Andrew Vine: Royal perspective on arrant nonsense of Queen and Nazi salute

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IF THERE is a more nonsensical non-event in the long and dutiful life of the Queen than the grainy film of her as a child apparently making a Nazi salute, I defy anybody to name it.

The global exposure and furore over a second or two caught on a home movie more than 80 years ago are completely out of all proportion to any possible significance that could be attached to the gesture.

Predictably enough, the footage has prompted dark mutterings about hidden Nazi sympathies within the Royal Family, and the dreary anti-monarchist brigade are rubbing their hands in glee.

What arrant nonsense. How stupid, misguided and downright unfair it is to imply that anything other than a loathing of Nazi Germany abides in the Queen’s heart.

And how cruel it is that this footage should have been made public only weeks after her state visit to Germany, where at her express request, she was taken to the site of the Bergen Belsen concentration camp and bowed her head in memory of all those murdered there.

It remains unclear how the footage of the Queen, her sister, mother and uncle, the then Prince of Wales, found its way out of whichever archive it should have remained buried in.

Perhaps a blunder by a royal aide is to blame, or there may be a shabbier motive involving payments. Until an inquiry is completed, and decisions taken over possible breach of copyright or even criminal action, we shall not know the full story.

The only certainty is that the footage is embarrassing. Beyond that, it tells us precisely nothing about the Queen and her mother beyond that they were caught larking about on camera.

For larking about is what the footage plainly shows. I doubt that the Queen, then six or seven-years-old, even remembered the incident until the film surfaced, and for anyone to ascribe any meaning to her actions or those of her mother is preposterous.

We apply the attitudes and knowledge of 2015 to events of eight decades earlier at our peril.

For the past 75 years, the salute and all it stood for has been an emblem of evil.

But from the perspective of that long-lost day when a film camera was pointed at two little girls and their mother, the picture looks very different.

Nobody should forget that in the early 1930s, the salute was widely ridiculed in Britain, and it was commonly joked that Hitler with his silly toothbrush moustache resembled Charlie Chaplin. Everywhere from low pubs to royal palaces, the stiff-armed salute raised a laugh. It was a familiar gesture before Hitler’s ascent, having also been used in Mussolini’s Italy.

Any suggestion that a child not then destined to be monarch, or her mother, were expressing admiration for the then-fledgling Nazi regime simply does not bear scrutiny.

It is certainly true that as the 1930s progressed, there was a substantial section of British opinion that did express admiration for Hitler before it became clear what a threat he posed.

In the depths of the Great Depression, some national newspapers praised him for what appeared to be an economic miracle that put Germany back to work, and politicians including Lloyd George had warm words.

The salute that became so taboo was raised unselfconsciously by dignitaries visiting Germany, and by sportsmen too as a matter of courtesy. There exist photographs of the England football team making it before an international match and of athletes at the 1936 Olympics doing likewise.

Nobody has ever suggested that any of them were Nazi sympathisers, and nor should anyone dare to impugn the reputations of the Queen or her mother by doing so.

The only person in the footage over whom there is a shadow is the man apparently egging on the young princess.

It has long been a matter of historical record that the vain and foolish prince who became Edward VIII before abdicating the throne came to harbour an admiration for Hitler towards the end of the 1930s, after he had given up the throne.

Even so, to infer that he was attempting to pass on his enthusiasm to his nieces and sister-in-law stretches credibility beyond breaking point.

No, in this instance it is much more realistic to see in the film a doting uncle amusing the little girls by encouraging them to imitate the funny little German who looks like Charlie Chaplin.

We can only guess at the degree of distress and probably annoyance these few seconds of film have caused the Queen. Her own record in this country’s struggle against Nazism is unimpeachable.

The film is no more than a curio, without significance or meaning, that will ultimately sink back into the obscurity whence it came, a non-event that does nothing to tarnish a life devoted to her subjects.