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April 21, 2021

Queen Elizabeth II Was Born in 1926 — Look Back at Her Military Service during World War II

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Queen Elizabeth II is the longest-reigning monarch of the British crown, but the devotion to her country long precedes her reign - dating back to the Second World War as the first female royal to join the military.

Almost a decade before Queen Elizabeth II became the reigning monarch, she decided with determination to serve her country by becoming an active member of the British Armed Forces during Wolrd War II - the first female member of the British royals to do so.

She stood as a role model to many women around the world, not only because she assumed her duties with elegance and pride, but also because she whole-heartedly served the nation as a member of the military.

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ROYAL LIFE BEFORE WORLD WAR II

The monarchy faced a tumultuous time when Elizabeth's grandfather, King George V. died in 1936. With the future queen ten years old at the time, her uncle, Edward VIII abdicated the throne only a few months later. 

Next to rise to the throne came Elizabeth's father, Albert, or "Bertie" as his family called him. Elizabeth and her sister Margaret often got doted on by their parents, but everything changed with the start of the Second World War.

Elizabeth's father, King George VI, found his footing as monarch just in time to rally the British people and lead them through a troubling time, hoping that his country saw the end of war immediately.

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THE KING REFUSED TO ABANDON HIS PEOPLE

But he refused to leave London, and so did the queen, even though attacks by the Nazis rang so close to home that a section of Buckingham Castle got damaged during an aerial bomb attack in September 1940.

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The British government urged the queen to leave for Canada with her two daughters Margaret and Elizabeth, instead, she said

“The children won't go without me. I won't leave without the King. And the King will never leave."

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However, for the sake of Elizabeth and her sister's safety, they spent most of the war at Windsor Castle, followed by their first public address to other children in Britain and around the world in support.

ELIZABETH'S DETERMINATION TO HELP

Elizabeth wanted to do more; she wanted to join the military if only her parents would allow her to enlist. The thought of a female member of the royal family, and being so young to boot, joining armed forces was simply unheard of, but she persisted despite their rebuttals.

Women signing up to do their part during the war happened by the thousands, however, as many with careers lost their word due to businesses that shut down. Men leaving to join the war also left a lot of vacancies, which women tried to fill in their absence. 

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WHEN SHE JOINED

Early in 1943, and at the age of 19, Elizabeth finally received her parent's permission to enlist, so she joined the Women's Auxiliary Territory Service under the name Elizabeth Windsor.

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The ATS served as a support service to drivers, radio operators, mechanics, and anti-aircraft gunners during the war, and Elizabeth underwent six weeks of mechanical training to learn her way around all sorts of engines.

Although the heir to the British throne, Elizabeth received no special privilege when she became a second subaltern and started her training in March 1945. The royal had to learn how to drive a truck, which her rank usually doesn't do.

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However, it was required that Elizabeth know how to do anything that her driver would be required to do. The day before her 19th birthday, she was captured driving a 1,500 weight truck in convoy with others.

Quickly rising to the rank of Junior Commander, Elizabeth could build and deconstruct every type of engine they worked on, including ambulances, jeeps, and trucks. She also learned how to read maps as a requirement in the military.

On one occasion, her parents, then the King and Queen, and her sister Margaret visited Elizabeth at the ATS training center and observed as she leaned about maintaining automobiles. 

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Even though Elizabeth took her work seriously, the fact that the future queen knew more about engines than most became irresistible to the media, leading them to dub her "Princess Auto Mechanic."

WHEN ELIZABETH'S SERVICE ENDED

Upon Germany's surrender on May 8, 1945, Elizabeth, who still served with the ATS, famously slipped out of Buckingham Palace with her sister to join in the celebrations that erupted in London.

She served until Japan surrendered later that same year. Elizabeth's strong will resurfaced again in 1947 when she became determined to marry the strapping young officer in the Royal Navy, Philip Mountbatten.

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The future queen had already fallen in love with the Greek-born fellow at the age of 13, and not about to take no for an answer, the couple eventually wed in November 1947.

The tenth member of the royal family to get married at Westminster Abbey, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip's wedding saw an attendance of almost 2,000 guests. The pair stayed together for several decades until Philip's last breath.

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On April 9, 2021, the Queen's husband joined his creator and bid his family farewell. His death came after a series of health scares, including a recent month-long hospitalization amidst the pandemic.

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FROM MILITARY TO MONARCH

A relatively new documentary, "The Queen at War," shows how Elizabeth stayed courageous amidst World War II and how those difficult moments in history made her the magnificent Monarch she is today.

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The documentary was released last year, in time for two events, the COVID-19 pandemic, which had similarities with the war, and the 75th anniversary of V-E Day. Although not amidst violence, we see many waging the same war against an enemy in this pandemic.

Last year, the Queen gave a speech, which took her back to 80 years ago. "Today, once again, many will feel a painful sense of separation from their loved ones. But now, as then, we know deep down that it is the right thing to do," she said.

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