It’s the end of a great era.
The White House sent an official proclamation on the death of Queen Elizabeth II, whom the US referred to as a “steadying presence and a source of comfort and price for generations of Britons, including many who have never known their country without her.”
The Department of Defense also sent an official statement from Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III saying the late Queen was the epitome of a “profound sense of duty.”
“She grew up in a world rocked by conflict and war, and in a radio address as a young princess, she reminded her generation that “when peace comes, it will be for us, the children of today, to make the world of tomorrow a better and happier place.'”
Queen Elizabeth was born in 1926, about ten years after the end of World War I. She is the only state head who has survived various internal conflicts and one tumultuous world war. She has seen the rise and fall of global leaders and has been witness to changing economic and social norms for nearly seven decades.
In 1952 when she ascended to the throne, she made a promise to Britain and its Commonwealth Nations to devote her whole life to service, and she did that for 63 years.
The ONLY Woman in the Brit Monarchy to Serve in the Military
Queen Elizabeth has arguably accomplished more than any monarch in Britain’s history. However, one thing stood out in her leadership. Though the British monarchy has a long tradition of working with the military, Queen Elizabeth has been the one and only woman in the royal family to ever serve in the British Armed Forces.
It was when World War II began, and the Nazis were pushing for attacks all over Europe. Britain is heavily involved and dedicated to defending its homeland. Almost everyone in the country was ready to take up arms: men, women, farmers, anyone. And for Queen Elizabeth, even with all the privilege of being a royal and the next in line for the throne, she enlisted.
On Sept. 13, 1940, just after the Germans blasted bombs all over Britain, the late King George VI and his family remained at Buckingham Palace. As for Queen Elizabeth II (Princess Elizabeth at the time), she knew she wanted to do something to serve the country, but she was still too young at the time.
Queen Elizabeth and her sister Princess Margaret were evacuated to Windsor Castle, 20 miles from London. Still, her deep sense of responsibility to the public did not stop even though they were secured out of the war zone. At fourteen years old, she gave her first address as part of BBC’s “Children’s Hour” to inspire the public and children to have hope during those trying times.
“Thousands of you in this country have had to leave your homes and be separated from your fathers and mothers. My sister Margaret Rose and I feel so much for you, as we know from experience what it means to be away from those you love most of all. To you living in new surroundings, we send a message of true sympathy and at the same time we would like to thank the kind people who have welcomed you to their homes in the country.”
As the war progressed, she continued to participate in public campaigns, bringing the hearts of the British public together.
When she turned sixteen, she undertook her first inspection of a military regiment and had been given the role of honorary colonel of the Grenadier Guards, symbolizing the impact of her efforts during the war. Then, when she turned 19, she insisted on joining the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS), a branch of the British Army.
For the succeeding years of the war, Queen Elizabeth II was conscripted multiple times to join in the war effort. This was not just a plaque to her name. She worked in the trenches, helping soldiers and victims of the war. Even her father, King George, made sure she was not given any special treatment in the military. She started as a second subaltern in the ATS and was eventually promoted to Junior Commander (similar to the Captain role in the military).
In 1945, she trained in driving and vehicle maintenance and was dubbed the “Princess Auto Mechanic.” ATS jobs include various roles, but these were extremely dangerous positions. During the war, 335 ATS women were killed and many were injured. However, Queen Elizabeth’s determination to stay actually inspired more to enlist in the ATS. There were about 200,000 recorded members during this period.
“She took immense pride in the fact that she was doing what other girls of her age had to do, and apart from coming back to Windsor to sleep, she kept strictly to the routine of the mess, taking her turn with the others as duty officer, doing inspections, and working really hard on the maintenance of cars.”
Post World War II, the Queen was still greatly involved in the leadership of the British military. Even during the lockdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic, she utilized the wartime slogan in one of her special addresses to the nation.
“We should take comfort that, while we may have more still to endure, better days will return: we will be with our friends again; we will be with our families again; we will meet again.”
The Queen’s decision and example had set the tone in her leadership and the future reign of the British monarch, highlighting that the revered roles are not made for sitting down but for actual service to the public.