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He wanted only what every journalist of the time did: an exclusive interview with the Duke of Windsor. What he got was an astonishing proposition that sent him on an urgent top-secret visit to the White House and a once-in-a-lifetime story that was too hot to print—until now.
December 1991 | Volume 42, Issue 8
Then he laughed. I then recited to him my experiences in Nassau just as I have put them down here. As I came to the important remarks, the President grew greatly agitated. He was as agitated in his way as Windsor was. He could barely listen to the words that I spoke. He looked away. His hands trembled. His whole body shook. It was an unparalleled exhibition.
I felt it necessary to say to him that this did not represent my sentiments but that I had construed it as my duty to tell him and I hoped he was not offended. He said no; he was glad that I had told him. 1 asked him if he were I what message would he send to Drury.
Suddenly he exploded. “When little Windsor says he doesn’t think there should be revolution in Germany, I tell you, Fulton, I would rather have April’s opinion on that than his. Now, how to answer him. You’ll have to be very careful about that because if all this ever comes out you want to be in the clear. Otherwise, it might do you a great deal of harm personally. Why don’t you be a good come-on guy? That’s good Americanism.”
And here the President, to my complete amazement, dictated the following letter for me to send to Captain Drury—“Bad boy,” he said, “bad boy.”
Here is the letter:
V. D. Drury A.D.C. to H.R.H. the Duke of Windsor Government House, Bahamas
Dear Captain Drury:
On my way home from Florida, I stopped off in Washington and had a talk with my friend. His answer to my conversation was that in Washington today everything is on a twenty-fourhour basis and no man has the gift of being able to read the future.
If you have anything else in mind, let me know.
What did the President mean? Was he playing this as an ace in the hole? Or is this just a come-on game? Who can tell? Certainly I cannot.
(I fully appreciate the danger to which I am exposed as a result of all this. I confided everything to Walter Karig [a journalist who often wrote for Liberty ] in case I should die too suddenly on the way home from Washington. When I started to tell him about it, I crept to the door of the hotel room in the Willard and flung open the door. Three chambermaids were listening outside, and I chased them away.)
Having dictated the letter, he [the President] then proceeded to tell me something about the Duke of Windsor. This began when I said that the Duke indicated to me that he had not felt he could discuss these matters with the President when they lunched on the Tuscaloosa .
“Indeed not,” said the President. “I would not let him. The nearest we came to discussing the war was when I praised the great courage and fighting spirit of the British people and he thanked me for these expressions. Then I said to him, ‘Whatever became of your father’s stamp collection?’ He said that it was put at the disposal of the Empire and that they were only Empire stamps. I told him I knew that very well. I had often seen the stamp collection and had frequently talked with his father.
“Then I said, ‘You know your father was a Navy man. You ought to have heard him express his opinion of the Germans. He used every short word known to a sailor.’
“The Duke replied, ‘Yes, I know that my father felt that way,’ and opened his mouth to say something else but didn’t.”
The President then told me how the Duke when he was King kept Mrs. Simpson, who was still Mrs. Simpson, at Fort Belvedere which is on the grounds of Windsor Castle Park. The President went on to say, “Every day from the offices of the Prime Minister in Downing Street, there would be brought to the King a dispatch box. It was the same thing as a briefcase except that it was made of wood and lacquered and locked. These were the most confidential papers of the Empire.
“The next day the Prime Minister called to see the Duke at Fort Belvedere and found all these papers strewn about the piano for any one to see and especially Mrs. Simpson. Now, no one doubted that Mrs. Simpson was loyal to the King, but the fact was that she had played around not with the Cliveden Set but with the Ribbentrop Set. [Cliveden was Lord Astor’s home on the Thames, where it was reputed that anti-German guests, including Churchill, were not welcome. Suspicions about Wallis Simpson as a Nazi collaborator would become a theme in biographies of the Windsors.]
“This put an idea into Baldwin’s head. Made him nervous. When Edward threatened to abdicate, Baldwin called his bluff.
“He said, ‘Maybe it would be a good idea.’
“Then the Duke went over to a castle in Austria and associated with German friends. Perhaps that was all right but the English felt suspicious about it. When the war came on he was made a liaison officer between the French and British armies. He was there at the most intimate councils of the commanders in chief of these two armies. He knew everything that was going on.
“Sometimes he would suddenly decide that there was nothing more for him to do and he would go back to Paris, not just over night but for three or four days.