The late Duke of Edinburgh was the Corps’ Colonel-in-Chief for fifty years. He was appointed by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on 9 June 1969 and remained in the role until he passed away on 9 April 2021. However, HRH Prince Philip was not REME’s first Colonel-in-Chief. That honour belonged to Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent and Princess of Greece and Denmark.

 Black and white image of two women, one Princess Marina, stood side by side in front of a building. Two men stand on either side of the women, one in a suit and one in dress uniform.

The Duchess outside the Sergeants’ Mess in Arborfield with Regimental Sergeant Major and Mrs Sheila Beere, and Major General Redman on 17th June 1966. A:1975.1361.129. © Crown Copyright, usable under Open Government Licence.

Princess Marina was born on 13 December 1906 in Athens. She was the third and youngest daughter of Prince Nicholas of Greece and Denmark, and Grand Duchess Elena Vladimirova of Russia. Princess Marina’s grandfather was King George I of Greece.

The Danish element of her titles came from her father’s links to the German House of Oldenburg, branches of which ruled Denmark for about four hundred years. Marina’s mother was the only child of Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich of Russia and Duchess Marie of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, a Grand Duchy in northern Germany. Both of Marina’s parents were first cousins of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia who was killed along with his family following the 1917 Revolution.

Marina spent most of her early life at Tatoi Palace, a large royal estate about twenty miles from Athens. She was brought up as a devout member of the Greek Orthodox Church, something that was encouraged by her grandmother, Queen Olga. Marina and her family often travelled outside of Greece. Her first recorded visit to Britain was in 1910, when she met her Godmother and future mother-in-law, Queen Mary.

Her idyllic life came to an end in March 1913, when her grandfather King George was assassinated in the Greek city of Thessaloniki. A period of great political instability and social unrest followed. The Greek monarchy was eventually overthrown in 1924 as a result of their loss in the Greco-Turkish War that ended in 1922. Marina and her family were forced into exile.

While in London in 1932, the Princess met Prince George, the fourth son of King George V and Queen Mary. He was 30 when they met, as he was born on 20 December 1902 in Sandringham, Norfolk. They were actually second cousins through their mutual connections to the Danish royal family.

The betrothal was announced on 9 October 1934, with the date of the wedding set for 29 November of the same year. Prince George was created HRH Duke of Kent three days after his betrothal to Marina was announced. The Princess became the Duchess following their marriage. Two ceremonies were arranged: a formal Anglican one, and another conducted according to the tenets of the Greek Orthodox Church.

The former was the large, traditional ceremony at Westminster Abbey we have come to expect from a royal wedding. Marina chose to wear a gown created by the designer Edward Molyneux (1891 – 1974). It was made from white and silver brocade and was said to have shimmered in the bright lights illuminating the dim November day. The Princess requested it be made in part by Russian seamstresses, to show solidarity with those affected by the Revolution in her mother’s home country. Some of the gown’s embroidery included English roses in recognition of her new life. It was the first royal wedding to be broadcast on radio, so many people heard the couple exchange their vows. The control room was situated beneath the tomb of the Unknown Warrior.

 Black and white photograph of Princess Marina sitting in a white wedding dress and veil, train laid out in front. Signed at the bottom in black ink.

Princess Marina in her wedding dress, taken on the day of the ceremony. Image in the public domain.

The second ceremony was a much smaller affair that took place in Buckingham Palace’s private chapel. It was converted into a Greek Orthodox chapel for the occasion. The King and Queen, as well as all the bridesmaids and the groom’s brothers, were in attendance.

The Duke and Duchess moved into 3 Belgrave Square, very near Buckingham Palace, soon after their marriage. Marina began her support for many charitable organisations, something that was to characterise the rest of her life. They had three children: Prince Edward (b.1935), Princess Alexandra (b.1936) and Prince Michael of Kent (b.1942). Sadly, the Duke was killed in an aircraft accident on 25 August 1942 while on active duty with the Royal Air Force (RAF).

The Duchess continued her work as a patron of numerous charities. She also took on a number of honorary military roles, one of which was as Colonel-in-Chief of REME. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II made the appointment in October 1963, on the occasion of the Corps’ twenty-first birthday. Two years after this, REME’s senior officers decided to present a jewelled brooch to Princess Marina in recognition of her ongoing support for the Corps and its activities. The well-known jewellers Aspreys was commissioned to produce the brooch. It was to be paid for by subscriptions from all serving REME personnel.

 Photograph of Princess Marina wearing a long pink/purple coat with brooch on collar and white hat, stood outside talking to a senior army officer. Another officer looks on with his back to the camera.

The Duchess speaking with Colonel H G Frost during her visit to the School of Electronic Engineering at Arborfield on Thursday 9th May 1968. The brooch can clearly be seen on her lapel. E:10.2708.065. © Crown Copyright, usable under Open Government Licence.

Aspreys was founded in Surrey in 1781. They began as silk printers, but soon gained a reputation for selling luxury goods. They moved to London’s New Bond Street in 1847, and were awarded their first Royal Warrant by Queen Victoria fifteen years later. A further Royal Warrant was awarded by King Edward VII in 1889. Apart from REME, Aspreys has had many other famous customers. George Harrison commissioned a chess set for Ringo Starr based on the drummer’s hands in 1973, and the Maharaja of Patiala ordered five luggage trunks, one for each of his wives to use, in 1930.

The brooch takes the form of a REME cap badge, an inch and a quarter high. A document in the Museum’s Archives describes the jewel in the following technical terms:

"The crown is set with brilliant cut diamonds and cut rubies. The title banner is set of blue sapphires with the letters “REME” in platinum carved and brought on. The horse is brilliant cut diamonds with a ruby eye and platinum chain. The globe is a cabochon sapphire with the map in diamonds; the lightning flash is of calibre cut yellow sapphires."

 Jewelled brooch in the shape of the REME cap badge with horse chained to the globe wearing a crown, scroll reading " REME " .

A close-up of the brooch.

It was collected from Aspreys on 27 April 1965 and presented to the Duchess at an informal ceremony held at Kensington Palace on Tuesday 18 May 1965. Present were Major General R B Stockdale, Lieutenant General Sir John Hackett, Major General D A K Redman and Major General L H Atkinson. The Duchess was delighted to receive the gift and she always wore it on the many visits she made to REME, until she tragically passed away in 1968.

The brooch was returned to the Corps by Prince Edward, Duke of Kent in 1970. On 20 February 1970, the Corps committee decided:

"the brooch should be held in London in the vaults of Glyn Mills and worn by the wife of the serving DEME (A) at important social functions. An explanatory note giving the background to this decision is to be published in ‘The Craftsman’." (Glyn, Mills & Company was a private bank founded in 1753, but it became part of the Royal Bank of Scotland in 1969.)

The note, and an accompanying photograph, appeared in the October 1970 issue of the magazine.

The recent appointment of Her Royal Highness The Countess of Wessex as REME’s new Colonel-in-Chief led the Corps to decide to commission a new brooch. This was presented to the Countess during her visit to MOD Lyneham on 28 September 2022. It was made by the firm G Collins and Son, which has been based in Tunbridge Wells since 1985; they have also looked after the Queen’s personal collection of jewellery since 2000.

 Jewelled brooch in the shape of the REME cap badge presented inside a box with dark velvet cushion and white satin lined lid.

A view of the brooch presented to Her Royal Highness The Countess of Wessex in September 2022. © REME, Crown Copyright.

As a result of these developments, Princess Marina’s brooch was loaned to the Museum for display. We are delighted to have included it in the exhibition devoted to the Corps’ Colonels-in-Chief, where it can be enjoyed by all our visitors.

 Museum display of two portraits, one of Countess of Wessex and one of Prince Philip, below is a small rectangular display case with brooch sitting on a cushion inside. Red background.

A view of the display including the case purposely built to display the brooch.

Richard Davies, Museum Curator. Published in The Craftsman, March 2023.