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Was Prince Philip significant in banning women from serving on the Royal Yacht Britannia?

Kelli Finger offers her insight towards the rumours that Prince Philip played a significant role in banning women from serving on the Royal Yacht Britannia.

Back in 1975, the Princess Royal was Chief Commandant of women, (Wrens), of the Navy. So it’s unusual that her father, the Duke of Edinburgh, as discussed by the Daily Mail this past weekend was instrumental in banning women from serving on the Royal Yacht Britannia. But was he?

Ministers in Harold Wilson’s government at that time were very keen in allowing wrens – members of the Women’s Royal Naval Service – to serve in noncombative roles on ships like the Royal Yacht Britannia. However, Prince Philip, according to a document in the National Archive, thought it would be too costly to provide separate quarters for females. This may have set back women’s progress in the Navy for several years, according to the Mail. Women weren’t allowed to serve in the Navy until 1993. And women never served as crew members on the Royal Yacht Britannia.

In a letter dated November 11, 1975, former Britannia commander, Rear Admiral Hugh Janion who is now deceased wrote: ‘I am informed by the Private Secretary to His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh that the latter considers that the appointment of Wrens to Britannia would mean an expensive major internal reconstruction. The proposal is not supported, therefore, by either the Palace or me.’

The Duke’s former personal secretary, Commander William Willett has also passed away. It isn’t certain whether this matter was brought up with the Duke or whether it was an opinion of the Commander because he also served on the Royal Yacht Britannia and he knew the idea of integrating women at that time would be unpopular with the all-male crew. So in referring to ‘the palace’, it is unclear whether the Duke knew or not of the decision.

But was this really the true opinion of His Royal Highness? Or did Commander Willett simply act without discussing the matter with him? Surely, the influence of a royal’s private secretary is great among other civil servants. You could compare it to a butler or housekeeper to those of a house maid or footmen where status is concerned. Since Commander Willett also served on the Royal Yacht Britannia, he perhaps thought it was a place where women didn’t belong.

I did not know about the objections from the Palace, but I’m not totally surprised. We thought Britannia would be ideal for women to be deployed but there was a kick-back. A lot of the crew had served on the yacht for a long time and did not wish to be pushed aside by women.’ This is a quote from Lord Hamilton of Epsom; the former Tory Armed Forces Minister told the Mail last week. He allowed women to serve at sea.

However, when approached for comment, Buckingham Palace said through its spokesman: ‘This is a letter between a naval officer and a serving civil servant at the Ministry of Defence, and as such, it would not be appropriate to comment.’

Why would the Duke’s daughter serve as Chief Commandant of women in the Navy at that time and her father be so opposed to having women serve in a position that would not put them in harms way yet still allow them to serve? Yes, the Duke is known for being outspoken; he says what he thinks and doesn’t care about the reaction of others. If he were so opposed to women serving on the Royal Yacht at that time, why wouldn’t he come right out and say so? And, for that matter, if he were so against women having any part in the military, he would’ve surely voiced his opposition when Anne was given this role.

To blame him for preventing women from progressing in the Navy for nearly two decades is unfair and unproven. This document in the National Archives doesn’t have his name on it. It isn’t from him, but pure speculation that he had anything to do with banning women from serving.