In the summer of 1939, King George VI, his wife Queen Elizabeth and their children, Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret, went on a cruise along the south coast of England in the Royal Yacht, Victoria and Albert. They anchored off the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth and here Princess Elizabeth met, for the first time, Prince Philip of Greece.
He had recently enrolled as a naval cadet, and was an impoverished member of the Greek royal family, which was of Danish descent, though like most European royalty he was also descended from Queen Victoria.
Prince Philip was 18, and Princess Elizabeth, who was only 13, was impressed, according to Crawfie, her governess, by how high he could jump.
When the Royal Yacht sailed away, Prince Philip rowed after it long after all the other small boats had obeyed the signal to turn back.
During the Second World War he saw service in the Royal Navy in the Mediterranean and Pacific, was mentioned in dispatches, and saw Princess Elizabeth while he was on leave.
The King said it was too soon to think of marriage, but at Balmoral, in the summer of 1946, Prince Philip proposed to her and she accepted him. Their engagement was not announced until after the royal tour of South Africa during which, on 21st April 1947, Princess Elizabeth marked her 21st birthday by dedicating “my whole life whether it be long or short” to the service of her people “and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong”.
For a few years after their marriage in November 1947, the Duke of Edinburgh, as he became on that day, was able to continue with his career as an able, energetic and ambitious naval officer who was likely to rise, on merit, to the top of the service.
But in February 1952, in Kenya at the start of a tour which was supposed to take them to Australia and New Zealand, the couple received the news of the death, at the age of only 56, of George VI.
Prince Philip had to give up his naval career: for him a severe sacrifice. From now on, he had no choice but to play the supporting role.
He betrayed no hint of self-pity, but got on with it, through rough weather as through dead calms, alleviating boredom by making jokes.
The sadness felt at his death is more profound than many people had expected. That sorrow is a measure of the affection and respect in which he was held.
It is also a recognition of how bereft the Queen will feel without him, and a sign of the melancholy realisation that our Elizabethan age, which is all those of us below the age of 80 can remember, cannot in the nature of things have very many years yet to run.
Andrew Gimson is the author of “Gimson’s Kings & Queens: Brief Lives of the Monarchs since 1066”