The news that the spare to the Australian throne has been in the line of fire in Afghanistan — as revealed by New Idea — sheets home the changes being made to the house of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. In an almost total reversal of the rules, its members, who are trained servicemen and women, can now actually pick up a weapon and get stuck in.

Even more remarkable is that the Australian head of state gave her express permission for young Harry to take up arms. It makes one wonder if the same privilege would be extended to William. One suspects not. He’s needed around in case Charles goes to a royal heaven while Elizabeth II remains alive. Still, Harry is an important buffer against King Andrew.

The more expendable Andrew — fourth in line after Harry — broke the mould when he was allowed to fly helicopters during Thatcher’s Falklands folly and reports are that he came close to God on more than a few occasions, which might account for his derring-do, Boy’s Own attitude ever since.

The recent ancestors of the current royals must be spinning in their graves at the reversal. They were desk-bound and absolutely forbidden to be near any action. Prince Michael of Kent, Elizabeth’s first cousin who married Sydney divorcee Marie Christine von Reibnitz, was a Major in one of the regiments and by all accounts was good at his job. But to get promoted he needed to do service in Northern Ireland which was ruled out so he retreated to private life.

The Queen’s sailor father, King George VI, had many foot-stamping sessions with Winston Churchill who flatly refused his requests to be where the troops were. His temper became very frayed when Churchill himself ventured close to the front lines.

The Queen’s uncle, before coming Edward VIII, was occasionally sent to where the action was, but not too close and that infuriated him. When he abdicated the throne and became Duke of Windsor in WWII, he was given a minor role but again at arms length. As a consolation prize he was made war-time Governor of the Bahamas where his only battle was with cocktails. The same stay-at-home fate befell King George V, the Queen’s grandfather, who had to be content with his stamp collection while the battles raged far from Windsor Castle.

In another day and age, the editor of New Idea would be dealt with in the Tower of London. This is irresponsible journalism at its worst. Having a go at celebrities to boost sales is one thing, putting this young bloke’s life at risk is another and more than likely means that he’s on his way home again as we speak.

But what has happened as a result is that from now on the young royals who want to be more than decorative appendages on the balcony at Buckingham Palace can do do what their predecessors couldn’t — and that’s earn their money.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey