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Queen Mother kept from US nuclear base in Scotland

The Queen Mother aboard HMS Neptune during a 1968 visit to Faslane. Picture: Allan Milligan

The Queen Mother aboard HMS Neptune during a 1968 visit to Faslane. Picture: Allan Milligan

  • by MARC HORNE
 

THE Queen Mother was banned from visiting an American nuclear base in Scotland, newly released files have revealed.

Plans were drawn up for the Royal matriarch to inspect the US nuclear fleet at the Holy Loch in Argyll at the height of the Cold War.

The Ministry of Defence hoped the high-profile visit would act as a demonstration of British gratitude for American military support and shore up the special relationship between the two countries.

However, the UK’s most senior diplomat cancelled the proposed tour amid fears that it could lead to the Queen Mother being targeted by anti-Vietnam war protesters.

Previously classified state documents, which have now been opened and placed in the National Archives at Kew, show the MoD was keen for America’s Scottish-based arsenal to get royal approval.

A letter sent by Sir Michael Cary, a senior civil servant at the MoD, to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on 31 January 1968 states: “A short while ago Maurice Foley, the Navy’s under secretary of state, accompanied the commander in chief of the US Navy in Europe on a brief visit to Holy Loch and spent a few hours aboard the USS Simon Lake.

“His enthusiastic reception left him strongly of the opinion that we should seize every opportunity to show our appreciation of the massive United States effort in this part of the deterrent field.

“It has occurred to us, therefore, that it might be possible to include a visit to the Simon Lake in the course of the Queen Mother’s forthcoming visit to Faslane in May. I am taking this opportunity of writing to you before we make any approach to the Palace.”

However, Sir Paul Gore-Booth, the head of the diplomatic service, rejected the proposal, fearing that it could generate enormous controversy and potentially put the Queen Mother at risk.

He wrote back, stating: “The present time, with the Vietnam controversy heightened by the current Vietcong offensive and a consequent increase in criticism in Britain of American policies, hardly seems propitious for advising the Queen Mother to make a gesture of this kind.

“It is accepted policy that members of the Royal Family should never be involved in controversial political matters and a visit to the USS Simon Lake would, at best, involve the Queen Mother in public controversy, while, at worst, there might well be embarrassing incidents.

“In either event any benefit to Anglo-American relations would be largely lost.”

A final missive sent on 22 February 1968 confirms that the MoD was forced to make a humiliating U-turn on the proposed royal visit.

The USS Simon Lake was a tender vessel which provided supplies and support for the Scottish-based US Polaris nuclear submarines. A Whitehall insider claimed the decision to halt the Royal visit proved to be a prescient one.

He said: “America’s involvement in Vietnam was becoming an increasingly controversial political issue at that time.

“This culminated in March 1968 when there were violent clashes outside the US embassy in Grosvenor Square. A visit of that sort, in that kind of climate, would have generated a variety of security issues.”

The Queen Mother’s fondness for all things American was revealed in a collection of her letters that was published posthumously in 2012.

One missive from February 1943 states: “The more Americans I see, the more I like them. They seem to have got the essential things like love of family and freedom of religion and thought and all they need is a little political experience. I take a motherly interest in them because I like them.”

Other ministerial files confirm the US wanted to disguise naval staff as tourists so they could covertly monitor communications from the Holy Loch submarines.

A MoD memo from July 1974 states: “The US embassy called to outline an exercise the Americans have been discussing with a view to improving the security of their communications at Holy Loch.

“It would involve the deployment of a mobile caravan in the area adjacent to their submarine base.

‘It would contain electronic equipment to monitor microwave electronics emissions from the submarines.”

It concludes: “We see no reason why we should object to this.”

The first American nuclear submarines arrived at the Holy Loch in 1961. The base closed in 1992 following the end of the Cold War.

 

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