23 April, 2009
Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands , Prince of Lippe-Biesterfeld, born Count Bernhard Leopold Friedrich Eberhard Julius Kurt Karl Gottfried Peter of Biesterfeld (later elevated thus to Prince of Lippe-Biesterfeld, was Prince Consort to the late Queen Juliana, and father of 6 children; one of them is the current monarch, Queen Beatrix.
Although his private life was rather controversial, Bernhard was generally regarded as a charming and popular figure by the majority of the Dutch for his performance as a pilot and activities as a liaison officer during World War II, his work during post-war reconstruction, and for assisting specific individuals. The German-born prince helped found the World Wildlife Fund (later renamed World Wide Fund for Nature), becoming its first president in 1961. He also established the 1001 Club: A Nature Trust in 1970 to fund the organization. He helped found the Rotary International and was one of two founders of the international Bilderberg Group, which meets yearly in order to discuss the future of the world and issues concerning Europe as it relates to corporate globalization.
Bernhard was born Count Bernhard Leopold Friedrich Eberhard Julius Kurt Karl Gottfried Peter of Biesterfeld in Jena, Germany, the elder son of Prince Bernhard of Lippe (younger brother of the reigning Prince of Lippe) and Baroness Armgard von Sierstorpff-Cramm. Because the marriage of his parents did not properly conform to the marriage laws of the House of Lippe and was therefore morganatic, Bernhard was born with the title of "Count" only. In 1916, the Reigning Prince of Lippe, Leopold IV, granted Bernhard the title of "Prince of Lippe-Biesterfeld".
After World War I, Bernhard's family lost their German principality and the revenue that had accompanied it. But the family was still wealthy and Bernhard spent his early years at Reckenwalde, the family's new estate in East Brandenburg thirty kilometers east of the Oder-river, (now the village of Wojnowo, Greater Poland Voivodeship in Poland), near the city of Züllichau (Sulechów). He received his early education at home. When he was twelve, he was sent to board at the gymnasium in Züllichau and several years later to board at a gymnasium in Berlin, from which he graduated in 1929.
Bernhard suffered from poor health as a boy. Doctors predicted that he would not live very long. This prediction might have been the key to Berhard's reckless driving and the risks that he took in the Second World War and thereafter. The prince wrecked several cars and planes in his lifetime.
Bernhard studied Law at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland and in Berlin, where he acquired a taste for fast cars, horse riding, and big-game hunting safaris. He was nearly killed in a boating accident and an airplane crash, and he suffered a broken neck and crushed ribs in a 160 km/h (100 mi/h) car crash in 1938.
Prince Bernhard began to make himself popular and trusted in the eyes of the Dutch people at the outset of World War II. During the German Invasion, the Prince, carrying a machine gun, organised the palace guards into a combat group and shot at German planes. The Royal Family fled the Netherlands and took refuge in England. Once safely there, Princess Juliana and the children then went on to Canada, where they remained until the end of the war.
In England, Prince Bernhard asked to work in British Intelligence but the War Admiralty, and later General Eisenhower's Allied Command offices, did not trust him sufficiently to allow him access to intelligence information. However, on the recommendation of Bernhard's ethnically-German friend and admirer, King George VI, he was later permitted to work in the war planning councils.
In 1940, flight Lieutenant Murray Payne instructed the prince to fly a Spitfire. The Prince made 1,000 flight-hours in a Spitfire with the RAF's 322 "Dutch" squadron wrecking two planes during landings. As "Wing Commander Gibbs(RAF)," Prince Bernhard flew over occupied Europe in a B-24 bomber attacking V-1 launch pads, he was in a B-25 Mitchell bomber bombing Pisa, over the Atlantic ocean bombing a submarine and in an L-5 reconnaissance plane over occupied Europe. Prince Bernhard was awarded the Dutch Flying Cross for his "ability and perseverance" (Dutch: "bekwaamheid en volharding"). (source: Interview with the Prince,1993, Henny Meyer, published in "Het Vliegerskruis" 1997)
In 1941, Prince Bernhard was given the honorary rank of wing commander in the Royal Air Force. He then trained as a pilot and gained his wings later that same year.
From 1942 to 1944, Bernhard flew as a pilot with the Royal Air Force. He also helped organise the Dutch resistance movement and acted as personal secretary for Queen Wilhelmina.
Queen Wilhelmina erased the word "honorary" (the exact words were " à la suite") in the decree that promoted Bernhard to General. In this unconstitutional manner, she gave this Royal Prince a position that was never intended by either Parliament or her ministers. The minister of defence did not choose to correct the Monarch and the Prince took a real and important role in the Dutch Armed forces.
By 1944, Prince Bernhard became Commander of the Dutch armed forces. After the liberation of the Netherlands, he returned with his family where he became active in the negotiations for the German surrender. He was present during the armistice negotiations and German surrender in Hotel de Wereld ("The World Hotel") in Wageningen in The Netherlands on 5 May 1945. The Prince was a genuine war hero in the eyes of most of the Dutch and even kept cordial relations with the communists who fought against the Nazis. In the post-war years the popular Prince earned respect for his hard work in helping to reinvigorate the economy of the Netherlands.
After the war, the position of Inspector General was created for the Prince. He was made a member of the board of supervisors of Fokker Aircraft, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, and within a few years was invited to serve as an adviser or non-executive director of numerous corporations and institutions. There have been claims about KLM helping Nazis to leave Germany to Argentina in KLM flights, while he was on the board of the KLM. After a 1952 trip with Queen Juliana to the United States, Prince Bernhard was heralded by the media as a business ambassador extraordinaire for the Netherlands. With his global contacts, in May 1954, he was a key figure in organising a meeting at the Bilderberg Hotel in the Netherlands for the business elite and intellectuals of the Western World to discuss the economic problems in the face of the then growing threat from communism. As a result of the success of this first meeting, it became an annual affair known as the Bilderberg Group. The idea for the European Union, first proposed by Robert Schuman on 9 May 1950, was encouraged at Bilderberg.
Prince Bernhard was a very outspoken person, who often flouted protocol by making personal remarks on subjects about which he felt deeply. Almost until his last day he called for more recognition for the Polish WWII veterans, who played such an important role in the liberation of the Netherlands. It was only after his death that the Dutch government took the decision to publicly recognize the important role of the Polish army in the liberation of the Netherlands. On 31 May 2006 at the Binnenhof in The Hague, Her Majesty Queen Beatrix awarded the Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade with the Order of William, the highest possible decoration for the armed forces.
Prince Bernard was a very close friend of president Juan Perón and his wife Eva from Argentina, even making a visit to them in Buenos Aires on 4 April 1951.
Prince Bernhard died of cancer at the age of 93 in a Utrecht hospital (the Universitair Medisch Centrum Utrecht - University of Utrecht Medical Centre) on 1 December 2004; until his death he suffered from malignant lung and intestinal tumours.