November 16, 1937 – Deaths of the Grand Ducal Family of Hesse and by Rhine

by Scott Mehl


The Hereditary Grand Duke and Grand Duchess with their sons. Photo: personal collection

November 16, 1937 – Deaths of the Grand Ducal Family of Hesse and by Rhine

On November 16, 1937, a scheduled flight left Germany, bound for London. It was scheduled to stop in Brussels, however the weather didn’t allow for a safe landing and the pilot continued on to Ostend with the intent of landing there. Unfortunately, the weather was just as bad, with almost no visibility. While attempting to land, the plane clipped a chimney on a factory near the airport. The plane was torn apart and crashed. The seven passengers, pilot and three crew members were all killed.

On board the plane were most of the members of the Grand Ducal Family of Hesse and by Rhine – the Hereditary Grand Duke Georg Donatus, his wife the former Princess Cecilie of Greece, their two elder children, Ludwig and Alexander, and Georg Donatus’ widowed mother, the Dowager Grand Duchess Eleonore. They were heading to London for the wedding of Georg Donatus’ younger brother, Prince Ludwig, to Margaret Geddes scheduled for November 20th. Traveling with the family were the children’s nurse, and Baron Joachim Riedesel zu Eisenbach – the intended Best Man at Ludwig’s wedding. The couple’s youngest child, Johanna, had remained in Darmstadt. The Hereditary Grand Duchess Cecilie was heavily pregnant with her fourth child at the time, and the remains of her unborn son were found amongst the wreckage. This has led to speculation that she may have gone into labor while in flight, which would explain the pilot’s attempt to land in Ostend despite the weather conditions. It is also possible that the distress and trauma of the crash caused her to give birth to the stillborn child.

Once news of the plane crash reached London, a wedding was quickly arranged for Prince Ludwig and Margaret on the 17th, after which the couple flew to Belgium to visit the crash site and make arrangements to bring the remains home to Darmstadt. The wedding was already overshadowed by grief. Grand Duke Ernst Ludwig, the father of Ludwig and Georg Donatus had just died a few weeks earlier. Despite this, it was decided that the wedding would go on as scheduled.

The funeral was held several days later, attended by Prince Ludwig and his new wife, and most of Cecilie’s family. These included her parents, Prince Andrew of Greece and Princess Alice of Battenberg; her three sisters with their husbands – Margarita, The Princess of Hohenlohe-Langenburg, Theodora, The Margravine of Baden, and Sophie, Princess Christoph of Hesse; her brother, Philip, now the Duke of Edinburgh; her maternal uncle, Lord Louis Mountbatten (later Earl Mountbatten of Burma), and her maternal grandmother, The Dowager Marchioness of Milford Haven. The family was all buried in the burial ground next to the New Mausoleum in the Rosenhöhe, Darmstadt.

Prince Ludwig and Princess Margaret with their niece, Princess Johanna.
Photo: The Esoteric Curiosa

The Grand Ducal couple’s young daughter, Johanna, was adopted by Ludwig and Margaret. However, less than two years she contracted meningitis and died. She is buried with the rest of the family.