Army engineers worked around the clock to make sure the Duke of Edinburgh’s specially-designed Land Rover hearse was ready in time for his funeral.
A team from the Corps of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) was deployed to prepare the hearse after the Duke was admitted to hospital in February. His month-long stay at the age of 99 was the longest period Prince Philip had spent in a hospital.
Details about the hearse are a closely-guarded secret but sources have suggested the converted Land Rover has an open-top design. It is also understood to be from the Land Rover Defender series.
Two vehicles were commissioned from Land Rover and converted for “belt and braces” purposes but only one will be used at the funeral on Saturday. Sources have suggested one vehicle is green and the other black and it is unclear which will be deployed.
The Corps of engineers, formed in 1942, is responsible “for maintaining and repairing the Army’s equipment”.
According to a source, REME had worked with the Duke and alongside Land Rover to modify two Land Rover Defenders some time ago. In recent weeks, when it became clear that Prince Philip was seriously ill, Army engineers replaced some parts and ran checks on the vehicles being prepared.
The Ministry of Defence has refused to discuss its role in preparing the hearse for the funeral. The Duke’s unusual request for a Land Rover to carry his coffin was made public by Buckingham Palace when it unveiled details of the funeral procession, restricted by the pandemic to the confines of Windsor Castle.
A senior palace official said: “They are specially commissioned Land Rover vehicles. They are modified to carry a coffin. The Duke of Edinburgh had a hand, many, many years ago, in the design of these vehicles. There are just two of them, of course, for belt and braces.”
Under the original, pre-pandemic plans, it is thought the Land Rover hearse would have been deployed to take the Duke’s body from Wellington Arch in central London on a 23-mile journey to St George’s Chapel inside Windsor Castle for the funeral service.
The new funeral plan involves just an eight-minute procession that begins at the state entrance of Windsor Castle with the coffin being placed on the back of the Land Rover and ends at the chapel nearby. The service begins at 3pm with a national minute’s silence.
Prince Philip had, according to reports, often remarked to the Queen “Just stick me in the back of a Land Rover and drive me to Windsor” when discussing his funeral arrangements.
Land Rovers have been popular with the Royal family ever since King George VI, the Queen's father, was given the 100th vehicle of the first Land Rover production line in 1948. Two years ago, Prince Philip survived unscathed when his Land Rover collided with another car near Sandringham House and flipped over.
It’s not entirely novel to use a Land Rover as a hearse. Foley, a family firm that has specialised in customising Land Rovers for more than 50 years, has converted five Land Rover Defenders into hearses. One of them was sent to the Falkland Islands.
The company also boasts the Duke as a client. In 2016, Foley “hand built” for the Duke a Land Rover Defender 130 Gun Bus for use on the Sandringham Estate. It is not thought that vehicle is the one being used for his funeral.