One month later…a reflection on Her Majesty’s funeral
On Thursday 8th September the whole nation was informed that the one stable figure in our lives, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, had passed away peacefully. For a whole generation of soldiers this meant that London Bridge had fallen and the plans that had been in the making for many years would spring into action.
When I joined the Band of the Scots Guards in 1991, we were already in a cycle of playing through the music for the Funeral of Her Majesty, things would be tweaked but in essence the plan had been in place for many years. When I left the Regular Army and joined the Band of the Honourable Artillery Company as a Reservist, I was immediately made aware that we too had a part to play when the time came. Some 30+ years from when I joined the Army we were made aware of the loss of the Queen and that well-oiled plan sprang into action just as it had done some 20 years before when Her Majesty the Queen Mother passed away. I was fortunate to have been part of that parade, too.
As a Reservist I am particularly proud to have been able to be part of this world event. The HAC has a very special role in the City of London and as such fires Gun Salutes on State Occasions at the Tower of London. These include Royal Birthdays and Royal Deaths. On Friday 9th September the Regiment fired a Salute and in the evening, the Band rehearsed our part in the Proclamation, the event that would be happening on Saturday 10th. On the day we marched from the official residence of the Lord Mayor, Mansion House, to take up our position facing the Royal Exchange in the City of London. Following the Proclamation, we struck up playing the National Anthem, only the second time this had happened in the name of the King since 1936, the first having been an hour earlier at St James’s Palace when the same ceremony had happened in central London.
From Monday 12thSeptember life became like a whirlwind for the week with day rehearsals and, crucially, early morning rehearsals all designed to honour Her Majesty’s reign culminating with her being laid to rest in St. George’s Chapel, Windsor. I attended rehearsals in London from Monday through to Wednesday when I was told that I was required to join the Band of the Grenadier Guards to be part of the procession up the Long Walk and into Windsor Castle. We had rehearsals in barracks to rehearse the music as well as another early morning, in the pitch black, on the ground to get us ready for the 19th September, the day of Her Majesty’s Funeral.
On the Funeral Day we marched from the Barracks in Windsor, through the crowds that had amassed to say their final goodbye to our forming up point where we waited for the arrival of the State Hearse. Once it had arrived, the Garrison Sgt Major gave us the command ‘By the centre, slow march’ and we set off from outside a lonely farm on the Windsor estate, making our way back through the huge crowds and onto the Long Walk towards Windsor Castle. Although smaller in length to London, this procession was formed up of Her Majesty’s personal troops from the Household Cavalry, Foot Guards from the Queen’s Company of the 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards, the Bands of the Household Cavalry and Grenadier Guards along with the Massed Pipes and Drums drawn from Regiments throughout the Army. As we moved through the crowds, the castle seemed so far into the distance.
Once we arrived within the castle quadrangle His Majesty the King, the Princess Royal, The Prince of Wales, Duke of Sussex, Prince Andrew, Prince Edward along with other Senior Royal figures joined us for the last part of the march through the Castle and down the hill until we could see St. George’s Chapel on our right.
Once we got to the bottom of the hill the pipes struck up and we marched round to the steps of the Chapel to be greeted by a Guard of Honour from the 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards. Once all were in place, the Bearer Party from the Queen’s Company carried Her Majesty into St. George’s Chapel for the last time.
This for me was a duty I never expected to be part of once I left the Regular Army. I am proud to have been part of this piece of world history and grateful for the support from Forest School in allowing me to be part of this incredible occasion.