The Daily Telegraph

A veteran with 81 years of service bows out and we should all salute him

- By Harry Mount

The Armed Forces are the spine running through Prince Philip’s life. His attachment to them predates even his 73-year marriage to the Queen. He joined the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, as a cadet in 1939, when he was still a teenager.

The Navy became Philip’s refuge after an intensely rackety youth: born into the Greek royal family in 1921, he was flung out of Greece, along with them, when he was aged only one.

He’d happened to join the Royal Navy at just the right time for an ambitious young officer in search of action. He fought bravely in the war in the Battle of Crete and the Battle of Cape Matapan, rising to become a first lieutenant in 1942, at the age of only 21. And he was there, in Tokyo Bay, when the Japanese surrendere­d.

After the war, Prince Philip and the young Princess Elizabeth spent what they see as one of the happiest spells of their life: moving to Malta in 1949, where he was first lieutenant on the destroyer HMS Chequers, and she was a happy naval wife and mother. In 1950, he was given command of the frigate HMS Magpie.

He was still only 29, with a glittering naval career ahead of him. Experts say there was every chance that he would follow his uncle, Lord Mountbatte­n, as First Sea Lord.

It was not to be. Marriage to the future Queen of England in 1947 was bound to curtail his naval career but no one knew that would happen as soon as it did. After the Queen’s accession to the throne in 1952, when she was 25 and he only 30, his career had to play second fiddle to hers.

In June 1952, he was promoted to Commander but he knew his naval future was now honorary rather than active.

Neverthele­ss, he has kept his affection for the Armed Forces alive through his official positions, chief among them Colonelshi­p of The Rifles (and he maintains another 16 honorary positions in the Armed Forces).

He has been associated with the regiment for 67 years, since 1953, the year of the Coronation, when he became Colonel-in-chief of The Wiltshire Regiment (Duke of

Edinburgh’s), forerunner of The Rifles. Yesterday, you could see how devoted he was to the role by the attentive way he talked to all four buglers from the Band and Bugles of The Rifles.

An infantry regiment, The Rifles was only formed in 2007, but it is the result of amalgamati­ons of some of the most distinguis­hed regiments in the British Army’s history: the Devonshire and Dorset Regiment; the Royal Gloucester­shire, Berkshire and

Wiltshire Regiment; the Royal Green Jackets, the Light Infantry; the Rifle Volunteers; and the Royal Rifle Volunteers. As a result of these complex origins, The Rifles are now the county regiment of no less than 13 counties, including Berkshire, home to Windsor Castle.

Look at the battle honours on the regiment’s belt badge and you’re looking at the history of the British Army. The Rifles, in all its previous incarnatio­ns, has fought everywhere from Gibraltar in 1779 to the Battle of Waterloo, Ypres, the Somme, El Alamein, Anzio, Pegasus Bridge in Normandy and Korea and, in recent years, Iraq and Afghanista­n.

So, yesterday a distinguis­hed veteran, who has served his country and its Armed Forces for 81 years, was saying a sad farewell to a regiment that, in all its guises, has itself served Britain for nearly 250 years.

It is an unparallel­ed record in history and is unlikely ever to be matched again. We salute you, Prince Philip, as you have saluted so many soldiers, sailors and airmen in your extraordin­ary life and career.

Harry Mount is author of How England Made the English (Penguin)

 ??  ?? Prince Philip as Colonel-in-chief of The Wiltshire Regiment (Duke of Edinburgh’s) in 1960
Prince Philip as Colonel-in-chief of The Wiltshire Regiment (Duke of Edinburgh’s) in 1960
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