The Daily Telegraph
It was for her the Armed Forces risked life and limb
It was with the greatest and most personal regret that members of the Armed Forces learnt of the news of the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. With the greatest regret – albeit one shared by the nation – because our beloved and longest serving monarch had died. And the most personal regret because, for members of the Armed Forces, Queen Elizabeth II was our Commander in Chief to whom each of us, on our joining the Royal Navy, the Army or the Royal Air Force, had sworn an Oath of Allegiance. That makes it a personal loss for soldiers, sailors, airmen and women and marines. It was for her as Sovereign that we were prepared to risk life and limb – not for the Government, but for Her Majesty and the people of this country.
Some might think that such a personal relationship a rather academic or historical link, but it has real substance. Her Majesty, with the help of other members of the Royal family, took very seriously her honorary duties and formed very close associations with the country’s ships and naval bases, the regiments and corps of the British Army and the stations and squadrons of the Royal Air Force. Her Majesty’s willingness to serve her country in uniform during the Second World War was the starting point of the loyalty owed to her, buttressed by the oath that we all swore. Yet it was her example of leadership that inspired us all to continue in the most difficult of circumstances, whether over Suez, in the jungles of Borneo, in the South Atlantic or on the Falklands, in Northern Ireland, the Balkans, or more recently in Iraq or Afghanistan.
The motto of the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, where all British Army officers begin their training, is “Serve to Lead”. For some this takes a little understanding, but the dedication of the Queen to her duties and to her subjects was a perfect example to emulate and follow. How easy would it have been for her while on holiday at Balmoral to have asked the then Prince of Wales to represent her in bidding farewell to Boris Johnson as Prime Minister and undertake the symbolic kissing of hands with Liz Truss as she assumed the role. But the Queen did her duty to the last – she served her people throughout her life and thereby earned the right to lead them. It was sacrificial leadership of the highest quality and an inspiring example to follow.
In the midst of the sadness surrounding the death of our Sovereign, our personal highlights and memories must never fade. Images of years gone by when the Queen, mounted side-saddle on her favourite charger, led her Foot Guards up the Mall after another Trooping the Colour blend with her appearances on the balcony of Buckingham Palace admiring the Red Arrows overhead as they flew in salute with red, white and blue trails cutting the sky. Or, indeed, images of Her Majesty reviewing the Fleet from the vantage of her much loved, but sadly missed, Royal Yacht Britannia. These memories captured in films, photographs and paintings will endure in perpetuity – as will the pride in the hearts of many a serviceman or servicewoman who has had a medal pinned on their chests by Her Majesty.
For many, meeting the Queen was a moment of tongue-tied panic, but for those fortunate enough to relish the moment, there was the realisation that she was, after all, a human being like the rest of us. She could listen, she could smile, she could ask questions and in just a moment over a handshake, she could make a memory.
We all have our personal recollections. In 2006, Her Majesty attended a parade in Belfast to mark the disbandment of the Royal Irish Regiment Home Service battalions, as the Army’s campaign in Northern Ireland during The Troubles formally came to an end. She had flown to Belfast in a queen’s flight aircraft, as had my wife and I in my capacity as the then Chief of the General Staff. The parade over, Her Majesty departed to the airport for the return journey. My wife and I followed in our car shortly after. Unfortunately, mid journey I received a message saying that our aircraft had a technical fault, and we were grounded. A few minutes later a message came from Her Majesty: “If you hurry up, I will give you a lift in my aircraft.” Her motorcycle escort was sent back to, indeed, “hurry” us up.
I had forgotten that I had told the Queen earlier that we had to get back to London for our daughter’s 18th birthday party. We duly arrived at the airport, and on climbing into the aircraft, Her Majesty said: “You sit here, you sit there, and we will all have tea.” And later, as we got off: “Please wish your daughter a very happy birthday.” Such a privilege and such a memory form the bedrock of deep admiration and unswerving loyalty. Over a very long reign of 70 years, Queen Elizabeth II made memories for so many at home, among the Commonwealth and across the world. We will not see her like again.
However, the monarchy continues. It will not be the same and it will evolve around the personality of our new Sovereign. That is one of the abiding strengths of our unwritten constitution. As Her Majesty breathed her last, a new Sovereign was proclaimed. The loyalty of our servicemen and servicewomen passed in a second to our new Commander in Chief: “God save the King”!