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Princess Anne meets with veteran to mark VJ Day during her birthday weekend

The royal family have released footage of Princess Anne chatting with surviving World War II veterans who served in the Far East to mark VJ Day’s 75th anniversary. 

The Princess Royal, who turned 70 yesterday, spoke with veterans corporal Sydney Pidgeon, 99, and Australian Corporal Leslie Cook, via a Zoom call in order to mark the anniversary of the Victory Over Japan (VJ Day), which marks the end of the Second World War on August 15th, 1945. 

Corporal Pidgeon, served in Burma with the Royal Army Service Corps from 1939 to 1946, and Corporal Cook served in the 2/14 Australian Infantry Battalion from 1940 to 1947.

Both discussed their experiences of the war with Princess Anne, who was at home in her estate of Gatcombe Park, in Gloucestershire, where she spent her birthday weekend.  

 

Three new pictures were released yesterday to mark the famously no-nonsense royal’s special day, as she spent the weekend with close family. 

Speaking to Syd Pidgeon in a pre-recorded clip which was released by the royal family on Twitter, Anne said ‘oddly enough I’m after your memories’ when the veteran asked how he could help her.  

‘I was mainly supplying the comms, you know, by air, dropping the supplies,’ he explained to her. 

‘When I joined the army, I and another fellow joined with the belief that we would get a motorbike, well, when we got in, we got a three-tonne lorry,’ he said with a laugh. 

‘Well, you should have joined the Signals, then, shouldn’t you?’ Anne quipped, ‘You’d have got a motorbike, then.’

Princess Anne reminded Corpoal Pidgeon that her great uncle, Lord Louis Mountbatten was in Burma at the time. 

Corporal Pidgeon revealed he had met with Lord Mountbatten, who was 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma and had been the Viceroy of India, while he served with the troops.   

Because he worked with the supplies, the veteran explained that he was in contact with different national troops from all around the world during his time in the Second World War.  

‘Australia, New Zealand, Canadian, mainly American,’ he listed. 

When Princess Anne asked him what the weather had been like during his time in Burma, the veteran revealed he had caught several illness, including malaria and dengue fever.  

Mr Pidgeon added he had not seen the end of the war coming, having just come back from some leave in the UK.  

‘While I was out there, I got a leave, to come back to the UK, which I did,’ he explained. 

‘And then when I went back, they said: “the war’s over, your groups’ come up, you’re going home”.’ he laughed.

‘So I spent the last five months, six months, travelling.

Anne warmly thanked Corporal Pidgeon for speaking with her.  

‘I’m now Colonel-in-Chief of the Royal Logistic Corps, and the RASC (Royal Army Service Corps) has become a part of that, so I feel very much the importance of that history,’ she said. 

The royal family shared the sweet conversation on its Twitter account. 

‘Ahead of #VJDay75, The Princess Royal held video calls with veterans of the Far East campaign. HRH spoke to Syd Pidgeon, 99, via. Syd served in Burma with the Royal Army Service Corps which became the Royal Logistic Corps, of which The Princess is Colonel-in-Chief,’ it wrote. 

Princess Anne also spoke with Corporal Leslie Cook, who served in the Australian Army and told her one of his missions had been to protect the Yasukani Shrine, where it is believed the sold of Japanese solder killed in battle go. 

‘I’ve always believed that it was a privilege for me to enlist int he AIF,’ he told her. 

He quoted the final lines of a WW2 poem written by an Australia serviceman which read: ‘In spite of our critics, this war will end. And those of us that are left, will proudly proclaim: I was in the AIF.’

The Princess Royal’s 70th birthday has been marked with the release of three official photographs to celebrate the milestone.

Princess Anne is known for her no-nonsense approach to life and tenacious attitude, but in the images she is pictured smiling and looking relaxed at her Gatcombe Park home in Gloucestershire before lockdown.

Wearing a Maureen Baker evening dress, Sue Palmer bolero jacket and pearls, the Queen’s only daughter looks stylish as she poses for celebrated photographer John Swannell and smiles broadly while sat in her golden leaf chair.

Swannell has taken photographs of everyone from Diana, Princess of Wales and her sons and the Queen’s official Diamond Jubilee portrait in 2012 to Tony Blair, Sir Michael Caine and Sir Elton John.

In another picture the princess looks directly at the camera, with a hint of a smile on her lips, wearing a Sue Palmer emerald green dress and a gold ribbon knot brooch, set with 12 diamonds. 

The images were taken in late February a few weeks before the coronavirus lockdown, and in the final picture Anne is dressed more causally for the outdoor setting, where she poses under a tree and looks off into the distance. 

Anne celebrates her 70th birthday on Saturday and her son-in-law Mike Tindall has already revealed Covid-19 and the recent spike of cases in Aberdeen have meant plans to mark the day have been scaled back.

The former England rugby star, who is married to Anne’s daughter Zara, said alternative arrangements were being made.

Speaking earlier this week on BBC’s The One Show, Tindall said: ‘We did have plans – it would’ve been up in Scotland – but obviously with Covid and Aberdeen being locked down a bit, I think everything’s been scaled back a little bit.

‘It’s a shame. I’m sure we’ll do something as a family to celebrate her 70 amazing years, she’s just an incredible woman in terms of how much work she can get through in the year.

‘We will be doing something, as yet I don’t know whether she knows – so my lips are sealed.’

It is thought Anne is on a sailing trip around the west coast of Scotland with husband Sir Tim Laurence. 

Despite the limitations of Covid-19, Anne’s milestone has been marked by a TV documentary and she has also guest-edited Country Life magazine.

In the ITV film, the princess suggested that social media is adding to the pressures already faced by younger members of the royal family, like the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.

Anne was followed by film-makers for more than a year to make the programme, which featured unseen family footage and conversations with her children, Peter Phillips and Zara, and her husband, Vice Admiral Sir Tim Laurence.

Speaking about the younger members of the monarchy, she said: ‘The pressure that is applied to the younger members of the family is always worse, because that’s what the media is interested in and that’s, you know, hard sometimes to deal with.’

Anne also said she hoped her legacy would be the passing-on of her knowledge and experience.

When she guest-edited Country Life, the princess paid tribute to her parents for instilling in her a lifelong love of nature.

Anne also wrote about holding an HGV licence, how she hates fly-tipping, and sees herself when she writes about rural affairs as a ‘classic Jack of all trades’.

She wrote: ‘I was equally fortunate that both my parents had a love and understanding of the natural world through their own experiences.’

In the documentary to mark her birthday, her son was asked to sum her up and replied: ‘Well, you know what, tenacious, I think, is a pretty good word to sum her up. 

The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh’s only daughter is known for her no-nonsense approach and her work ethic.

The princess was born at Clarence House on August 15 1950 and is a younger sister to the Prince of Wales. 

She survived a kidnap attempt in 1974 and represented Great Britain at the Olympic Games, alongside raising a family and supporting the Queen. 

Anne is involved with more than 300 charities, organisations and military regiments, and regularly tops the leader board as the royal family member carrying out the most public engagements.

Anne once remarked: ‘As a young princess I was a huge disappointment to everyone concerned. It’s impractical to go around in life dressed in a long white dress and a crown.’

She was born third in line to the throne, but was leapfrogged by her younger brothers Andrew and Edward when they were born, and is now 14th in line. The rule that younger brothers could succeed before elder sisters no longer applies, following the Succession to the Crown Act 2013, but it was not backdated so did not affect Anne.

A skilled horsewoman, the princess was voted BBC Sports Personality of the Year in 1971 and in 1976 was in the British team at the Montreal Olympics.

She married fellow horseman Captain Mark Phillips in 1973 and they had two children, Peter and silver medal-winning Olympic horsewoman Zara. Anne decided they would not have royal titles.

In 1990 she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by president Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia for her work as president of the charity Save The Children.

The princess married her second husband, Vice Admiral Sir Tim Laurence, in 1992 after her first marriage ended in divorce after 19 years.

Now a grandmother, she regularly tops the league table for the number of engagements carried out by the royals. 

Born on 15 August, 1950, Princess Anne Elizabeth Alice Louise is only the seventh royal lady in history to receive the accolade of Princess Royal (a title bestowed on her by the Queen in 1987).

Yet, throughout it all, she has shown an unapologetic, almost heroic disdain for those who might want to see a ‘fairytale princess’.

This is a princess who, as often as not, may turn up in trousers and at the wheel of the royal vehicle (she is, after all, the holder of a very un-fairytale HGV licence). She also prides herself on her down-to-earth nature and no-nonsense approach to royal engagements. 

Her wardrobe itself is also much commented upon, with Anne thinking nothing of re-wearing an item several decades after its debut. 

Now reaching an age when many might think about slowing down in life, Anne has done nothing of the sort. 

At a time when the monarchy has seen the Dukes of Edinburgh and York, plus the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, all withdraw from public duties, the princess is more in demand than ever.

Here, FEMAIL has taken a look back at some of the royal’s most memorable moments, at the quirks of this royal one-off: the first royal Olympian, the first child of a monarch to reject titles for her children, and the first to face down a kidnapper.

Amongst the momentous occasions include the royal’s wedding to first husband captain Mark Phillips on 14 November 1973, and her Olympics debut in 1976. 

Elsewhere, the Princess Royal is seen with her children, Peter and Zara, and their daughters, to whom she is so close…

 

Covid has affected everyone, but one group of workers has been especially hit.

They can no longer do what they have done for generations, if not centuries. And yet their plight has attracted surprisingly little attention, let alone concern. They are members of the Royal Family.

Their job is mostly to rush around the country shaking hands with people. Sometimes we go to them, but mostly they come to us. A glance at the much-abbreviated daily Court Circular tells the sad story.

They have been well and truly furloughed — though without getting 80 per cent of their salary that lesser mortals have been able to claim. The calculation might prove tricky.

But they have another duty to fulfil. It’s called being in the news.

If the Royal Family operated under the radar, avoiding the cameras, we might start forgetting it exists and then wonder what exactly is the point of it. Which is why Palace spin doctors go to such lengths to make sure reporters and photographers are always there when the handshaking and unveiling of plaques is going on.

Naturally, some pictures have more value than others. The basic rule of thumb is that one snap of Kate in a pretty dress doing anything with her lovely toddlers trumps all the others, no matter what they are doing. Unless, of course, they are Harry and Andrew.

Both have dominated the headlines to the exclusion of pretty much every other royal story and both, in very different ways, have raised serious questions about how we perceive the Royal Family.

Andrew has tried his best to make himself invisible since that catastrophic interview with Emily Maitlis on Newsnight nine months ago. Perhaps his brief appearance this week riding through the grounds of Windsor Castle was designed to demonstrate that life is going on as normal for him. But it’s not.

The Queen may have relieved him of all his royal duties and silly titles, but he is still HRH Prince Andrew and he is still a ticking bomb at the heart of the family.

Harry and Meghan are a different kettle of fish. They are the journalists’ gift that simply keeps on giving — though for very different reasons. Scarcely a week goes by without journalists throughout the land offering up their thanks for yet another story about them that will have the nation gobbling up every word with a mixture of horror and hilarity.

This past week has been a vintage one. Only yesterday, we had the news that they have bought a house in California. By ‘house’ I mean, obviously, a vast mansion that’s more akin to a luxury country club than to, say, Frogmore Cottage, which had been intended to be their home in this country. You’ll remember it. They still owe the taxpayer a couple of million for renovating it to their taste.

Their new home cost £11million, which is, apparently, a fraction of its true value. But it’s the background of the previous owner that has attracted the greatest interest. 

With their uncanny ability to commit PR suicide, Harry and Meghan bought it from a Russian oligarch who has allegedly threatened to chop up his wife. Maybe they didn’t know about that. Maybe it’s just rotten luck.

But they did know about the other big story of this past week: the publication of that massively hyped book that promised to reveal the true story of their relationship and their self-isolation from the Royal Family.

Nobody knows exactly how much help they gave the authors, but what a spectacular own goal it turned out to be.

The brilliant Richard Kay summed it up perfectly in the columns of this newspaper: ‘Page after page drips with self-pity and indignation sandwiched between dollops of oily sycophancy.’

The title, Finding Freedom, was disconcertingly suggestive of Nelson Mandela’s great autobiography Long Walk To Freedom. In Mandela’s case, it was freedom from 27 years in jail and a life lived under an inhuman apartheid regime. In Harry and Meghan’s case, it was freedom from … what exactly?

To most eyes it was freedom from a life of the most extraordinary privilege. Not just the creature comforts that only vast wealth can buy, but freedom from the sort of pressures that even the wealthy cannot always escape.

Harry was free to make choices. If he wanted publicity for some of his praiseworthy charity work, it was his for the asking. 

True, he was occasionally snapped doing stupid things as a young man, but nobody really minded and anyway nobody made him do stupid things. It was his choice. He was free to marry the woman he loved — and the nation applauded him for it.

And he had a pulpit. When he spoke, the nation listened. He was invited to be the guest editor of the Today programme nearly three years ago and used it, unsurprisingly, to deliver messages close to his heart.

I’m afraid to say I declined the opportunity to present the programme that morning. I knew what would happen. 

I would want to ask what his minders would regard as impertinent or embarrassing questions and that would be the end of that.

My then editor Sarah Sands tried hard to get me an interview with his father, but Charles wanted only to talk about trees and I wanted to talk about other things as well. No deal.

Maybe the Palace remembered that I have form. I filmed a BBC TV interview with Prince Philip on his 70th birthday. 

It was pretty boring except for a section when he got very cross because I’d asked him why the Queen hadn’t helped him out when he had to sell his racing yacht because of the expensive upkeep. The Palace complained and the BBC cut it out.

I did try to get an interview with the Queen herself. She’d invited me to one of her private lunches at Buckingham Palace and, when we were having a coffee in the anteroom afterwards, I popped the question. It was a one-word answer: ‘No.’

Again I tried, putting the case that I had carefully prepared. She listened politely and then another: ‘No!’ followed by: ‘What’s more, Mr Humphrys, if one were ever to do such an interview it would most certainly not be with you!’ 

I made one more attempt when she came to open New Broadcasting House. She brushed me aside pretty sharply. Fair enough. Why shouldn’t she? She’s the monarch. And if this nation is united behind anything, it is that the Queen has done a pretty good job in her 68 years on the throne. She has scarcely put a foot wrong. Respect and affection for her are at stratospheric levels.

Even a lifelong republican like me can accept that the monarchy is safe. But the Royal Family is different. The nation is perfectly entitled to ask what is the point of it if one of its most senior members wants to live abroad, make great piles of cash and no longer wants to do the hand-shaking duties.

Of course, there are still loyal subjects entranced by the Royal Family. For them the marriage of an otherwise obscure princess is an occasion for national rejoicing.

But it was noticeable that when another of them wed during lockdown with no more fuss than the girl next door, the nation broadly approved. And I wonder how many young people even know the names of the lesser royals, however grand the titles of their parents.

In pre-lockdown days I was asked to present some awards at a royal palace. In return for my time, I would have the honour of being ‘presented to HRH the Earl of Wessex’. I declined politely on the grounds that bowing wasn’t really my thing and, anyway, I wasn’t sure who he was. The email I got back was surprisingly sympathetic.

If that sounds a bit childish, forgive me, but can’t we at last acknowledge that the age of automatic, unearned deference has come and gone — however distantly you may be related to the Queen?

But may I conclude by wishing happy birthday to Princess Anne. She’s 70 today. She’s still the most hardworking of the lot. And the way that she’s dealt with her own children, by not making them HRHs, proves that she doesn’t believe in it, either.

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