Hampshire & Isle of Wight

Portsmouth newspaper archives reveal the secret departure of Edward VIII

The Duke of Windsor hides his face leaving Windsor Castle
Image caption The Duke of Windsor left Windsor Castle for Portsmouth after his abdication speech

Seventy five years ago, Portsmouth's newspapers told how the city witnessed the departure into exile of the former king, Edward VIII.

Edward VIII renounced the throne on December 10, 1936 to be with American divorcee Wallis Simpson, leaving his brother the Duke of York - the Queen's father - to take over as George VI.

Early next morning, he slipped quietly out of a sleeping Portsmouth on a navy destroyer.

In his final radio speech, Edward VIII said: "You must believe me when I tell you that I have found it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility and to discharge my duties as king as I would wish to do without the help and support of the woman I love."

There was speculation he would head to Argentina, Italy or Denmark, or fly into exile on his private plane.

While the nation and empire listened to the broadcast, activities were gathering apace to facilitate his departure - known only to a handful of officials.

Sealed orders

A tarpaulin-covered truck had entered the king's home at Fort Belevdere Hall in Windsor Great Park by a back entrance, loaded up his most treasured possessions and drove away with a police escort

On the south coast, the Royal Navy's destroyer HMS Wolfhound was ordered to leave Portland in Dorset for Portsmouth. It pulled alongside fellow destroyer HMS Fury shortly after midnight.

Sealed orders had been issued but rank and file sailors knew nothing of their secret mission and the importance of their passenger.

Image caption The Evening News carried eye witness reports of the former king's departure

After the famous speech had been delivered, the former king left Windsor. His four-car convoy sped through the night towards the south coast.

The archives of Portsmouth's Evening News newspaper of the day reveal the details of how the former king slipped silently away from Britain.

One eye-witness, George Hale, 36, told the paper how he was asked for directions to the navy base by one of the drivers.

The paper describes him as "the last civilian in England to be spoken to by the ex-king Edward VIII" as a voice in the back of the car thanked him.

The cars swept up to Unicorn Gate, the entrance to the navy base, with blinds drawn and headlights blazing shortly after midnight.

The paper records: "The ex-King was sad and pensive. Indeed he looked deeply moved. He scarcely spoke a word as he went up the gangway of the destroyer."

HMS Fury steamed out of the harbour at about 02:00 GMT, accompanied by HMS Wolfhound.

The former king stood on port side, looked out to the beach where Lord Nelson left for the Battle of Trafalgar. The navigation lights of the ships in the harbour barely illuminated the gloom.

'Strained face'

As it slipped quietly past the Round Tower out of Portsmouth Harbour towards Spithead, the former king continued to stand on the deck, despite the cold. The Evening News said he stood with "strained face", transfixed on the gradually-fading lights of Portsmouth.

The ship took Edward to Boulogne in France where he began his life in exile as the Duke of Windsor.

The edition of the Evening News on 14 December 1936 carried news of the reading of the Proclamation of the new King, Edward's brother, George VI in Guildhall Square, which was greeted by cheers from hundreds of seamen from the Royal Navy's flagship HMS Nelson.

More on this story

Around the BBC

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites