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HRH The Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral – The Royal Gurkha Rifles

21st April 2021

HRH The Duke of Edinburgh funeral

On the 17th April 2021 the funeral for HRH The Duke of Edinburgh took place at Windsor Castle.

The full official report from the Royal family website can be read here.

On Saturday 17 April at 2:40pm, the coffin emerged from the State Entrance of Windsor Castle into the Quadrangle, it was followed by the members of the Royal Family who walked in the procession. All those in the Quadrangle gave the coffin a Royal Salute before the coffin was placed onto the Land Rover.

The Queen departed from the Sovereign’s Entrance in the State Bentley.

The Procession moved towards St. George’s Chapel, through Engine Court, Chapel Hill Parade Ground and into Horseshoe Cloister, arriving at the West Steps. The procession route was lined by representatives from the Royal Navy, the Royal Marines, and the British Army from regiments with an association to HRH

Minute Guns were fired by The King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery from the East Lawn of Windsor Castle for the duration of the Procession. The Curfew Tower Bell also tolled.

The National Anthem played as the coffin arrived at Horseshoe Cloister, where it was met by representatives from the Commonwealth and a Dismounted Detachment of the Household Cavalry.

The Bearer Party carried the coffin up the West Steps of the Chapel before pausing for a National Minute Silence at 3pm. The Dean of Windsor and the Archbishop of Canterbury then received the coffin.

As the doors to St. George’s Chapel closed, the Royal Navy Piping Party piped the ‘Carry On’.

At the conclusion of the Service, The Duke of Edinburgh’s Coffin was lowered into the Royal Vault. The Archbishop of Canterbury pronounced the Blessing and the National Anthem was sung by the Choir.

The Story From Those on Parade

Saturday the 17th of April 2021 marks a day of sorrowful significance in The Royal Gurkha Rifles Regimental history. This was the ceremonial Royal funeral of HRH The Duke of Edinburgh. A ‘special relationship detachment’ of nine Gurkhas from The First Battalion, The Royal Gurkha Rifles (1 RGR) paraded with the Queen’s Truncheon alongside those Regiments and Corps to whom His Royal Highness was Colonel in Chief, to assist the nation in paying final respects to His Royal Highness and provide support to our Sovereign. This is the first time the Queen’s Truncheon has been paraded in such pageantry since HM Queen Elizabeth the Second’s coronation in 1953. Not for this reason alone, was the event significant in our Regiment’s history.

HRH The Duke of Edinburgh was involved in every detail of the funeral arrangements before he passed away. Those units with whom he enjoyed a close relationship through Colonelcy or Patronage were to attend with their colours for the ceremony. 7th Gurkha Rifles (7 GR) was awarded the Royal title of the Duke of Edinburgh in 1959 in recognition of its outstanding operational record in Malaya and two world wars. The Regiment was to be styled “7th Duke of Edinburgh’s Own Gurkha Rifles”. It was for this antecedent connection that Royal Gurkha Rifles representatives attended HRH’s funeral; we were the only Regiment present without a direct connection to HRH. The Duke of Edinburgh visited his regiment of Gurkhas many times both in the Far East and in the United Kingdom. The most notable occasions were to 1/7 GR on operations in Borneo in 1965, the disbandment of 2/7 GR at Lyemun in 1986, and the final disbandment of the regiment at Church Crookham in 1994.

Upon news of HRH’s passing on 9th April 2021, seven Gurkha soldiers and a Truncheon Jemadar from 1 RGR were activated, under the command of Acting Major James Christy, and urgently fitted for number one uniforms in the Battalion tailors, in preparation for deployment to the Operation FORTH BRIDGE Joint Concentration Area at Pirbright Barracks. It was serendipitous that the Queen’s Truncheon was on its way back from Brunei when the dreadful news reached the Regiment. Fitting for the Truncheon’s funerary black drape took place immediately upon its receipt (the material sourced after some struggle late on Sunday from Dunelm in Canterbury and fitted at haste by Corporal Kumar Darji, perhaps his final tailoring for the Regiment prior to retirement).

Rehearsals for the ceremonial parade

The four days of drill practice at Pirbright, under the watchful eye of the London District Garrison Sergeant Major and Army Ceremonial School hurtled by in a flash. Royal Gurkha Rifles soldiers, unused to heavy drill, benefited from extra tuition from the Drill Sergeants until they were at a standard worthy of the Household Division. The sense of camaraderie amongst the Army, Navy and Royal Air Force was palpable. The British military pulls together in times of adversity. The unique situation was made more complex by the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic. The quiet evenings in Pirbright Barracks were punctuated by occasional sing-song from Gurkha soldiers in the block as they whiled away the evenings polishing shoes until they appeared to be made from obsidian, and pressed cloth to a standard that would “send OC Saheb to the medical centre with razor cuts”!

It was during the first dress rehearsal at Windsor Castle on Thursday 15th of April 2021, that the magnitude of the occasion started to sink in. In the Windsor Castle Quadrangle, they would represent their Regiment, mere metres away from the chiefs of the Armed Forces, the Royal Family and HRH’s coffin. The pressure of performing to a high standard was heightened by the knowledge that they would be watched by millions of people live on UK and international television coverage of the event. Thankfully, they passed their inspection by the London District Garrison Sergeant Major with flying colours, and the manoeuvres they would perform in the Quadrangle were etched into their muscle memory.

On the day

The morning of Saturday 17th April 2021 saw the Gurkhas awaken as the sun rose over Pirbright Barracks. As long lines of soldiers, sailors and airmen & women queued for breakfast, a tense and reflective atmosphere had descended over the camp, as nerves set in across all detachments. When asked how they were feeling, the Gurkhas offered determined smiles and a reassuring “we can do this Saheb”; brave but modest under pressure as always. The logistical effort to move over 700 military personnel to Windsor Castle from Pirbright was conducted by the Royal Logistic Corps without the slightest mistake; military precision at its finest.

Upon arrival at Windsor, the Gurkhas quietly descended the coach steps and made their way under direction of the Parade Marshal to their Assembly Area at the bottom of the Long Walk. As the heat of the day reached its zenith, the Gurkhas, alongside other special relationship units (the Queen’s Royal Hussars, The Grenadier Guards, The Royal Regiment of Scotland, The Royal Gurkha Rifles, The Rifles, the Intelligence Corps, and the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers; in order of precedence) stood at ease in three ranks, awaiting the order to begin their quick march up the Long Walk. The Queen’s Truncheon, highly polished and adorned with a simple black funerary drape below the Crown, glittered resplendently in the sun. Regimental Colours, Guidon and Truncheon also paraded in strict order of precedence according to the Army List, which helped to avoid any Ill-feeling by any Regiment. We were proud however to be the bearers of the oldest Regimental Colour on parade by some margin. Given that that Queen’s Truncheon originates with the Sirmoor Rifles, the RGR, 7 GR, and 2 GR were represented on parade.

Cometh the hour, cometh the Gurkha. Upon a bellowing right turn and quick march from the Parade Marshal, the special relationship detachments began to wind their way up the Long Walk led by the Band of the Grenadier Guards. Chests puffed out and arms shoulder high as the music stirred the souls of the detachment members. Breath became laboured and sweat began to run as the Long Walk became steeper. For the Gurkhas, Castle Hill was a mere mound compared to the hills of Nepal, and they marched with panache & style up the incline. As they entered King George IV gate, Guardsmen stationed outside snapped smartly into a present-arms to acknowledge the passing of the Colours. Through the archway, they were greeted by the grandeur of the Quadrangle, and a smart right wheel at the King Charles II statue led them into their final positions, ready to begin the ceremony. Television cameras swivelled urgently to capture the best angles of the parade unfolding before them. The Truncheon Jemedar, Captain Bhupendra Gaha, was proud to hear that the Queen’s Truncheon was acknowledged and discussed by the BBC commentator during this moment.

And so, the ceremonial Royal funeral for His Royal Highness began. Hours upon hours of hard work on the drill square had gone into this moment and the Gurkhas delivered as promised. The Gurkhas were fortunate to have been placed right in the centre of the parade (perhaps due to height but who knows?) and all other units took their spacings left and right of them. Not a flicker of idle movement from a Gurkha soldier was seen on television. More impressive considering Captain Bhupendra Gaha had to hold the Queen’s Truncheon at the lower, as the NCOs flanking the Truncheon had to present arms also, for 26 minutes. An impressive display of physical strength and personal discipline.

The orchestral drill movement of “lowering upon your arms”: rifles and swords slowly lowered over the count of six seconds, and culminating in the bowing of heads, was an emotive moment. Even more so as “I vow to thee my country”, “Jerusalem” and “Nimrod” were struck up by the massed bands of the Royal Marines, The Foot Guards, and the Royal Air Force. The atmosphere in the Quadrangle was emotionally charged. As the twelve minutes of music eventually drifted away upon the breeze, and present arms was called, the emotional tension amongst all military personnel & spectators rose to a crescendo. First at the sight of HRH’s coffin, being carried to the custom-made Land Rover that would bear HRH to Saint George’s Chapel. But secondly at the sight of HM The Queen in her vehicle joining the back of the procession, holding a courageous air of dignity and grace even in mourning.

The funerary procession began its slow march towards Saint George’s Chapel. As HM The Queen’s vehicle disappeared from view into Engine Court, the parade was ordered to stand at ease, and it was felt that as HRH The Duke of Edinburgh had passed from view, a defining era for Great Britain had passed with him, and the future seemed a little more uncertain that it had before.

The Gurkhas had delivered what they had promised during the parade. A high standard of drill, immaculate turnout and personal discipline throughout. No one could have asked for more from their duty that day. The Gurkhas who stood in the Quadrangle saw their attendance as the greatest honour, that they could pay their last respects to a senior member of royalty, who had never touched their lives directly, but whose presence could be felt in the professional fabric of the Regiment. Selfless service brings honour upon those that give it, and it was a privilege to give honour to HRH as he was laid to rest at Windsor.

God Save The Queen.

Read below from members of The Royal Gurkha Rifles funeral party who were on parade at Windsor Castle

We asked members of the military funeral part for HRH The Duke of Edinburgh what lasting memory will you take from your participation?

We asked members of the military funeral part for HRH The Duke of Edinburgh what lasting memory will you take from your participation?

Rifleman Sudesh Kulung Rai – Being able to take part in the ceremonial side of the Royal funeral for HRH The Duke of Edinburgh and paying my respects to him was a great honour. Representing the RGR at Windsor Castle will be an experience that I will never forget. HRH had a long relationship with the Gurkhas and will always be remembered by us.

We asked members of the military funeral part for HRH The Duke of Edinburgh what lasting memory will you take from your participation?

Rifleman Pawan Bucha – It was an honour for me to take part in the military aspect of HRH The Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral. I will remember the day for the rest of my life.

We asked members of the military funeral part for HRH The Duke of Edinburgh what lasting memory will you take from your participation?

Lance Corporal Saugat Gurung – I stood in the Windsor Castle quadrangle as part of the RGR special relationship detachment, which was an immense privilege and honour. I have never attended any Royal events before. A sad day for all of us, but I am privileged to have been selected so I could pay my respects to HRH.

We asked members of the military funeral part for HRH The Duke of Edinburgh what lasting memory will you take from your participation?

Corporal Sunil Gurung – It was a once-in-a-generation opportunity to participate in the military aspect for the funeral of HRH The Duke of Edinburgh. I felt extremely privileged and honoured to have been chosen to represent RGR. It was a sad day for the United Kingdom, but I am proud to have been there to pay my respects to HRH.

We asked members of the military funeral part for HRH The Duke of Edinburgh what lasting memory will you take from your participation?

Sergeant Poshraj Rai – I am so proud and honoured to represent RGR during the funeral ceremony of the HRH The Duke of Edinburgh on 19th April 2021. It was a sad moment for all of us, but I will never forget what he has done for the country, the military, and the Commonwealth.

We asked members of the military funeral part for HRH The Duke of Edinburgh what lasting memory will you take from your participation?

Sergeant Chitraraj Limbu – It was an honour and great privilege for me to represent The Royal Gurkha Rifles (RGR) at the ceremonial Royal funeral of HRH The Duke of Edinburgh. We attended due to the 7th Duke of Edinburgh’s Own Gurkha Rifles’ special connection with HRH. It was fitting that we paid tribute to a great man. I will remember the ceremony at Windsor Castle for the rest of my life. We are thankful for his lifetime of service, and selfless commitment to the military, the country, and the Commonwealth.

7th Duke of Edinburgh’s Own Gurkha Rifles Regimental Association

More information about this antecedent regiment of The Royal Gurkha Rifles

The Royal Gurkha Rifles

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