Queen Mother's wartime letter released

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The Independent Online

A letter from the Queen Mother which describes the dramatic moment Buckingham Palace was bombed during a Second World War air raid was released today to mark the publication of the royal's official biography.

The note tells how Queen Elizabeth and King George VI heard a diving Nazi plane then seconds later the "scream" of a bomb which flew past them and landed in the palace's internal courtyard.

The royals had delayed heading down to the palace's air raid shelter because the King had asked his wife to take an eyelash out of his eye.

The attack on September 13, 1940, left three workmen injured and the Queen Mother described in her letter how she was shaken by the explosions.

The correspondence was penned for the royal's mother-in-law, Queen Mary, and is featured in the Queen Mother's official biography written by William Shawcross which is published later this week.

It was one of hundreds of letters from the royal archive used by the biographer to chronicle the life of the royal who died in her sleep at the age of 101, in 2001, with the Queen at her bedside.

The former monarch begins the letter, written on Windsor Castle headed notepaper, by telling her "darling Mama" how she went to see if her husband was making his way to the shelter after a "red" warning was announced at the palace.

But instead of rushing downstairs for cover, the King asked his wife to take an eyelash out of his eye and soon afterwards they heard the "unmistakable whirr-whirr of a German plane" before the bomb landed.

The Queen Mother wrote: "I saw a great column of smoke and earth thrown up into the air, and then we all ducked like lightening into the corridor.

"There was another tremendous explosion, and we and our two pages who were outside the door, remained for a moment or two in the corridor away from the staircase, in case of flying glass."

She added: "My knees trembled a little bit for a minute or two after the explosions."

The royal couple went down to the shelter and the Queen Mother checked on the housemaids taking refuge there and visited the chef in his kitchen before having lunch in the shelter before the all clear was given.

Newspapers reports from the time said five bombs had fallen on and around the palace and the injured men were three plumbers who did not have serious wounds.

During the conflict the royal residence suffered nine direct bomb hits and one death - Pc Steve Robertson, a policeman on duty at the palace who was killed by flying debris in 1941.

The raid described in the letter also damaged the palace's chapel which was replaced by the Queen's Gallery after the war.

On the day of the bombing the King and Queen later travelled to the East End of London where they saw the damage air raids had caused in the area.

The Queen Mother said in her letter: "I really felt as if I was walking in a dead city, when we walked down a little empty street.

"All the houses evacuated, and yet through the broken windows one saw all the poor little possessions, photographs, beds, just as they were left. At the end of the street is a school which was hit, and collapsed on the top of 500 people waiting to be evacuated - about 20 are still under the ruins.

"It does affect me seeing this terrible and senseless destruction - I think that really I mind it much more than being bombed myself."

Mr Shawcross interviewed many members of the royal family including the Queen, Duke of Edinburgh and the Prince of Wales for his Queen Mother biography which is more than 900 pages long.

Speaking during an online interview for his publisher's YouTube page, Mr Shawcross said: "Her letters are the core of the book.

"She wrote marvellous letters, from the age of 10 to 100, and had marvellous handwriting and a marvellously clear jubilant voice."

Details about the book's content have not been released ahead of its publication but it is expected to give insights into momentous royal events during the 20th century.

These range from the 1936 abdication of Edward VIII, which saw the Duke of York, the Queen Mother's husband, become George VI, to her daughter's coronation as Queen in 1953 and the death of Diana, Princess of Wales in 1997.