The Queen’s Company are the tallest soldiers in the Grenadier Guards. All over six foot they are also marked out for their immaculate bearing, operational experience and exemplary behaviour.
The Royal bearer party is carefully chosen from the eight tallest men in the Company: eight Lance Sergeants and below who will carry the coffin; a Junior Ensign who is the Officer in charge of the bearer party, who dresses the coffin with the immensely heavy, richly embroidered, silk Personal Standard (ceremonial flag); and the Company Sergeant Major, who is the Warrant Officer in charge of dress, discipline and drill for the bearer party, so the turnout is immaculate and flawless.
The Company have a unique relationship with the Sovereign as Her Majesty The Queen is their Company Commander. The Major in charge of the Company is known as ‘The Captain of The Queen’s Company’. Those Guardsmen who serve in the Company are known fondly as members of the ‘The Monarch’s Mob’. The Grenadier Guards are not required to give the Loyal Toast because their loyalty to the Crown has never been questioned, this stretches back to when they were raised in 1656 whilst protecting King Charles II who was exiled in Bruges.
“We want to honour Prince Philip, Her Majesty, The Queen and the Royal Family”
For the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral, Lieutenant Alec Heywood, 25, from Wiltshire, will command the bearer party. He’s a third generation Grenadier - his Grandfather was The Captain of the King’s Company for King George VI’s funeral and Captain of the Queen’s Company during the Queen’s Coronation. His father also served in the Queen’s Company.
Major James Taylor is Captain of the Queen’s Company. He’ll be standing directly in front of the Sovereign’s Entrance as his soldiers bear HRH’s coffin out of the Castle and into the hearse waiting in the Quadrangle. He’ll be watching with an expert eye, hoping all is as perfect as they’d planned and prepared for, but he explained the bearer party’s task is far from easy:
“It’s important to get it absolutely perfect because not only is what they are doing being watched by up to a billion people globally on TV, but because we want to honour Prince Philip, Her Majesty, The Queen and the Royal Family. This is, after all, a ceremony for a grieving family, our regimental family and our prime concern at all times is to support them. The bearer party must not falter or show discomfort, they must be razor sharp, concentrating wholly on expert delivery of the task.”
Since Friday 9th April, the bearer party has been practising their drill every day in increasingly complex orders of uniform until they can carry out the job perfectly in Home Service Clothing – this is the name given to the iconic uniform of red tunic and mirror polished drill boots that everyone associates with the Foot Guards.
“Safety is our number one concern”
The drill and uniform preparation haven’t been the only challenges facing the Queen’s Company. COVID-19 has had an unprecedented impact. Because of the pandemic, their ability to rehearse regularly last year was greatly reduced. The Company was among the first members of the military to deploy as part of the COVID Support Force, pioneering and then rolling out the first mobile testing units in London, supporting the NHS, key workers and care homes. They then deployed to the Falkland Islands for four months as a roulement infantry company, the land-based reaction force supporting the British Forces in the South Atlantic, all the while working hard, socially distanced, to prevent spread of the virus.
“You can’t socially distance while carrying a coffin”, explained Major Taylor. “Safety is our number one concern. We put the whole bearer party in a bubble and they live, sleep, eat and train completely separately from everyone else involved in the funeral. They have enhanced testing daily, their own dedicated transport, we’re taking no chances. There is even a reserve bearer party in its own separate bubble that we can call on, just in case.
“He has had a profound influence on us all”
“It is an absolute honour for the bearer party, the Battalion, and particularly The Queen’s Company to have this opportunity to be able to be involved and perform this duty and service for Prince Philip, who has been a Grenadier for longer than most of us serving have been alive” Said Major Taylor. “He has had a profound influence on us all, either through the inspiration of the Duke of Edinburgh awards which so many of us hold, or through the many occasions when we have met him as a regiment or as individuals. Through the Colonel’s Fund he has served our wounded from Afghanistan and their families. It is so important to us to have such a critical role in his funeral.
The bearer party are bareheaded while carrying out their duties, cap orderlies carry their white plumed bearskin caps until the coffin is placed in the hearse, then the soldiers will put on the bearskins and march back inside the Castle where they will be dismissed. Once duty is finished, another will then begin. They will immediately join the rest of the Grenadier Guards battalion in Wales, where they are training for a deployment to Kenya this summer and then on operations in Iraq, the embodiment of their regimental motto: “Twice the Man”.
The Grenadiers have a very special relationship with the Royal Family spanning over 350 years. Until 2017, HRH Prince Philip was their Royal Colonel, a deeply personal and special connection lasting for 42 years. HM The Queen has been their Colonel in Chief for 52 years, a role she inherited from her father, King George VI.