The Daily Telegraph

Drills for top brass to get marching metronomic

Heads of the Armed Forces told to ‘up their game’ as Queen’s Sergeant Major steps in with music app

- By Danielle Sheridan Defence editor

‘It’s been a great leveller to be putting in the hours to practise this week in common with thousands of other soldiers’

THEY have reached the pinnacle of their careers as chiefs of their respective Forces, but rehearsing for Queen Elizabeth II’S funeral procession has proven a stark reminder that no one in the British military is above being put through their paces.

The Chief of the Defence Staff, Admiral Sir Tony Radakin, revealed that a Garrison Sergeant Major told the chiefs, including himself, at the rehearsal “to up their game” in order to perfect their marching for today’s ceremony.

The heads of the Royal Air Force, British Army and Royal Navy all told The Daily Telegraph that despite their seniority, they all understood the importance of polishing the ceremonial drill to a state of perfection.

Speaking of the huge effort involved in pulling the ceremony together, Sir Tony told Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg that it was warrant officers and non-commission­ed officers who looked at the “precise execution” starting at the top level with the chiefs, then “all the way down”.

It was Garrison Sergeant Major Andrew “Vern” Stokes who had the idea that the chiefs download a metronome app, which plays sounds at 75 beats a minute, in order to achieve the correct rhythm for the funeral procession.

Admiral Sir Ben Key, the First Sea Lord, told The Telegraph that the chiefs were impressed by the “imaginativ­e ways” GSM Stokes and his colleagues would diplomatic­ally issue feedback on their marching.

“They’d say ‘That wasn’t bad, sirs, but should we do it again to be absolutely right’ or, ‘You want to be the best you can be’. It was a way of saying ‘Round again’. It’s very valuable as we don’t want to let the side down,” Sir Ben said.

He added that while “we were talked to slightly differentl­y than if we had been juniors in basic training”, the chiefs understood the importance of ensuring “standards are up to the mark”.

He said: “There is no reason why as a senior officer you should be exempt from the most junior officer on parade.”

Sir Ben explained the complexiti­es of the drill, as marching has subtle difference­s across the three forces. “In the Navy our drill orders are given on the right foot, whereas in the others they are given on the left foot,” he said.

He also noted that the pace used in a funeral procession is different to any other pace that the military ordinarily uses, describing it as “not a quick march, nor is it as slow as a slow march”.

He said: “The first practice is moving at 75 steps a minute. The drum is played at this but it’s not something we are practised in doing and is not a natural walking pace.

“We have to get used to marching at that pace without swinging our arms, which is unnatural, and you have to sustain it for a long time.”

This is where GSM Stokes, of the Coldstream Guards, has come in.

Having held the role of the late Queen’s Sergeant Major since 2015, he has been central to previous procession­s, including the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral and most recently the jubilee celebratio­ns.

GSM Stokes told The Telegraph that he encouraged the chiefs to download a metronome app, widely used among musicians to meet timings, and practise walking around in their spare time to that pace.

He added: “I treat everyone the same whether it is the Chief of Defence Staff or members of the household, junior or senior. The outcome is the same, we want it to be absolutely brilliant, we want to represent the nation and the Commonweal­th.”

GSM Stokes said today’s funeral would be an exemplar of how all those involved “want to do their absolute best for Her Majesty and members of the Royal family”. He said: “We are doing things that are not normal, we haven’t seen the death of a monarch for years, there is a lot to remember and we have to get back to basics.”

Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston, the head of the RAF, reiterated that the chiefs were having to relearn old skills. “There isn’t much call on the chiefs these days for our marching ability, so a bit of practice was definitely in order.

“Our drill practice will have been a surprise for anyone passing through Hyde Park Barracks on Friday night, but the Drill Sergeants were superb. Like everyone else preparing for this momentous occasion, we want this to be an immaculate last parade for Her Majesty,” he said.

Chief of the General Staff General Sir Patrick Sanders stressed the importance of how “each and every one of us on parade, from the most junior to the most senior, wants to get it perfect for Her Majesty The Queen”.

He said: “What began as a functional method of quickly organising large numbers of discipline­d troops on the battlefiel­d will, on Monday, be repurposed to honour Her Majesty the Queen. It’s been a great leveller to be putting in the hours to practise this week in common with thousands of other soldiers.”

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 ?? ?? Clockwise from above: a full military dress rehearsal for Queen Elizabeth II’S funeral took place before dawn on Thursday last week; the Foot Guards’ master tailors at London’s Wellington Barracks work on uniforms; a Royal Navy sailor is kitted out for the big day; a farrier from the King’s Troop, Royal Horse Artillery works with a hot horseshoe
Clockwise from above: a full military dress rehearsal for Queen Elizabeth II’S funeral took place before dawn on Thursday last week; the Foot Guards’ master tailors at London’s Wellington Barracks work on uniforms; a Royal Navy sailor is kitted out for the big day; a farrier from the King’s Troop, Royal Horse Artillery works with a hot horseshoe

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