believed the Labor Government was taking a step backwards by appointing a member of the royal family. Ward preferred an Australian citizen, but other ministers did not share his views.

Tight security surrounded the Duke’s voyage to Australia as he travelled during World War II. The Duke was accompanied by his wife and sons. Security concerns increased when a German U-Boat followed them. The enemy submarine was eventually sunk en-route.

The Duke of Gloucester was sworn in on 30 January 1945 as Australia’s eleventh Governor-General. He conscientiously carried out his public duties without any controversy, as he maintained a gruelling schedule by making himself visible to ordinary Australians. He brought his own Avro York aircraft and covered 63,000 bush miles within two years.

The Duke of Gloucester with the Chifley Ministry, 1945-1947, National Archives of Australia: A1200, L60722A

They endured the heat, snakes, rats and the isolation at their official residence, Yarralumla.

The Duke and his Duchess even participated in Australian celebrations for victory in Europe in May, and the Pacific in August.

Gloucester appointed Frank Forde as Prime Minister after Curtin’s death in 1945. Forde was defeated by Ben Chifley in a leadership ballot six days later.

Duke of Gloucester, Governor-General of Australia, arriving at Prime Minister John Curtin's memorial service, Parliament House, Canberra, 6 July 1945, National Library of Australia, nla.obj-146552047
Duke of Gloucester, Governor-General of Australia, arriving at Prime Minister John Curtin’s memorial service, Parliament House, Canberra, 6 July 1945, National Library of Australia, nla.obj-146552047

However, Gloucester’s term did not finish until 11 March 1947, so he resigned on 19 January when he was quickly recalled to England as Regent during George VI’s absence in South Africa. He left his plane as a farewell gift for the Australians’ use.

The appointment was not an enormous success despite Gloucester’s close friendship with Curtin. He had less cordial relations with Chifley.

Afterwards

He represented the crown abroad on several occasions including another visit to Australia in 1965.

Gloucester died on 10 June 1974 at his home, Barnwell Manor in Northamptonshire. He is now buried at Frogmore Royal Mausoleum.

Avro York MW140 ‘Endeavour’ used to transport the Governor General of Australia, HRH the Duke of Gloucester, RAAF Base Fairbairn, Canberra, ACT, 1944, National Library of Australia, nla.obj-146683617

Sources

Allison, Ronald, & Riddell, Sarah (eds), The Royal Encyclopedia, Macmillan Press, London, 1991

Max Harris, The Aussie Way – it did for the Duke of Gloucester, The Bulletin, 26 July 1983, pp.30–2

Australian Dictionary of Biography, The First Duke of Gloucester

National Archives of Australia, The Duke of Gloucester

The Official Website of the British Monarchy – Princess Alice Duchess of Gloucester

Australian postage stamp in 1945 when the Duke of Gloucester became Governor-General. Photo: Australia Post

This article was originally published by Suite 101 on 21 March 2009 and on 16 August 2016 on Carolyn M Cash’s website.

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