To have been recommended by the South Devon Policing Area as their candidate to represent Devon and Cornwall Police at her funeral was a great honour and it was with a great sense of pride that I told my family I had been put forward. To be told that I had been selected by the Chief Officer Group was astounding and hugely humbling.
The news kickstarted frenetic activity involving lots of boot polish, Brasso and looking at train timetables.
It also prompted a significant amount of thought about Her Late Majesty, her impact on the nation, the world and me as an individual. It is a sad fact of life that ‘you don’t know what you have got until it is gone’ and I am guilty (amongst millions) of taking for granted what she gave to the nation, for such a significant period of time.
This also prompted reflection on the monarchy as a whole and the parallels the monarchy as an institution has with the organisations that bear the crown on any insignia, the Police in particular. Public service, professionalism, accountability and dedication are attributes that we strive for in our daily work, attributes that if not met, result in a loss of trust and public confidence, attributes that the Queen embodied and never let slip.
I travelled to London, thanked by members of Great Western Railway for my ‘service and dedication’. This theme of appreciation followed me everywhere I identified myself as a police officer. The gravity of what I was about to participate in growing with every minute.
I was at Lambeth Police headquarters for 0500 hrs on the morning of September 19th and by 0600 hrs was walking through the still dark streets towards the Mall, not alone, but with representatives from each of the UK national forces, and from overseas territories including Anguilla, Barbados, The Cayman Islands, The British Virgin Islands and the Falklands. We encountered members of the public as soon as we had crossed the Thames. People wrapped up from the overnight chill, camped out on deck chairs, clapping as we passed.
I have maintained that if any officer needs a morale boost or to re-engage with what policing is, all they need do is spend an hour or so on foot patrol in their local town. Within minutes they will hear ‘so good to see you’, ‘thank you for what you do’, what I experienced hearing the claps of literally hundreds of people, who had been sat out all night, shouting ‘thank you’, ‘you all look amazing’ brought literal tears to my eyes.
We were told that we would be deployed at the Victoria Memorial, outside Buckingham Palace. The gravity of the task ahead was laid out clearly. We were the last line of defence, we were expected to do our duty and prevent anyone from harming or impeding the procession, should they cross the barrier. We were representing our own forces, but also policing as a whole, we would be in the sight of the thousands attending in person and the billions watching around the world.
The briefing was summed up in three phrases; ‘Look smart, act smart, think public service’.
Regrouping on the Mall as the daylight grew, we moved as a group of 50 up the centre of arguably one of the most famous streets in the world, clapped and cheered as we went. The appreciation from the crowd for us, and when I say us, I mean policing, was tangible, I could feel it, it made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. We were placed along the opposite hemisphere of the Victoria memorial to that which the procession would pass, in front of the World’s media encampments and in front of a small section of the thousands of people lining The Mall. All were represented in the crowd, from all corners of the UK, travellers from all over the world, every age, ethnicity, background, all connected in wanting to be there, to pay their respects.
Respect was the overriding feeling from the crowds, respect for Her Majesty, respect for the Royal Family, respect for the military and for the police. I saw no flag waving, no inappropriate behaviour, nobody to challenge, nobody to raise concerns for.
The funeral service was broadcast over an incredible sound system on The Mall, the voices of the choir filling the air, the crowd silent throughout. At the conclusion of the service the anticipation grew, the massed bands could be heard, the bass drums growing in intensity as they approached. I saw only fleeting glimpses of the hundreds participating, saw nothing of the passing of the gun carriage carrying the coffin of Her Majesty, but I felt all of it. The sound of the bands, the smell of polish and horses, the rhythmic crunch of thousands of footsteps in perfect time. Initially the temptation to turn and see was so strong, but to not see it, to focus on my role in it all, to hear and feel, rather than see, seemed to give it more gravity. It built like a wave and was gone, leaving silence behind it.
With the coffin safely on its way to Windsor the massed bands and the gun carriage pulled by members of the Royal Navy returned, at a quick march, playing music that demonstrated pride in a job well done and it truly had been.
We regrouped in the middle of The Mall, facing Buckingham Palace to have a group photograph taken, 50+ officers from all the corners of the nation and from as far away as it’s possible to be, united in a truly historic event.
In a final gift from the officer in charge of us, we were taken back up the centre of The Mall, through the middle of Horse Guards and that iconic archway and along the procession route back to Lambeth. An incredible privilege.
I am so grateful for the opportunity to have been a tiny part of ‘Op Bridge’. I am grateful to everyone that I came into contact with, from the national rail staff, transport for London, Officers and Staff from the Met to the street cleaners and marshals who made the event possible. It has given my limitless energy and positivity for the job that we do and what we represent, even more of a boost.
It has strengthened the link I have with the crown that I wear on my uniform, it has reaffirmed what that link is, it is dedication to duty, professionalism at all times, it is public service. The responsibility on me, on us as police service, is to build on the legacy and example left by Her Majesty.
Long Live The King.