'I'll bring you home'

Grand Duchess Charlotte's US Good-Will-Tours

Grand Duchess Charlotte during a visit to the White House in 1942

(CS) On October 4, 1940, Grand Duchess Charlotte touched down in New York, but her arrival in the US would only be the start of a North America tour to keep tiny Luxembourg from being forgotten in the throes of a war that was ravaging a whole continent.

Charlotte was the first monarch of a European countries occupied by the Nazis to travel to the US. Prince Félix together with the family's six children had arrived in the US by boat in Annapolis on July 25, 1940.

The official residence of the family was in Montreal, Canada, where the Grand Ducal children went to school. The Grand Duchess meanwhile lived in Washington DC most of the time, with the government officially in exile in London. 

Prince Félix with the Grand Ducal children en route by sea to the US
Prince Félix with the Grand Ducal children en route by sea to the US
Photo: LW Archive

Proclaiming at her arrival in New York that the future of Luxembourg is not lost, going into exile allowed the Grand Duchess to align herself with the Allies and promote the cause of saving her country from its occupiers. A friendship with President Franklin D Roosevelt would help her pursue that goal.

'Don't worry, dear child'

The Grand Duchess's husband Prince Félix and her son Prince Jean had met the Roosevelts in 1939 during a visit to the World Fair in New York. When war broke out the following year, the president extended an invitation to the royal families of Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg to send their children to the US. “Europe at war is no place for children,” he wrote to US ambassador in Brussels John Cudahy.

During her time in the US, Charlotte met with President Roosevelt a number of times and it was the latter who recommended a tour of the country to “keep you on the map.” It was also during one of these meetings that Roosevelt is believed to have said: “Don't worry, dear child, I'll bring you home again.”

Would there be a Luxembourg to return home to, however? Stakes were high, as correspondence between Luxembourg politicians and diplomats at the time shows a real concern over the danger of the Grand Duchy disappearing off the map.

In 1941 Luxembourg Foreign Minister Joseph Bech wrote: “We, the Luxembourgers, are in a very different situation to that of the Dutch and Belgians.” Acknowledging the painful relationship of those two countries with Germany he added that nonetheless “their states will exist, maybe in a new framework, while we are threatened with complete absorption.

“This is why the Grand Duchess can never fall into their hands.”

Touring the US

In 1941 she embarked on the first leg of her Good-Will-Tour, travelling to Chicago, New York and Philadelphia. On her way she met with Luxembourg immigrants and their descendants, while also receiving a significant amount attention from the local press. Following a nearly eight-month stay in Europe to meet with her government and other exiled monarchs in London, she returned to the US in May 1942. 

A page out of President Roosevelt's diary showing an appointment with the Grand Duchess
A page out of President Roosevelt's diary showing an appointment with the Grand Duchess
Photo: LW Archive

The Grand Ducal family spent the summer on a farm in Newton, Pennsylvania. Later that year, Charlotte would travel to Boston, before visiting New Orleans in early 1943. Between March and April that year she embarked on a “Grand Western Tour” of Seattle, Portland, San Francisco and Los Angeles, before travelling to Arizona and Missouri.

Her husband, Prince Félix, also did his bit, visiting Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota on a tour of the Mid-West in September 1941. He also travelled to Brazil in 1942, where Austrian relatives of the Grand Ducal family had sought refuge.

Later that year, both Prince Félix and Crown Prince Jean volunteered to join the British army. Prince Félix served in the Northern Command, while Prince Jean fought with the Irish Guards. Father and son would reach Luxembourg ahead of the Grand Duchess in September 1944.

Return to Luxembourg

Grand Duchess Charlotte herself returned on board a Douglas C-47 plane from the UK, following confirmation from General Dwight D Eisenhower on March 12, 1945, that Luxembourg is officially considered liberated.

Still, preparations were carried out in secret and only on the morning of April 14, 1945, were notices distributed in Luxembourg announcing the imminent arrival of the Grand Duchess.

Shortly before 4.30pm Charlotte set foot on Luxembourg soil at an airfield near Findel after a five-year exile. Tens of thousands of Luxembourgers would greet her at the Grand Ducal palace in the capital and she would forever become a symbol of Luxembourg's fight for independence during the Second World War.

Charlotte's reign continued until 1964, when she abdicated in favour of her son, Jean. Grand Duchess Charlotte died aged 89 on July 9, 1985 and was interred at the family crypt at Notre Dame Cathedral in Luxembourg City.

A statue in her honour stands on Place Clairefontaine.

Reporting by Marc Thill

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