Prince Philip has undoubtedly led a remarkable life; he’s also held a number of important posts since becoming husband to Queen Elizabeth II. Perhaps due to his advanced age, though, the 96-year-old royal is gradually passing on his official responsibilities. And, as it turns, out, one of Philip’s most notable roles has gone to Prince Harry.
That particular position, in fact, is one that Philip may very well have treasured, given his own history of service in the British Royal Navy. Back before he wed Elizabeth, he was even considered to be the best cadet on his course at the Royal Naval College in Greenwich, U.K. And when World War II broke out, he duly went into action to serve his country.
In particular, Philip was appointed as a midshipman in 1940; he would eventually rise to become first lieutenant on HMS Wallace, even though he was only 21 at the time. And that was despite the fact that, during the war, Philip found himself on the opposing side of some of his own family, as two of his sisters had married Nazi officers.
Furthermore, WWII veteran Harry Hargreaves would explain that the prince had been somewhat of a hero during his service. Specifically, Hargreaves told the BBC in 2003 that Philip had come up with the idea of placing a decoy raft into the water during a bombing raid in 1943. He did this, it’s said, in order to save HMS Wallace from the German guns.
And Hargreaves would later tell The Observer, “Prince Philip saved our lives that night.” He added, “I suppose there might have been a few survivors, but certainly the ship would have been sunk. He was always very courageous and resourceful and thought very quickly. You would say to yourself, ‘What the hell are we going to do now?’ and Philip would come up with something.”
Philip then moved ships to HMS Whelp, which sat in Tokyo Bay at the time that the Japanese signed the 1945 surrender notice that ended World War II. The following year, Philip would ask King George VI for the hand of his daughter in marriage. And after all parties agreed to the match, the wedding of Philip and Elizabeth took place on November 20, 1947.
Plus, as is custom, Prince Philip wore his naval uniform during his wedding ceremony. Indeed, members of the royal family have worn their military outfits for important events for years; Prince William had also donned his when marrying Kate Middleton in 2011, for instance. The royals have a very good reason for doing this, though, since the Queen is the official head of the British Armed Forces.
And when Elizabeth became Queen in 1952, Philip gained a few new titles as well: Admiral of the Sea Cadet Corps, Colonel-in-Chief of the British Army Cadet Force and Air Commodore-in-Chief of the Air Training Corps. The year after that, meanwhile, he became Captain General Royal Marines, the ceremonial head of the organization.
Fast-forward several decades, though, and it’s evident that the royal family’s services to – and association with – the military have continued well into the 21st century. Two of Philip’s grandsons, William and Harry, have served, for example: William was a pilot with the RAF Search and Rescue Force from 2009 to 2013, while Harry had a nearly decade-long stint in the British military until 2015.
And it was Prince Harry to whom Philip would pass one of his most important roles. Indeed, on December 19, 2017, Harry succeeded his grandfather as Captain General Royal Marines. “The Queen was pleased to give her formal approval to the appointment today as the Duke of Edinburgh, accompanied by Prince Harry, carried out his last official duty as Captain General,” announced the royal Facebook page.
Specifically, Prince Philip’s final duty as the Captain General was to be present at a ceremony. He received the outgoing Commandant General, Major General Robert Magowan, and his replacement, Major General Charles Stickland. Harry accompanied him, and all four men posed for a photo later posted to the royal family’s social media accounts.
The Palace had previously announced in May 2017 that Philip was winding down his duties, having served as Queen’s Consort for over 65 years. And many people agreed that his retirement was richly deserved; after all, he had carried out over 22,000 official engagements over his lifetime.
In recent years, though, Philip has had a few problems with his health, with some preventing him from being present at major events. On December 23, 2011, for instance, he began having chest pains and so spent Christmas Day in hospital. And the year after that, he missed the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee after once again being hospitalized – this time, for a bladder infection.
Perhaps because of these health issues, then, many people feared that the prince had died when news broke in May 2017 that the Palace was calling an emergency meeting. Instead, though, a statement was released concerning his retirement. “In taking this decision, the duke has the full support of the Queen,” it read, continuing, “Prince Philip will attend previously scheduled engagements between now and August.”
And after the announcement of his retirement was made, Philip went straight to one of those scheduled appointments. He had a meeting with the members of the Order of Merit, this being an award granted to those who have performed exemplary service in science, culture or the armed forces.
At the meeting itself, meanwhile, mathematician Sir Michael Atiyah told Philip that he was sorry that the royal was standing down. The prince’s response? “Well, I can’t stand up much longer.” It was the perfect parting remark for a man who has long been famous for having a somewhat controversial sense of humor. Conceivably, though, it was also true.
That’s because Philip is fast approaching 100. It’s likely, then, that he doesn’t have many years left – a fact that reportedly worries Prince Harry. In fact, Philip’s health may be the reason why Harry was so quick to ask Meghan Markle to marry him. “Prince Harry really wants [Philip] to be at his wedding,” royal expert Katie Nicholl told Entertainment Tonight in November 2017.
“[Harry’s] incredibly close to his grandfather,” Nicholl went on. “[Therefore, the prince] thought it was a great thing to have the wedding sooner rather than later, so his grandfather could be there, fit and healthy.” And perhaps this bond between grandfather and grandson meant that Harry was the natural choice to take over the role of Captain General Royal Marines.
It’s also a position that Harry now seems more suited to fulfill, too; after all, he’s come a very long way since his teenage years. At that time, the British media nicknamed him “the party prince” and followed his scandals with glee. But the royal’s years in the army seemed to have had an effect on him.
Indeed, Harry’s now a respected ex-soldier, charity worker and advocate for mental health support. He and his wife-to-be are also very popular among the British public, and it’s likely that he’ll take over more and more work as his elderly relatives, including Prince Philip, do eventually pass away. Happily, though, Harry seems more than capable.