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Today marks the 80th anniversary of Prince George, Duke of Kent’s tragic death. The fourth son of King George V and Queen Mary was involved in an air-crash in the far north of Scotland. Only one passenger survived the mysterious incident.
On August 25, 1942, Prince George boarded a Royal Air Force flying boat in Scotland, headed to Iceland.
Shortly after take-off, the aircraft crashed on Eagle’s Rock, a hillside near Dunbeath.
Aged 39, and only a few months shy of his 40th birthday, the Duke of Kent left behind his wife Marina and their three children — Princess Alexandra, Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Prince Michael of Kent.
The brother of Prince Albert (later King George VI), George also left behind his adoring niece Princess Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth II).
Christopher Wilson, royal biographer and journalist, described the last time the Duke of Kent saw his niece, then a 16-year-old girl.
Writing for the Daily Mail last year, Mr Wilson painted the scene: “A sunny afternoon at the private chapel of Windsor Castle and a christening celebration for the child who grew up to be Prince Michael of Kent, the Queen’s 79-year-old cousin.
“As the family party broke up that day in 1942, the newborn’s father kissed goodbye to his niece, the young Princess Elizabeth, and promised to visit her at Balmoral in the coming weeks but first he must go abroad on duty.
“However, she never saw Prince George, Duke of Kent again.”
The author continued: “Within days the future Queen’s favourite uncle was dead, killed when his RAF flying boat crashed into a Scottish mountainside, its 2,400 gallons of fuel erupting in a horrifying fireball. All on board, except one, perished instantly.”
Prince George was a popular figure and his death became the highest-profile fatality of World War Two, as Mr Wilson pointed out: “No royal prince had given his life in defence of his country for 500 years.”
The Duke was a handsome war hero, one half of a glamorous, well-liked royal couple and a devoted father to three young children.
At the time of his brother Edward VIII’s abdication, six years earlier, it was thought in court circles that George might succeed the throne in preference to Albert.
However, while his public image seemed honourable, his private life showed another side of the story.
The Duke of Kent was once addicted to cocaine and morphine, and reportedly engaged in several affairs with men and women.
And although his death was ruled an accident, theories on the tragedy included the prince being murdered by British intelligence amid fears his lifestyle was going to be exposed.
George’s death was shrouded in mystery with all records of the incident either “lost” or sealed.
Some have questioned the nature of the trip, suggesting that it was some sort of “secret mission”.
According to Mr Wilson, a funeral for the prince was “hastily arranged” just four days after the crash and “no public memorial was erected in memory of him – no statue, no official biography, no charity bearing his name.”
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The biographer questioned whether the Firm’s “cover-up” was because George had secretly smuggled a female lover on board.
He said: “During the war, it was forbidden for women to fly on operational missions.
“It would be unlikely – given their precious and important Royal cargo – that any crew member would have smuggled a girlfriend aboard the plane.
“Therefore, if there was a woman aboard, she had to be there at the invitation of the Duke. Given his well-documented track record of serial infidelity, that would come as no great surprise.”
He quoted Arthur Baker, who told him he’d been “part of the RAF search-and-rescue team sent to retrieve the bodies on Eagle’s Rock that hot August afternoon.”
Mr Baker said he had found a woman’s body at the site of the crash, and was ordered to “cover her up quick and get her away”.
He was later told to “speak to nobody” about “what you’ve seen here.”
Some 26 years after his death, the Duke’s body was moved from St. George’s Chapel, where the funeral was held and he was buried, to Frogmore House.
The site of the crash, on Eagle’s Rock, was marked with a simple white cross, a memorial that George VI visited privately the following year.
However, Mr Wilson claimed that “all evidence of the accident had been removed, with heather replanted and turf relaid to expunge the horrors of that day.”
Questions surrounding the Queen’s uncle’s death still remain 80 years later.
Mr Wilson asked: “Today, who knows the truth about the death of the Duke?
“Georgie Kent had three children – Prince Michael of Kent, the present Duke of Kent, 85, and Princess Alexandra, 84. If they know, they’re not saying.
“And the Queen? When she thinks back to that summer day at Windsor when, as a 16-year old, she said goodbye to her uncle for the last time, does she ever wonder what really happened?
“Or does she know?”
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