Westleigh,  History

Westleigh: Part XI

David Windsor Sets Sail

August 22, 1924

The morning of August 22, 1924, was uncommonly busy. That is how The New York Times described the Prince’s day when reporting from London. Queen Mary had left for Goldsborough Hall in Yorkshire to visit her daughter, Princess Mary, eight days earlier. On August 22, the Princess gave birth to her second son. 

Her brother, whom she adored, was setting sail for his second visit to America within hours. He spent his morning packing, receiving last-minute visitors calling to wish him “bon voyage.”

His traveling wardrobe was limited to three trunks and some small luggage as there were no uniforms to bring along. As the tour was of a semi-official nature, “This,” newspaper men penned, “would be sufficient to spread new styles for men throughout the country.” 

But by 10 o’clock that morning, the Prince, packing last-minute personal belongings, was unconvinced. In need of additional essentials, especially suitcases, he hopped into his two-seater motorcar and, driving on his own, sped to Piccadilly. There, he rushed into what one journalist described as a “sedate little leather store.”

“I’m in a terrible hurry,” the Prince announced. “I want some more cases to pack my things in.” 

The clerks stood stunned to see the heir to the British throne drive up, rush in, and shop for himself. The manager was called forth and assisted the Prince, showing him numerous cases before the Prince selected two and paid for them.

“May I have these delivered to the palace for you?” the shopkeeper asked.

The Prince declined, taking both cases, one in each hand, and leaving. Tossing them into the car, he sped back to St. James Palace, continued packing, and began changing his plans. 

A change of plans was not what women, debutantes, and marriageable daughters anticipated when they changed their own. They’d cut their European visits short — by weeks in some cases — so they could return home aboard the RMS Berengaria alongside the heir to the British throne. It was expected that the Prince “would participate in the customary life of the liner and will take meals in the dining room.” 

When news spread within social circles, women, debutantes, and marriageable young ladies rushed to purchase the 700 available salon tickets to hurry home on one ship in particular. Booked to capacity five weeks in advance, a long list of hopefuls waited for possible last-minute cancellations. 

The Prince was dubbed “The Late Riser” by Parisian journalists who assumed David Windsor had slept in late whenever he failed to appear when he last visited France. In truth, the Prince was a clever sort, escaping through back doors when the fame-hungry were focused elsewhere. And such began the Prince’s journey to America that late afternoon. 

Taking three trunks and new suitcases along, he sped out of London by motorcar and crossed the channel to the Isle of Wight — twenty miles from Southhampton, where he was expected. Along with his cousins, Lord and Lady Mountbatten, the entourage boarded the RMS Berengaria around four o’clock in the morning on the day of their departure — seven hours before he was expected at Waterloo Station. 

An excerpt from my forthcoming book, Foster Place.
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