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THE KING’S PRIVATE ARMY
Protecting the British Royal Family During the Second World War
by Andrew Stewart

It is perhaps difficult for a post-war generation to grasp just how great the threat of invasion was in 1940, and although the imminent danger gradually receded, the fear of invasion or airborne assault must have endured until late in the war. Of course, it never happened, and much of the history that surrounds the unrealised German plans is based on speculation, along with the added ingredient of fictional films and novels. 

The Royal Family never left Great Britain during the war, and The King’s determination to stay close to his people is perhaps best expressed by the oft-quoted remark made by Queen Elizabeth, following a suggestion that her two daughters might be evacuated to Canada: ‘The princesses would never leave without me, and I could not leave without The King and, of course, The King will never leave’.

In this short, and well-researched book, Dr Andrew Stewart, (Reader in Conflict and Diplomacy at King’s College London), tells the story of the military bodyguard known as the ‘Coats Mission’ led initially by Major Jimmy Coats, Coldstream Guards, charged with the protection of the Royal Family during the Second World War.  What might have happened had the country been invaded remains pure speculation; however The King would never discuss the possibility of a pre-emptive evacuation of him or his family. Churchill had forbidden any discussion of an evacuation of the government in the event of invasion, and The King was equally sensitive to any similar suggestions.

However, there can be no doubt that the Royal Family were under grave danger, particularly in the early stages of the war. For example, there remained the possibility of a German airborne coup de main operation to capture members of the Royal Family and hold them as hostages. If this had ever happened, the men of the ‘Coats Mission’ would have been ready and absolutely clear as to their role: ‘to fight to the last round and the last man’ to protect their charges. The ‘Coats Mission’, mostly drawn from the Coldstream Guards and the 12th Lancers, knew their duty.

Dr Stewart tells the story well, and succinctly, piecing together an account that might have been entirely lost had it not been thoroughly researched by an author with an academic approach. Official histories tend not to relate the possible plans for events that never happened, and so this short book fills a useful and interesting gap in our knowledge.

The Editor 

The King’s Private Army. Protecting the British Royal Family during the Second World War. Helion & Company. www.helion.co.uk. £11.65

© Crown Copyright