- Security TWENTY
- Women in Security
The story so far; a file at the National Archives shows how police bodyguards shadowed King Edward VIII and Mrs Wallis Simpson, whether in 1936 while they were in each other’s company – which went more or less unreported by the British press – or after Edward’s abdication so that the couple could wed, in 1937, after Mrs Simpson’s divorce came through.
Edward’s bodyguard Chief Insp David Storrier evidently reported by hand-written letter to Sir Philip Game, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, fortnightly, and usually on the stationary of the hotel the group was staying at. On July 1, 1937 he reported on a visit to Vienna by the newly-weds, where the crowds were ‘cordial’ and the Austrian police ‘highly efficient’.
While in July for the Salzburg music festival, HRH’s car was hit by a tram, ‘entirely due to the carelessness of the young, inexperienced English chauffeur’, who did not park close enough to the kerb. The tram authorities paid for repairs. During refreshments at the festival there was ‘quite a crowding …. by Americans, principally’ and there was one ‘gate-crasher …. much to the well-concealed disgust of HRH’. There as at Venice where the Windsors went next by rail, curious Americans, ‘armed with cameras’ bothered the couple on the beach, and uniformed police were called in. It sounded like the 1930s equivalent of people taking selfies with their phones when they saw anyone famous.
The sheer enthusiasm of people in the streets could evidently become a problem; Storrier reported that several times the Windsors when going out to shop in Venice had to return to the hotel early, ‘the police having the greatest difficulty in keeping a passage clear on the roadway’.
Back in London, police were careful to get their spending paid for; as of December 1937, New Scotland Yard was writing to Buckingham Palace, asking the Privy Purse to pay for £175 in expenses when the two Insp Evanses guarded Mrs Simpson in Cannes in December 1936.
By December 1937 Storrier was perceptively noting of his principals ‘that great difficulty is experienced in filling in time’. The press was plainly still on Storrier’s mind and the Windsors’, as a unavoidable nuisance that had to be managed, never removed. Storrier reported that the Windsors’ relationship with the press was good, ‘but it is obvious to me, Sir, that they [the press] are always on the alert for some fresh news’. Storrier was still satisfied with the two plain-clothes Surete officers, with car and driver. As a sign of the relatively quiet life of the Windsors, they and he were ‘sufficient’ for security.
Among guests over Christmas 1937 at Cannes were Winston Churchill – whose career was very much in the doldrums, partly because he had taken a public stand beside Edward VIII before abdication – and the former Prime Minister David Lloyd George. Storrier evidently was doing his duties well enough, because in January 1938 he was thanking Game for promotion from chief inspector to superintendent.
Police evidently were watching Mrs Simpson – you could even say eavesdropping? – before Edward became king. In July 1935, Special Branch reported the identity of Mrs Simpson’s ‘secret lover’, a man called Guy Trundle (‘described as a very charming adventurer, very good looking, well bred and an excellent dancer’), himself married, like Mrs Simpson. Also a friend of Edward was Lady Emerald Cunard, who according to an undated report was ‘reputed to be a drug addict’ and was the mother of ‘the notorious Nancy Cunard who is very partial to coloured men and who created a sensation some years ago by taking up residence in the negro quarter of New York’. Or as Time, a leading American magazine of the day, more quaintly put it, Nancy Cunard was ‘renowned for the handsome young Negro bucks she has introduced into select British circles’. In the police file Mrs Simpson’s husband Ernest was described as ‘of the bounder type’ who seemed to enjoy that his wife was associating with the then Prince of Wales.
As for Edward’s attitude towards being guarded, the news magazine Cavalcade in August 1936 – that is, while Edward was king – said: “King Edward hates being guarded by policemen, by armed detectives, by soldiers. At all times, but especially on holiday.” Like so many others, as bodyguards of all generations know to their cost, HRH preferred to do as he pleased, though the magazine reported that he was coming to realise that for his own good and for reasons of state – such as the risk of assassination – he had to be so protected. Police had to look to Edward’s safety even from met by those glad to see him, such as Canadian veterans of the First World War, when invited to a tea on the lawn of Buckingham Palace. Thousands of Canadians were in Europe for the unveiling of the Vimy Ridge memorial by Edward VIII in July 1936.
When Edward appeared in the Palace grounds, and was loudly welcomed by the veterans, who tried to shake his hand, Scotland Yard bodyguards took no chances, as they (so Time magazine reported) ‘courteously and quietly pressed the veterans back, saw to it that His Majesty’s pace was accelerated until he was clear of his well-wishers’. The magazine noted one amusing breach of royal etiquette and access control – when it rained, the Canadians did not know that the correct thing to do was shelter under trees. Instead they followed Edward inside Buckingham Palace.
Story continued; part four of four, click here.
Pictured: press photograph of the then King Edward VIII and Mrs Simpson sight-seeing in Salzburg, August 1936; a sign of the intense media interest in the couple. The police file Mepo 10-35 is freely downloadable from the National Archives website; visit https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/.