Dr Julian Lewis: Combining his royal role with a very long life meant that Prince Philip met vast numbers of people in widely differing circumstances. One of his more unusual encounters was with two late friends of mine who were Fleet Air Arm veterans of the Second World War.
On 29 January 1945, pilot Roy “Gus” Halliday and telegraphist air gunner Norman “Dickie” Richardson, together with their observer, were coaxing their crippled Grumman Avenger back to the safety of the British fleet. They had just completed the second stage of Operation MERIDIAN, the destruction by dive-bombing of two heavily defended oil refineries at Palembang in Japanese-occupied Sumatra. The raids were extremely hazardous, but despite grievous losses they massively reduced the output of both refineries and scored a major strategic success. Prince Philip was the first lieutenant – the executive officer – of HMS Whelp, a brand-new destroyer and key component in the protective screen of the British Pacific fleet and its four carriers, from which the airstrikes had been launched.
As the Avenger ditched and went under, the Whelp raced to the rescue. In the nick of time, all three aircrew were plucked from their leaking life raft in heaving waters, freshly kitted out and given every support after their perilous ordeal. It was only gradually, on the return journey, that they realised the special status of their principal saviour.
In 2006, the BBC’s Siân Price reunited Gus Halliday DSC and Dickie Richardson DSM with the officer who saved their lives and who, after doing so, introduced himself simply as “Lieutenant Philip”. The programme, entitled A Right Royal Rescue, is still accessible online; I commend it to colleagues and to the public as a touching memento of three very brave men and as a reminder of the spirit of a great generation.
Like countless other parliamentarians, I saw Prince Philip in action on visits to my constituency and to other constituencies close to the New Forest. Such visits were greatly valued, but I felt rather underqualified to add to what has so ably been reported in the media by royal correspondents and by others who really knew him. However, my doubts were dispelled by someone fully qualified to comment on the royal family: our splendid former colleague Sir Nicholas Soames, who served both as Armed Forces Minister and as Shadow Defence Secretary at the head of a happy team that included me. He explained that
“the whole nature of Prince Philip’s career and his devotion to Queen and Country was fashioned in his wartime training and service in the Royal Navy”.
Because of that, it seemed fitting to share with the House today this cameo of Prince Philip’s gallantry and humanity in combat, as well as expressing the sympathy of the people of New Forest East and of New Forest West* with Her Majesty the Queen and all members of her family.
[*NOTE: Sir Desmond Swayne, MP for New Forest West, was sitting adjacent to Julian during the delivery of this speech.]