The Daily Telegraph

Soldier who sheltered Queen from rain will lead final salute

Sergeant will command troops as senior street liner on route of procession from London to Windsor

- By Danielle Sheridan defence editor

When Sgt Richie Baxter held an umbrella over the Queen’s head as rain fell on RAF Marham on a blustery day in 2010, never did he think the day would come that he would be marching as part of the nation’s final goodbye to the monarch. But on Monday, instead of shielding the Queen from the cold and wet, the 38-year-old aircraft technician will command troops as a senior street liner for Her Majesty’s funeral.

As someone who comes from a military family, with both his siblings also serving across the Armed Forces, the historic importance of his part in Monday’s procession has not gone amiss. “It is important to make sure everything goes perfectly,” he said. “It’s all centred around a huge moment in history.”

Sgt Baxter will join 575 other members of the Royal Air Force, including personnel from Her Majesty’s special relationsh­ip units RAF Regiment, RAF College Cranwell, RAF Marham, the Royal Auxiliary Air Force and 603 (City of Edinburgh) Squadron, who have been rehearsing their roles for the Queen’s funeral every day since her death was announced.

Of the 576 personnel, 231 from RAF Cosford will line the streets across London and Windsor.

The Daily Telegraph spoke to personnel at RAF Halton, which has marked out a route at the base that replicates the funeral procession for the marching contingent­s, including the Band of the Royal Air Force.

Wing Commander Paul Crook, head of Royal Air Force Ceremonial, spoke highly of the “dedicated team of profession­als whose role is to maintain the best traditions and ethos of the Service”.

Wing Commander Crook acknowledg­ed that while the Queen’s death has been a “very solemn occasion”, it has also been the “highlight” of his career, “to be involved in the safe return of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth’s coffin from Scotland to London”.

“Me and my team at RAF Ceremonial are humbled to have had this honour bestowed upon us,” he said. “The profession­alism of everyone involved, air crew, our sister services and, of course, the Queen’s Colour Squadron demonstrat­ed the best of Service and Duty. We continue our duty to Her Majesty until her funeral and will serve His Majesty King Charles III with the same dedication and excellence.”

For Flt Lt Gina Dempsey, 42, marching in the Queen’s funeral will hold an extra element of sentimenta­lity for her. As an aerospace engineer, she followed in the footsteps of both her parents who served in the RAF.

However, with her 74-year-old father, James, in hospital, she has not been able to share the news of her involvemen­t. Instead, it will be a “complete surprise” for him when he sees his daughter delivering commands from his hospital bed.

“The Queen has been our Commander in Chief for my whole 22 years in the Air Force, and while I was in the cadet force,” she said. “She has been our patron. I have so much respect and love for my Queen. To take part in this feels like I am honouring her in the last way I can.”

Thinking back to the moment where Sgt Baxter met the Queen more than a decade ago, he cannot help but smile.

“The Queen thanked me before she got back into her car. I wasn’t expecting a thank you but it was just lovely to be acknowledg­ed.”

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