Tom Cargill

Chief Executive of Wilton Park

Guest blogger for FCDO Editorial

16th April 2021

Wilton Park reflects on the death of HRH The Duke of Edinburgh

Photo of HRH Prince Philip with the founder of Wilton Park Heinz Koeppler in 1968.
HRH Prince Philip with the founder of Wilton Park Heinz Koeppler in 1968.

In March 1968 His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh visited Wiston House to open the 100th conference of Wilton Park since its founding in 1946.

Originally hosted at a Prisoner of War camp of the same name in Buckinghamshire, Wilton Park emerged from a growing recognition of the responsibility the UK had to support the creation of democratic and political order in post-war Germany and Western Europe.

Wilton Park made a significant contribution to this reconstruction by hosting retreats bringing together leaders from across mainland Western Europe for honest and often blunt discussions. Discussions took place with British, American and Commonwealth counterparts on what a free and democratic society looks like in practice – a theme the Duke publicly has reflected on.

Just a few of the many thousands of attendees who had gone on to influence post- war Europe joined the 100th conference, opened by His Royal Highness, addressing the theme of ‘The United States and Europe – Political, Economic and Defence Issues’.

By this time Wilton Park’s role had evolved to providing a discrete space for off-the-record face-to-face dialogue and relationship building around global problems. This meant there could be no published record of the Duke’s comments, but his attendance offered a welcome endorsement of the values that still define our work today. Summarised in typically blunt fashion by our founder Anglo-German emigree Sir Heinz Koeppler as ‘bringing people together without fanfare to sort out common challenges’.

The example that the Duke set in seeking to provide rigorous practical service in support of the common good resonates with all of us at Wilton Park. His passing has made us all reflect on our work and also redoubled our commitment to continue to follow that example he set over so many decades.