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The Queen At War

Airs Tuesday, May 5, 2020 at 8 p.m. on KPBS TV + Saturday, May 9 at 7 a.m. and 11 a.m. on KPBS 2 + PBS Video App

Princess Elizabeth and her sister Princess Margaret at the microphone for Eli...

Credit: Courtesy of Hulton Deutsch / Contributor / Getty Images

Above: Princess Elizabeth and her sister Princess Margaret at the microphone for Elizabeth's first broadcast. She is the future Queen Elizabeth II of England. 1940

The Story of How a Shy Young Princess Elizabeth Became a Beacon of Hope for a Nation and Ultimately a Legendary Queen

Seventy-five years after the end of the war in Europe, “The Queen At War” offers a fascinating look at how Princess Elizabeth — just 13 years old when World War II broke out — was set on her life’s path to become a legendary monarch.

Together with sister Margaret, the young princesses became symbols of hope for a nation wracked by a horrific war, the terrors of the Blitz and the relocation of over a million children.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Central Press / Stringer / Getty Images

Royal governess Marion Crawford ('Crawfie', 1909 - 1998) accompanies Princesses Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth II, center) and Margaret (1930 - 2002, left) to the headquarters of the YWCA (Young Women's Christian Association), off Tottenham Court Road, London, May 15, 1939. The princesses have just had their first ride on the London Underground.

By 1945, Elizabeth had been transformed from a shy girl into a confident young woman and proved her mettle as a driver and mechanic in the women’s branch of the army. She was also already in love with the handsome naval officer she would one day marry.

Told through the reminiscences of friends, including Lady Glenconner; royal biographers Christopher Warwick, Robert Lacey, Jane Dismore and Hugh Vickers; and others, the documentary features rare footage of the Queen’s war years culled from private and public collections.

Narrated by Phyllis Logan (DOWNTON ABBEY).

The Queen At War: Preview

Learn how the longest reigning monarch in British history was shaped by World War II. Princess Elizabeth’s experiences during the war mirrored those of the public and helped shape her into the Queen she is today.

The longest-reigning monarch in British history — and the only current head of state to have served in the military during World War II — Queen Elizabeth’s life and character were shaped by the challenges of war.

Princess Elizabeth Joins the Auxiliary Territorial Service

Shortly before her 19th birthday Princess Elizabeth joined the women’s branch of the British Army, called the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS). Elizabeth joined the transport division, taking a motor mechanics course (her love of driving never left her). By joining the ATS, Princess Elizabeth became the only female member of the royal family to serve in the armed forces.

Like many other English children, she was often separated from her parents, sent to ride out the frequent bombings in the relative safety of the countryside.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Lisa Sheridan / Stringer / Getty Images

July 8,1941: Princess Elizabeth amongst a syringa bush in the grounds of Windsor Castle, Berkshire.

She too lost a family member when her uncle George, the Duke of Kent, was killed and her own parents survived a Nazi bombing of Buckingham Palace.

Like her fellow citizens, Elizabeth was determined to help the war effort. Speaking to the country on the radio, performing in fundraising pantomimes and serving in the military, the Princess led by example.

Pantomimes at the Waterloo Chamber

From 1941 through to 1944 Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret starred in traditional Pantomimes such as Aladdin and Cinderella - all performed in the vast space of the Waterloo Chamber. The proceeds from the Pantomimes went to the Queen’s Wool Fund.

Royal biographer Christopher Warwick says this was “a morale booster to the nation because they could see the King’s eldest daughter, Princess Elizabeth, their future sovereign, doing what others were doing, what everyone else was doing — playing her part.”

Photo credit: Courtesy of Lisa Sheridan / Stringer / Getty Images

Dec. 6, 1943: Queen Elizabeth II (as Princess Elizabeth), Princess Margaret (1930 - 2002) (right) and two other cast members performing the tea party scene in a production of "Aladdin" at Windsor Castle, Berkshire.

The war years also saw the blossoming of Elizabeth’s enduring love story. Just two months before the outbreak of war in September 1939, the 13-year-old met a handsome 18-year-old naval cadet during a family tour of the Royal Naval College. Instantly smitten, the two wrote to each other throughout the war, during Phillip’s military service.

“Whatever it meant to her personally, it gave her this same sense of identity with so many other British women during the war,” says royal biographer Robert Lacey. “Their man — husband, fiancé, boyfriend — was away, risking his life, which Phillip did.”

It was during the war that Queen Elizabeth’s famous sense of duty emerged, transforming her into the leader her country needed.

“I think the war made Princess Elizabeth grow up like it made me grow up,” says Ron Batchelor, who as a child during the Blitz saw the King and Queen when they visited bombed out areas. “It made her closer to people, her subjects, and it made us closer to her because they had been in the war and right through the war, they were one of us. The royal family were one of us.”

Photo credit: Courtesy of Lisa Sheridan / Stringer / Getty Images

April 11, 1942: Princess Elizabeth talking to her father, King George VI whilst he goes through the Royal boxes in a study at Windsor Castle, Berkshire.

Watch On Your Schedule:

"The Queen At War" will stream simultaneously with broadcast and be available on all station-branded PBS platforms, including and the PBS Video App, available on iOS, Android, Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV and Chromecast.


A BBC Studios Production for PBS and ITV. The program is produced and directed by Christopher Bruce. The executive producer is Chris Granlund. The editor is Laurence Williamson. John Shirley is assistant producer. Bill Gardner is the Executive in Charge for PBS.


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