She donned a uniform, rolled up her sleeves, and went on to become a vehicle mechanic.
Princess Elizabeth was just 13 years old in September 1939 when Adolf Hitler invaded Poland, which led to a devastating world war. This prompted the future monarch — who was swept up in patriotic fervor — to serve in the military as the first female member of the royal family, thus forging a lifetime tie with the British Armed Forces. Hitler's Luftwaffe and the Royal Air Force engaged in a devastating airborne battle over Britain in 1940. Germany and the United Kingdom faced off in the infamous Battle of Britain, which was a make-or-break clash. Millions of youngsters and frail adults were evacuated around Britain and taken to remote rural areas for safety.
The incident was horrific, and Elizabeth, then 14 years old, took to the airwaves to provide moral support. "Thousands of you in this country have had to leave your homes and be separated from your fathers and mothers," Elizabeth said on BBC's Children's Hour radio, per PEOPLE. "My sister, Margaret Rose, and I feel so much for you as we know from experience what it means to be away from those we love most of all."
After thanking the host families who opened their homes to the children, Elizabeth said: "We know, every one of us, that in the end, all will be well; for God will care for us and give us victory and peace. And when peace comes, remember it will be for us, the children of today, to make the world of tomorrow a better and happier place." Four years later, as the war showed no signs of ending, Elizabeth pleaded with her dad, King George VI, to allow her to join the military. He complied and soon, the teenager signed on with the Auxiliary Territorial Service. She donned a uniform, rolled up her sleeves, and went on to become a vehicle mechanic. She was the first female member of the royal family to serve in uniform. The British press named her "Princess Auto Mechanic."
Elizabeth wanted to join the throngs of people celebrating "Victory in Europe Day" in the streets of London after Germany surrendered in May 1945. She and Princess Margaret snuck out to join the revelers after getting permission from their parents.
"Under the cover of darkness, the royal teenagers moved around incognito in the mass of people," the British Armed Forces wrote in a tribute after the Queen died on September 8, 2022, at the age of 96. The young women danced and cheered, sang popular songs, and stood at the railings of Buckingham Palace. "We cheered the King and Queen on the balcony and then walked miles through the streets," the Queen said in a 1985 interview with BBC Radio. "I remember lines of unknown people linking arms and walking down Whitehall, all of us just swept along on a tide of happiness and relief."
Queen Elizabeth II is the only female member of the Royal Family to have served in the British Army.— 🆉🅴🆁🅾 🆂🅾🆈 🅿🅸🅲🆂 (@zero_soy) April 21, 2021
In 1944, at 18 years of age, our Queen donned the uniform and was trained as a mechanic and truck driver. pic.twitter.com/Ex9QSPXVXU
The celebrations were "one of the most memorable nights of my life," she said.
Cover Image Source: Getty Images | Photo by Leon Neal - WPA Pool