Role in Philip’s funeral ‘has not quite sunk in’ for service personnel

Catherine Wylie, PA
·3-min read

The magnitude of being involved in the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral has not quite sunk in for members of the military, a Royal Navy commander has said.

Philip’s close association with the military will be on show at his ceremonial funeral this weekend, with elements of the Royal Navy, RAF and Army present during an eight-minute procession in the grounds of Windsor Castle.

The duke had a distinguished career in the Navy, and while he gave up active service in 1951 he remained closely connected to the Navy and other military organisations throughout his public life.

Lieutenant Commander Hywell Morgan, commanding officer on HMS Magpie, is among hundreds of military personnel rehearsing this week for the funeral at Army Training Centre Pirbright, near Woking, Surrey.

Looking ahead to Saturday, he told the PA news agency: “It’s a slightly nerve-racking experience really. I don’t think the magnitude of it has quite sunk in.

“It’s an incredible privilege to be involved given the connection between the unit I currently command and the Duke of Edinburgh’s own command back in the early 1950s.”

In July 1950, Philip was promoted to lieutenant commander and given his first command of HMS Magpie – a name that lives on in the current Navy fleet.

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Soldiers from the Household Calvary Life Guards prepare their uniform (Victoria Jones/PA)

Lt Cmdr Morgan, from the Rhondda Valley in South Wales, said: “There’s definitely a sense of following in the footsteps of greats, even though our vessels are considerably different in scope and size.”

He described the last few days as a “baptism of fire”, adding: “I don’t think the magnitude has quite sunk in for me personally, I think for some of the others as well.

“But as we line up ready to march off on Saturday I’m sure it will sink in, and the true impact of just the scale of that event will sink in.”

Pirbright was chosen for rehearsals due to its proximity to Windsor and the infrastructure that allows for regular Covid-19 testing and accommodation.

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The Royal Regiment of Scotland 4 Scots (the Highlanders) rehearse for Saturday (Victoria Jones/PA)

The majority of the personnel gathered on Wednesday were in their barrack dress as they practised parading and bands rehearsed music in a large space on the site.

Captain Gemma Darrington, operations officer for 27th Regiment, The Royal Logistic Corps, spoke of the importance of the rehearsals being Covid compliant.

She said organisers are “making sure we were doing everything that society would do and making sure our people are as safe as possible”, adding that personnel have been subject to Covid tests and social distancing is enforced.

“Everything is made more difficult by Covid. Simple things – normally you can accommodate 1,000 people here, but that’s been reduced to 500 people, and so key for us is keeping bubbles as small as possible, so if anyone does contract it it’s affecting as few people as possible.

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(PA Graphics)

“Again, you want to reduce that spread. It is just that detailed planning of how you get everyone in here in that Covid-compliant manner and safely.

“It’s a huge honour. I don’t think we’ve really had time to think about it, and the magnitude of the event that we’re supporting, because we have been very busy.

“But I very much look forward to taking that time on Saturday when the service is going ahead and take the time to think about the royal family, and what they’re going through, and really paying our respects in that way.

“But absolutely, we know we’re playing a part in history here and we do feel very privileged to be in that role.”