Last year Tom Clements raised £1,100 for STEF by abseiling down the Spinnaker Tower in Portsmouth; last week he was on the gun carriage team that escorted the Queen’s coffin from Westminster Hall to the Abbey, and then to Wellington Arch. Tom had started his basic training with the Navy only in March this year, and passed out on 17th June, three months before the Queen’s funeral. Below, he takes up the story.
“We were all chosen because we were junior rates, and since Queen Victoria’s funeral it has been naval junior rates that pull the gun carriage for state funerals. Before that it used to be the army with horses; however the horses lost their footing on the cobble road during Queen Victoria’s funeral, so the navy street liners took up the pull and drag ropes and pulled the gun carriage.
‘The training for the gun carriage team started almost immediately after the passing of the Queen. The day after she passed, we collected our uniforms and were given our job role. The following days before the funeral we would spend the working hours practising our drill and marching while pulling the gun carriage, and in the evening we’d work on our kit; making sure our uniform was well ironed, boots were polished, caps were clean and belt buckles were shiny. We also did a night rehearsal in London which covered the entire routine with all the people involved. Even though this was done in the early hours of the morning there were still a lot of spectators and media around to watch it. The drill staff were constantly working towards perfection and nothing less, as this was the largest ceremonial event most of us had ever done.
‘The day itself was surreal and beyond an honour. As soon as we marched out of Wellington Barracks we had cameras pointing as us from every angle with over half the world watching us. I was a little nervous at first, but once we began marching and everyone was in sync, I put my head up with pride and marched until the end. Although it was hard work I’d happily do it all over again.”
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