Vale, Grand Duke Jean
Today, let us celebrate a modern warrior king, or grand duke, as it was.
Related to King Louis XIV through his father and the famed Dutch-German House of Nassau through his mother, Jean Benoît Guillaume Robert Antoine Louis Marie Adolphe Marc d’Aviano was born at Berg Castle in Luxembourg on 5 January 1921 and was the eldest son of Grand Duchess Charlotte, who had assumed the duchy’s throne the previous year immediately after the country was liberated from the Kaiser’s forces by the Allies.
Jean was sent to Ampleforth College in England at age 13, where he served in the school’s officer’s training corps which was commanded by a Great War-era Grenadier Guards officer. When he returned home from abroad in 1938 at the age of 17, Jean was commissioned as a lieutenant in the Corps des Gendarmes et Volontaires— the country’s mixed two-company police and volunteer corps.
(Photos: Collection MNHM /Cour Grand Ducale MNHM – Musée National d’Histoire Militaire Luxumbourg)
On 10 May 1940, three German panzer divisions swept through the Duchy and by the end of the day the Luxembourgish forces had laid down their arms. The royal family fled to England and later the U.S. to set up a government in exile. This “Free Luxembourg” government later raised a 70-man force overseas who formed a four-gun artillery battery attached to the Free Belgian Brigade.
As for Jean, he fell back on his previous experience in British officer training and, after a stint at Sandhurst, joined the 3rd battalion, Irish Guards, as a lieutenant in 1943.
He landed at Normandy at Arromanches five days after D-Day and went on to serve as a liaison officer with the rank of captain in the 32nd Brigade, fighting in the Battle of Caen– which was no pushover-– and in the liberation of Brussels.
He reentered Luxembourg in September 1944 but kept on trucking with the British Army through Arnheim and the fight into Germany itself, only retiring from active British service in 1947. He would later serve as the Irish Guard’s titular Colonel from 1984 through 2000.
When he became Grand Duke in 1964, he became head of the country’s military, which by 1967 was expanded to a full brigade in size under NATO. Having been decidedly beefed up after its experiences in 1914 and 1940, the Duchy moved to conscription to swell the ranks.
Jean retained his rank of general until he left the throne, retiring in favor of his son, Henri, in 2000 at age 79, having first put on a uniform more than six decades prior.
Grand Duke Jean died 23 April, aged 98.
His mortal remains will be exhibited at the Grand-Ducal Palace of Luxembourg with the public eager to pay a last tribute to his royal highness is invited:
Thursday, May 2, from 10.00 to 12.00 and from 14.00 to 19.00.
Friday, May 3 from 10.00 to 12.00 and from 14.00 to 16.00.
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