Heritage

Prince Philip's Cousin Was a Paratrooper Who Helped Liberate France From the Nazis

Prince Michel of Bourbon-Parma lived a fascinating life and recently died at 92.
IMAGE BERTRAND RINDOFF PETROFF / GETTY
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Royal relative Prince Michel of Bourbon-Parma died on July 7, 2018 at the age of 92. Michel, the son of Princess Margaret of Denmark and Prince René of Bourbon-Parma, is perhaps best remembered for his heroic efforts fighting for the Allied forces during World War II. 

Prince Michel was born in Paris, but moved to New York with his family in 1940 ahead of the Nazi occupation of France. He enrolled in a Jesuit boarding school but was expelled for disobedience and soon decided to join the war effort, according to the Palm Beach Daily News. "My parents tried to talk me out of it," Michel told the news outlet in an interview. "But I wanted to get Hitler out of France."

At the age of 17, Prince Michel shipped off to officer candidate school in Fort Benning, Georgia, and was commissioned as a second lieutenant, the Washington Post reports. He was recruited by the Office of Strategic Services, a World War II-era precursor to the CIA, by William Casey, who later became the director of the CIA. The army was impressed with Michel's background and his language skills: the Prince spoke French, English, and Danish. "They said we need people like that," Bourbon-Parme once told the Palm Beach Daily News. Soon, Michel completed special training for covert operations and was sent to England to join Operation Jedburgh.

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Operation Jedburgh combined special forces from the United States and the United Kingdom with an expertise in parachuting, and Michel's group was known for parachuting behind Nazi lines in France, according to the Washington Post. The members of the group became known as "the Jeds," and their missions were extremely dangerous: the Prince once told the Palm Beach Daily News that 80 percent of the Jeds "just disappeared."

Days after the Allied invasion of Normandy in June 1944, Prince Michel was part of a three-man sabotage team tasked with preventing 23,000 German troops from getting to Normandy, the Washington Post notes. Michel and his group, which included Sir Thomas Macpherson and Sgt. O. Arthur Brown, were able to do so by placing bombs on roads and bridges. The team also drove to the German front-line headquarters and helped convince German Major General Botho Henning Elster to surrender and hand over 19,500 troops to U.S. Major General Robert C. Macon.

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Michel's wartime heroism doesn't end there. As the war in the Pacific continued, French authorities sent the Prince and five others into French Indochina in the summer of 1945. The group was instantly captured by Viet Minh fighters after they parachuted in, and they were imprisoned until June 1946. After several escape attempts and living on just a bowl of rice per day, Prince Michel and his group were freed after the French government reached a temporary cease-fire.


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Un Prince Dans la Tourmente by Prince Michel of Bourbon-Parma, amazon.com, $37.34

At the age of 20, Michel returned to civilian life.

Michel received a number of military honors for his service. He was given the Legion of Honour in France, the highest order of merit for the military, in addition to the Croix de Guerre. He was also awarded with the British Military Cross, according to the Washington Post. In 2010, Michel wrote a memoir about his time in the war, Un Prince Dans la Tourmente, which translates to A Prince in the Storm.


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Prince Michel with his son, Prince Charles-Emmanuel, and grandson, Prince Amaury, in 2004

After his life in the military, Michel married twice and had five children. He and his first wife, Princess Yolande de Broglie-Revel, wed in 1951 and divorced in 1999. In 2003, he married his second wife, Princess Maria Pia of Savoy, who is a daughter of King Umberto II of Italy. The couple split their time between Palm Beach, Florida, and France. Michel was also a race car driver and businessman throughout his life.

The son of European royals on both sides of the family, Prince Michel is Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh's second cousin through King Christian IX of Denmark. Michel and Philip's grandfathers were Prince Valdemar of Denmark and King George I of Greece, respectively, both of whom were sons of King Christian. Prince Michel reportedly attended Philip and Queen Elizabeth's wedding in 1947. Michel's sister Anne also attended the wedding, and it's where she reportedly met her future husband, King Michael I of Romania.

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*This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com
*Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors

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