Royal albums: The Prince of Wales's Private Souvenir: 1914 - When war w as just an innocent game for a future king

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The Independent Online
IT WAS June 1914 and war was just a game. For the young man who was to become King Edward VIII - the first British monarch ever willingly to renounce his throne - soldiering was merely one of many ways to pass the time. Little did he and his fellows realise that within a few months war would fall like an axe upon the continent. The ranks of young men who paraded in full-dress review order in the bright sunshine for the King's Birthday Parade would be decimated by the foolish strategies of the man who that day oversaw the march past - Sir Douglas Haig.

The young man in the photograph (left) is Edward, then the Prince of Wales. It is one of the hundreds of historic yet intimate photographs from his own private albums which The Independent is publishing for the first time this week. It was taken at Laffan's Plain, near Aldershot, to which he had been summoned as a member of the Magdalen College Section of the Oxford Battalion of the Officer Training Corps. The prince was one of its corporals. The photographs we reprint today, many of them taken by Edward himself, are a poignant evocation of that age of innocence which an unexpected war brought to a swift and bloody end.

Until then soldiering was a lark. Today's pictures show the jeunesse doree of that privileged epoch at play. There is polo practice on Port Meadow. There is hunting with the New College and Magdalen Beagles. There is tea with the Leander Club at Henley. There are antics on - and in - the river. And there is the jolly comradeship of the military life.

"Self" says the caption in Edward's own hand in the first of the two albums which his widow, the Duchess of Windsor gave after his death to a family friend in France, and from which this week's unguarded pictures are taken. The young prince looks resolute and purposeful, as he stands legs apart, puffing on his pipe, with the precocious pomposity of youth.

But it is all a game. Just like the balls at the Duke of Portland's where he stayed up until 4am. Just like the grouse shooting to which his father, King George V, invited Edward to meet the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The man was Archduke Franz Ferdinand, who only weeks later would fall to an assassin's bullet in Sarajevo, sparking off a war which was to change everything, utterly.