TRIBUTE: The second world war was just the start of the Duke of Edinburgh’s life of public service.

By First Minister Nicola Sturgeon

The tributes paid to the Duke of Edinburgh over the past three days show the affection in which he was held here in Scotland, across the United Kingdom and, indeed, around the world. On behalf of the people of Scotland, I express my deepest sympathy to Her Majesty the Queen, who is grieving the loss of her “strength and stay”—her husband of almost 74 years—and to the duke’s children and the wider royal family.

Of course, before he became the public figure so familiar to all of us today, the Duke of Edinburgh had already led a life of distinction. Like so many of his generation, he endured difficulties and faced dangers that generations since can barely comprehend. As a naval officer in world war two, he was mentioned in dispatches for his part in the battle of Matapan. In 1943, his courage and quick thinking helped to save HMS Wallace from attack in the Mediterranean. During a two-year spell at Rosyth, he was responsible for escorting merchant vessels on a route that was known as “E-boat alley” because of the frequency of the attacks from German vessels.

For those contributions alone, he—like all veterans—is owed a significant debt of gratitude. The second world war was, however, just the start of the Duke of Edinburgh’s life of public service.

From 1947, he was the Queen’s constant companion, and from 1952 he was her consort. As has been much noted in recent days, he became the longest-serving consort in British history. That role in a constitutional monarchy cannot be an easy one—particularly, perhaps, for someone who is spirited and energetic by temperament.

Of course, he faced the additional challenge of being the husband of a powerful woman at a time when that was even more of an exception than it is today. That reversal of the more traditional dynamic was highly unusual in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s—and even now it is not as common as it might be. Yet the Duke of Edinburgh was devoted to supporting the Queen. They were a partnership.

Like First Ministers before me, I got to witness the strength of that partnership at close quarters during annual stays at Balmoral. I always enjoyed my conversations with the Duke of Edinburgh on those visits—as, indeed, I did on all the occasions that I met him—and I was struck by how different he was in private from the way that he was sometimes characterised in public. He was a thoughtful man, deeply interesting and fiercely intelligent. He was a serious bookworm, which I am, too, so talking about the books that we were reading was often, for me, a highlight of our conversations.

Prince Philip was, without doubt, a devoted consort to the Queen, but he also carved out a distinctive individual role. He took a particular interest in industry and science, and he was far sighted in his early support for conservation. As far back as 1969, in a speech here in Edinburgh, he warned of the risks of “virtually indestructible plastics”. In 1956, he founded the Duke of Edinburgh’s award scheme, which now provides opportunity, hope and inspiration every year to more than 1 million young people in more than 100 countries around the world. In addition, the Duke of Edinburgh was patron of more than 800 charities. At the time of his retirement from royal duties, he had completed well over 20,000 engagements, many of which were here in Scotland—a country that he loved from an early age.

The Duke of Edinburgh was educated in Moray, was taught to sail by a Scottish trawler skipper and was, as I mentioned, based at Rosyth for two years during the war. When the duke received the freedom of the city of Edinburgh, in 1949, he spoke of the “numberless benefits” that Scotland had given him. Some of his first duties with the royal household were undertaken here. In July 1947, just a week after the announcement of his engagement to the then Princess Elizabeth, the couple travelled to Edinburgh. In the years since, the duke was present at many of the key moments of our modern history, including, of course, the official openings of the Scottish Parliament. He served many Scottish charities and organisations—indeed, he was the chancellor of the University of Edinburgh for more than 50 years. Throughout all that time, the public held him in great affection.

On his first royal visit to Edinburgh, in 1947, people gathered just across the street, in the forecourt of Holyrood palace, and celebrated the royal engagement with country dancing. More than 70 years later, shortly after he announced his retirement from public life, I witnessed the warmth of the reception that he received as he accompanied the Queen to the opening of the Queensferry crossing. It was an event that he had been determined to attend, because he was fascinated and deeply impressed by the feats of engineering that the three Forth bridges represent.

One of the Duke of Edinburgh’s early engagements in Scotland, shortly after the Queen’s coronation, was to plant a cherry tree in the grounds of Canongate kirk, which is just across the road from here. The tree stands directly opposite the tree that had been planted by the Queen a year previously. The trees are just about to bloom—as, I am sure, they will do each spring for decades to come. I am equally sure that, not just in the weeks ahead but many years from now, people will think fondly of the Duke of Edinburgh as they pass Canongate kirk and look across to Holyrood palace.

It is right that our Parliament pays tribute to the Duke of Edinburgh today. In doing so, we mourn his passing and extend our deepest sympathy to Her Majesty the Queen and her family. We reflect on his distinguished wartime record, his love and support for the Queen and his decades of public service to Scotland, the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth. Above all, we celebrate and honour an extraordinary life.

The the Parliament expresses its deep sadness at the death of His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh; conveys its sincere condolences to Her Majesty The Queen and the Royal Family for their loss; acknowledges the deep respect and affection in which His Royal Highness was held in Scotland, and expresses gratitude for his outstanding contribution over many decades to public life in Scotland, his support for a wide variety of Scottish institutions and for a lifetime of dedicated service to the people of Scotland.

 

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