I wanted to tell him all about my grandfather, his Military life during WWII as a Royalist in Serbia, his arrest by the communists and journey to the UK as a prisoner of war but the distance between the waiting lounge and the plane was just too short. We managed to exchange pleasantries about Kate and William’s wedding which he attended as a guest of Queen Elizabeth. Only when we entered the plane and he sat down in his business class seat I realised I had missed another chance again. The commotion on the flight was overwhelming when the whisper went around that The King was on board.
Alexander II Karadjordjevic was born 1945 in London after the Royal Family was expelled from Kingdom of Yugoslavia. He was born in suite 212 at Claridges Hotel which Churchill famously declared to be a temporary Yugoslavian territory in order for the future King to be born in his own country. The newly-born Crown Prince was baptized in Westminster Abbey with Godparents King George VII and HRH Princess Elizabeth. He wasn’t allowed to visit his Kingdom until 1990, only after the country started disintegrating into small independent states. The return of the King wasn’t smooth as he didn’t have any rights until his Serbian passport was returned to him ten years later in 2001. Since then he has managed to “rent” his own Royal Palace from the present government where he lives now.
My grandfather was born in the Kingdom of Serbia, Croat and Slovenes and he attended the Royal Military Academy for four years between 1937 -1941. Upon graduation he was posted to a small place south of Belgrade where he served as Commandant until 1943 when he was arrested by the partisans, held prisoner until 1945 and then through the efforts of the Royal Family and the Red Cross transferred to the UK.
In a similar fate to his King my grandfather wasn’t allowed to get back to Yugoslavia until well after his retirement and he waited a long time to get his documents too. After years of hardship he managed to buy an estate in the village in Serbia where he was posted after graduating from the Royal Military Academy just before WWII broke out.
My upbringing, noted for numerous declarations to the SFRY (The Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia) and Tito, brotherhood and unity, would be interrupted by long summer holidays spent with my grandfather and his recital of poems which never meant anything to me. They were too passionate about King and Country, something we didn’t learn about at school, didn’t talk about and as such it didn’t exist. Not until 1993, when during our Christmas on the 7th January I, the King and my grandfather gathered at St Sava Church in London. King Alexandar II Karadjordjevic was present with his family sitting on the right side of the Church where we all could see him. I was a new arrival from the country which was decaying at the speed of light and my grandfather was there even though he died decades ago. After the liturgy the anthem broke out strongly and the whole church seemed on fire. Through the thick smouldering candlelight I could see my grandfather standing proudly and shouting the anthem at the top of his voice. He would have called it singing.
After the service I aimlessly searched around the church for some comfort, looking for anything which could bring me a part of the country which I was missing badly. In one of the corners, almost hidden, was a glass bookshelf and it looked left, forgotten and in need of dusting. Uncertain, making sure no one was watching I opened the glass window and took a small book printed on rough paper which smelled very rustic. The book opened itself somewhere in the middle and I began to read. It was collection of the poems which I recognised not from my school days but from my grandfather and the summer holidays we spent together. The coincidence was great. Puzzled I went to the priest with so many questions.
“Darling, the book is a collection of poems the prisoners of war recited during their journey from Serbia to the UK after WWII. As you know after WWII finished a lot of Royalist were imprisoned by partisans and thanks to the Royal Family and their connections the prisoners were transferred by ships firstly to Italy and then to the UK and some onwards to the USA. The crossing was very long, dark and there was not much food around so the prisoners recited poems to each other to forget about the state of affairs they were in. In order to remember them we published the book. ”
I bought three. And I learned every single poem from it. Next time, I am going to recite them to my King, Alexander II Kardjordjevic.
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There is a good possibility that you may even meet the King!