There’s a lot to admire about Queen Elizabeth II as she celebrates her Diamond Jubilee this year. My favorite fact about her became the subject of an article I tried to sell to a couple of different magazines, but alas, I think someone else beat me to it. So here’s my version of Elizabeth’s adolescence, which she spent serving her country in her hour of greatest need:
Elizabeth was thirteen when her country began fighting World War II in 1939. Many English children were sent out of the country for their safety, but Elizabeth and her younger sister, Princess Margaret Rose, stayed home with their parents. They lived in a country estate just outside London, and were kept safe there from the bombings that raged in the big cities. The princesses made speeches on the radio to comfort the children who had been sent away, and they used their allowance to help support the war effort. When Elizabeth turned eighteen in 1944, she wanted to do more. After months of begging her father, King George VI, she was allowed to join the Auxiliary Territorial Services, one of the special military branches for women.
Up until that time, most of Elizabeth’s schooling had been with private tutors in the palace. When she started military training, she got a taste of what it was like to learn with other girls from different backgrounds. Even though her father insisted she go home to Windsor Castle each night for her safety, she joined the group in everything else. She wore the same uniform and took her turn cleaning up the mess hall at meal times. During her training, she learned to drive and repair supply trucks—not the usual duties of a princess! She even took her final driving test through the crowded streets of London and into the courtyard of Buckingham Palace, just to show her father the king that she could do it.
Elizabeth drove trucks until the war ended in May of 1945. By then she had been in the Army for several months and had risen in her rank. She never let the danger of regular bombings in London keep her from her duties. Magazines ran pictures and stories of the mechanical princess both in Britain and overseas, and they encouraged other young women to find ways to serve their countries. She, in turn, learned what life was like outside the palace, and learned she had skills she never imagined.