He escaped war-torn Greece in a cot crafted from a fruit box and went on to save lives as a decorated war hero, but such feats paled in comparison with perhaps his greatest achievement of all – winning over the affections of a young Queen Elizabeth.
Prince Philip’s family fled Greece when he was a baby, but he did not let his traumatic childhood hinder him as he rose to great heights after being sent to the UK as a virtually orphaned ten-year-old boy.
His charm, wit, and dashing good looks later won over the hearts of a nation and earned him the attention of a young soon-to-be Queen.
As a young war hero, Philip won round Hollywood actresses, British socialites, and eventually a 17-year-old Elizabeth Windsor.
He would go on to write emotionally wrought letters, telling the Princess how falling in love with her so ‘completely’ had made his personal troubles and even those of the world ‘seem small and petty’.
He found it difficult to put his feelings into words, describing in another message after they had spent time together how he felt incapable of ‘showing you the gratitude that I feel’.
And he told the Queen Mother in the year of her daughter’s wedding to him how ‘Lilibet’ was the ‘only thing in this world which is absolutely real to me’.
With his mother in a psychiatric clinic and his exiled father mostly absent, Philip spent his early years living with various relatives.
Despite this and a succession of family tragedies, he emerged charming and uncomplaining, though prone to occasional volcanic outbursts.
At 21, he was one of the youngest 1st lieutenants in the Royal Navy and was praised for his role in the Second World War. In July 1943, he devised a clever plan to deflect enemy aircraft, saving the lives of sailors on board the destroyer HMS Wallace.
Following the news of the Prince’s death aged 99, find below a pictorial depiction of his life story as reported by Mailonline
Although he was a Prince of Greece, Philip had no Greek blood. His complex background was in fact Danish, German, Russian and British
His family was forced to flee Corfu in December 1922 after Philip’s father, a Lieutenant-General in the Greek army, was arrested and charged with high treason in the aftermath of the heavy defeat of the Greeks by the Turks, during the Greco-Turkish War of 1919-1922. Pictured: his parents, Princess Alice and Prince Andrew of Greece
Philip attends the wedding of his sister Princess Margarita of Greece and Prince Gottfried von Hohenlohe-Langenburg in 1931
Prince Philip was born on June 10, 1921, on the kitchen table at his family home Mon Repos on the Greek island of Corfu.
He was the fifth child, and only boy, of parents Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark and Princess Alice of Battenberg.
His ancestry was a mix of Greece, Denmark, Russia, and Prussia on his father’s side, and his maternal grandmother, Princess Victoria of Hesse, was a granddaughter of Queen Victoria, making him Elizabeth II’s third cousin.
However, Greece was gripped by political instability, and just a year and a half later the family were forced to flee after the King was exiled from his own country following a military revolt.
In the political recriminations that followed, Philip’s father, a Lieutenant-General in the Greek army, was accused of high treason after allegedly disobeying an order and abandoning his post with his cavalry regiment in the face of attack during the Greco-Turkish War of 1919-1922.
The family managed to escape on the British naval vessel HMS Calypso, with the newborn prince carried to safety in a cot famously crafted from an unused fruit box.
They were taken to France where they settled in a leafy suburb in Paris in a house loaned to them by his wealthy aunt, Princess George of Greece and Denmark.
From then on, the Duke’s childhood was incredibly unsettled as he was without a permanent home.
Years later, when an interviewer for The Independent asked him what language he spoke at home, he answered: ‘What do you mean, ‘at home’?’
He told a separate biographer in 2001: ‘It’s simply what happened. The family broke up. My mother was ill, my sisters were married, my father was in the south of France. I just had to get on with it. You do. One does.’
At the age of eight, Philip was sent to Cheam school in Surrey for three years – but moved to Germany where all four of his sisters had married.
His stint in Germany proved brief when he moved back to Britain and was sent to Gordonstoun, a boarding school in Scotland.
The school near Elgin, Scotland, was started by Dr. Hahn, who had a profound influence on the Prince.
He very rarely saw his parents and was left isolated, but he was a happy, lively child. He later said of his family’s break-up: ‘I just had to get on with it. You do. One does.’
The Duke thrived at Gordonstoun, captaining the hockey and cricket teams and becoming guardian (head boy) in his last term. It was there he learned to ‘mess about in boats’, laying the solid foundation of a future naval career.
His Uncle Dickie, Lord Mountbatten, one of Britain’s greatest seamen, took a keen interest in the Prince’s progress.
While he was there, Philip experienced another series of tragedies. When he was 16, his sister Cecile, her husband, and their two children were killed in a plane crash.
Just a few months later, his uncle and guardian, George Mountbatten, the second Marquess of Milford Haven, died suddenly of cancer at the age of 46. Gordonstoun’s German headmaster, Kurt Hahn, was the one to break the news. ‘His sorrow was that of a man,’ his headmaster is said to have recalled.
After leaving school, Philip joined the Royal Navy, beginning at the Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, in May 1939, and was singled out as best cadet.
He stayed in the Royal Navy and served on several ships – firstly on HMS Ramillies – and saw active service against German, Italian and Japanese forces. The next year he became a midshipman.
In March 1941, he was a searchlight control officer on the battleship HMS Valiant and was mentioned in dispatches for his part in the battle of Matapan against the Italian fleet.
His commanding officer said: ‘Thanks to his alertness and appreciation of the situation, we were able to sink in five minutes two eight-inch gun Italian cruisers.’
Shortly afterward, he was awarded the Greek War Cross of Valour.
When he moved up through the ranks to become First Lieutenant in the destroyer HMS Wallace (at the age of 21), he was the youngest officer in the service to have an executive job in a ship of its size.
But at Christmas 1943, with ‘nowhere particular to go’, as he nonchalantly put it, Philip went with his cousin, David Milford Haven, to stay at Windsor Castle. Princess Elizabeth, now 17, was animated in a way ‘none of us had ever seen before’, wrote her governess, Marion Crawford.
That weekend of dinner parties, charades, films, and dancing to the gramophone proved to be a turning point.
After a subsequent visit to Windsor in July, Philip wrote to the Queen of ‘the simple enjoyment of family pleasures and amusements and the feeling that I am welcome to share them. I am afraid I am not capable of putting all this into the right words and I am certainly incapable of showing you the gratitude that I feel.’