Ahead of the funeral of HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, on Saturday, 17th April 2021, we are publishing a series of personal recollections from John Bridgeman, one of our Board of Trustees, whose own life and work intersected with those of the Prince over the course of many years.
I first met Prince Philip when he visited Oxfordshire during my term as High Sheriff of the County. He was interested to learn that I worked for Alcan Aluminium, then Canada’s leading multinational corporation, and had twice lived in Canada. He was clearly a passionate Anglo-Canadian, had visited Canada many times and told me of his vivid memories of opening, in August 1954, Alcan’s flagship aluminium smelter and hydro-electric power complex at Kitimat in remote Northern British Columbia. The project was pioneering not only for its engineering excellence but also for its attention to environmental and social impact.
Prince Philip was characteristically modest in his description of the occasion, but I subsequently discovered that the Prince had been following closely the massive construction project in the British Press. Much of the Kitimat smelter’s output was destined for the UK—still very much in post-war reconstruction but desperately short of aluminium for its world class aircraft industry. Prince Philip had accepted an invitation to attend the British Commonwealth Games being held in Vancouver in August 1954 and let it be known that he would like to find time to visit the Kitimat Project. The Company was understandably delighted and made sure that the “opening” would be arranged to coincide with his visit. Prince Philip stayed for a full day, arriving at Kitimat Port on the Canadian Cruiser HMCS Ontario which fired a 21-gun salute in his honour—and that does not happen very often in Canadian inshore waters. He had time for everyone and gave the international workforce and the local First Nations people he met a fantastic morale boost.
Much later I became a Vice Chairman of London’s Canada Club of which Prince Philip had been Patron since 1954. The Prince kindly agreed to hold a Millennium Dinner in August 2000 at St James’s Palace, and initiate the Canada Club Prince Philip Award for a Club Member’s Services to the Environment. I had not forgotten a speech which the Prince had made to the World Wildlife Fund in New York in 1962. In this he had said: “Since the time of our Lord, that is in 1962 years, about a hundred different animals and the same number of birds have become extinct. Species that took at least 2.5 million years to develop have been wiped out for ever. And today another 250 species of animals and birds are in danger of extermination by the sheer callousness of mankind”. Prince Philip spoke with great passion again that night on the urgency of needing to take greater care of our planet, its habitats, and its wildlife. With an echo of his World Wildlife Fund speech, he said: “We rightly collect vast sums of money and go to endless trouble to preserve man-made treasures most of which serve no practical purpose, surely then we should also pay attention to conserving the living, God-made treasures of this world”.
During his amazing lifetime, the Duke of Edinburgh visited Canada over 70 times between 1950 and 2013 and always saw himself as a committed Anglo-Canadian. And he never lost his determination to engage whenever he could with those taking responsibility for the health of Planet Earth.
John Bridgeman CBE TD DL