The British Royal Family has a long tradition of close association with the armed forces, and has played an important role when the nation has been at war.

Over the past century, members of the Royal Family have carried out various duties to aid the war effort. They have boosted the morale of soldiers and civilians, served in the armed forces and have even suffered from bombing raids. Many, both past and present, have undertaken military service.

During the Second World War the heir to the throne, Princess Elizabeth, served in the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS). This made her the first woman in the Royal Family to become a full-time member of the armed services.

Here are 12 photographs showing the enduring links between The Royal Family and wartime, all taken from The Royal Family in Wartime, a new IWM Publication.

King on the Western Front

HM King George V, standing with a stick on Wytschaete Ridge in Belgium on 4 July 1917 during a tour of the Western Front.
© IWM Q 5586


King George V on Wytschaete Ridge, 4 July 1917. The ridge was captured by the British during the Battle of Messines.

Queen Mary also took part in the July 1917 visit to the front, in which the royal couple met with front-line troops.

During the First World War, King George V and Queen Mary, carried out hundreds of official visits and played a prominent role in post-war national commemorations of those who were killed.

Princess and nurse

A portrait of HM Queen Mary and her daughter Princess Mary in her nurse uniform. Both women are standing by a window.
© IWM Q 107040


Queen Mary and her daughter Princess Mary. The princess completed an advanced nursing course and, in 1918, started work at Great Ormond Street Hospital.

Her mother noted that Mary worked ‘very thoroughly… and takes a great deal of trouble over the children’s cases’.

As well as serving as a nurse, the princess started a fund that provided gifts for British servicemen during the war.

ATS trainee

Princess Elizabeth, a 2nd Subaltern in the ATS standing in front of an ambulance.
© IWM TR 2832


Princess Elizabeth, wearing her ATS uniform, stands in front of an ambulance, April 1945.

During her ATS training, she was known as Second Subaltern Elizabeth Windsor. The princess trained as a mechanic and truck driver and graduated as a fully qualified driver just before the war ended.

Find out more about Princess Elizabeth and her service during the Second World War in this video >

Princess Auto Mechanic’

Princess Elizabeth changes the wheel of a car. She is wearing overalls and kneeling beside the vehicle.
© IWM H 41668


At an ATS Vehicle Maintenance class, Princess Elizabeth, wearing cap and overalls, changes the wheel of a car, April 1945.

She was one of around 200,000 members of the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) by June 1945, drawn from across the British Empire.

At the time, the press dubbed her ‘Princess Auto Mechanic’.

Visiting the troops

The King, the Queen and Princess Elizabeth watched big glider and airborne troop manoeuvres at an R.A.F. station in Britain on 19th May 1944.
© IWM CH 13135


King George VI, Queen Elizabeth and Princess Elizabeth watch a display of gliders landing from the windows of a control tower, 19 May 1944.

The royal party spent a day with airborne troops who would be among Britain’s D-Day invasion forces.

Princess Elizabeth learned from her parents about the importance of duty during times of national crisis and accompanied them on many visits to troops, ships and airfields.

Dunkirk survivors

© IWM IND 3975
© IWM H 2859


King George VI and Queen Elizabeth inspect Royal Indian Army Service Corps troops at Shirley, Derbyshire, during a surprise visit on 8 August 1940.

The men had served with the British Expeditionary Force in France and taken part in the evacuation from Dunkirk.

During the Second World War, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (the future Queen Mother) made many visits to home defence forces, air bases, munitions factories and other sites.

‘Dambusters’ heroes

King George VI speaks with members of 617 Squadron at RAF Scampton, Lincolnshire, 27 May 1943
© IWM TR 999


King George VI speaks with members of 617 Squadron at RAF Scampton, Lincolnshire, 27 May 1943, following their ‘Dambusters Raid’.

Wing Commander Guy Gibson, right, led the daring raid to destroy dams in the Ruhr valley in Germany.

Bomb damage at the Palace

King George VI and Queen Elizabeth standing with workmen, while inspecting bomb damage at Buckingham Palace.
© IWM HU 63234


King George VI and Queen Elizabeth inspecting bomb damage at Buckingham Palace, September 1940. One member of palace staff was killed in the raid.

The queen wrote a description of the bombing, saying that the bombs ‘exploded with a tremendous crash in the quadrangle’.

Victory celebrations

HM King George VI and Queen Elizabeth with Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret joined by the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, London on VE Day.
© IWM MH 21835


This famous photo shows the Royal Family and Prime Minister Winston Churchill on the balcony of Buckingham Palace during VE Day celebrations, 8 May 1945.

Later that day, Princess Elizabeth, in her ATS uniform, joined the crowds.

She later said, ‘I think it was one of the most memorable nights of my life’.

More about the Royal Family and the Second World War >

Cold War missile

A trial Bristol Bloodhound surface-to-air guided missile is pointed up towards the sky, with a group of men including the Duke of Edinburgh standing to the right of the missile.
© IWM RAF-T 718


Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh (second from right), inspecting a trial Bristol Bloodhound surface-to-air guided missile mounted on its launcher at RAF North Coates, Lincolnshire, November 1953.

The Bristol Bloodhound was developed as Britain’s main air defence weapon during the Cold War era.

Leading commemorations

HM Queen Elizabeth II stands, dressed in black with poppies pinned to her coat. Four poppy wreaths are held behind her.


HM Queen Elizabeth II during the annual Service of Remembrance at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday 2008.

Each year in November, the Queen has led the commemoration of British and Commonwealth service personnel who have died in conflict since 1914.

As Head of the Armed Forces, it is a role that is very important to her.

Royal Yacht

The Prince and Princess of Wales and Princes William and Harry standing beside a bowl of Christmas pudding being mixed.
© IWM CT 1576


The Prince and Princess of Wales and Princes William and Harry help two yachtsmen stir the Christmas pudding in the HMY Britannia galley, 1991.

Britannia was the Royal Yacht of HM Queen Elizabeth II and the Royal Family, in service from 1954 until 1997.

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