Of the other three British born Governors- General before the appointment of the Australian Lord Casey, one had been awarded the VC and two the Military Cross.
One of the latter was probably our most popular Governor-General, Sir William (“Bill”) Slim. Why oh why do some republicans write from prejudice and not bother to check the facts.
None of these was a worthless lay about. All were courageous and gallant men whose primary purpose was service. As were the two members of the Royal Family who were chosen as Governor-General.
While the rambling of uninformed hotheads does not come as a surprise, Australians expect more from their leaders. To issue a gratuitous reprimand in the media to Prince William on the basis of no serious evidence that he was coveting the office of Governor-general is at the very least extremely discourteous.
To return to the appointment of Governors-General who are not Australian citizens, we should remember that Sir Isaac Isaacs was not an Australian citizen. This category did not exist until 1949, and even then all Australians continued to be British subjects.
In the files of the National Archives there is a petition drafted by the right wing organisation, the New Guard, in 1934. ( The New Guard strongly opposed Jack Lang, the Premier of New south Wales whom they believed to have Bolshevik tendencies.)
The petition read:
“We venture to ask that Your Majesty may be graciously pleased to cause to be appointed a Prince of the Royal Household, one of your Majesty’s beloved sons, as the next Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia…”
According to the Archives, the letter covering the petition, sent to Prime Minister Lyons on 4 December 1934, was written by the Chief Commander of the New Guard, Eric Campbell.
The letter praises Sir Isaac Isaacs’ efforts in the position:
"We are all deeply conscious of the magnificent manner in which His Excellency the present Governor-General has fulfilled his high office."
The letter continued:
“Our earnest desire to see a member of the Royal Household accept the appointment in due course is actuated by a realisation of the necessity for still greater Imperial unity and by the belief that solutions of a number of our major economic problems [caused as a result of the Depression] will flow from the consummation of such a policy..
Of course not only did the right wing support a Royal appointment. As we shall see, so did a majority of the next Labor cabinet.
There was wide public support for a Royal appointment, and in early 1939 The King approved the appointment of the fifth in the line of succession, his son, Prince George , Duke of Kent.
Although a popular decision, of there was of course some opposition. Unlike most republics, we have long been a democracy, and constitutional monarchy not only allows opposition, it protects them.
An emotive letter from one Milicent Smith to Prime Minister Lyons, dated 6 November 1938 in the National Archives exemplifies some of this opposition and is not dissimilar to the sort of frenzied commentary we too often see from the more Jacobin republicans:
“Like many… citizens in this fair land, I am wondering where the money is coming from to entertain the Kents while they are here… The people are not interested in the sartorial splendour of the Kents. He is only a London playboy (receiving £25 000 per annum of the British taxpayers’ money)…
"Ye Gods – this is what is to be the future Governor-General of Australia, I wonder?”
There was violence too. A note in the Archives reports this alarming incident:
“On 8 June 1939, the Duchess of Kent, Princess Marina, was shot at by Ledwidge Vincent Lawlor, a former member of the AIF. The Duchess was not injured in the incident. The shooting incident occurred shortly after it was announced that the Duke of Kent would be coming to Australia to assume the position of Governor-General. Lawlor was returned to Australia and imprisoned.”
When the Second World War broke out, action on the appointment was suspended. Sadly, Prince George, a sophisticated and cultured man, and strongly interested in the arts, was not to take up the appointment.
He died, not as the cranky Miss Milicent Smith would have it, as “a London playboy”, but while on active service in the Royal Air Force. (He had served previously in the Royal Navy)
This was on a flight to Iceland for a meeting with senior US officials. The plane crashed over Scotland; the pilot being an Australian serving with the RAF, Flight Lieutenant Frank McKenzie Goyen.
Winston Churchill had the duty of informing the House of Commons of the death of The King’s brother. He described him, accurately, as “a gallant and handsome prince”.
Among the many messages of condolence received from other countries, one was from General Sikorski, the head of the Polish government in exile.
The two men were very close and Sikorski sent a special dispatch to all Polish troops in Britain where he described the Duke as “a proven friend of Poland and the Polish armed forces”.
Before the war it had been proposed that the monarchy be restored in Poland and Prince George become her first constitutional monarch under the restoration.
Sadly, rather than a liberal and democratic constitutional monarchy under the House of Windsor, Poland was to become the victim of the twin barbaric empires, Nazism and Soviet communism.
Wanting to check on the date of the Duke’s appointment, I searched in likely places and finally located a copy, or perhaps the original Commission recorded in the National Library of Australia website.
The entry recording the document reads:
“Commission appointing His Royal Highness the Duke of Kent to the position of Governor-General and Commander-in-Chief of the Commonwealth of Australia [manuscript] / [from George VI, King of Great Britain.”
And the date?
The entry explains that in these simple but melancholy words:
“George, Duke of Kent was killed accidentally in 1942 and the Commission was never signed.”
A sad and touching final note to an appointment as our Governor –General which never proceeded to its conclusion.