His Royal Highness, The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh will be driven to his funeral today by two soldiers from The Corps of Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) - the Corps that provide engineering support and maintain the Army’s vehicles and equipment.
Corporals Craig French and Louis Murray will drive the hearse, a specially adapted Land Rover Defender, from Windsor Castle to St George’s Chapel in Windsor. The pair have been specially chosen from 8 Training Battalion (8 Trg Bn REME) for the task, and all eyes will be on the hearse as they make the short journey, followed by the Duke’s closest family members.
Corporal Craig French (29) said: “For the past week I have been rehearsing for the role of Land Rover Commander for the Royal Hearse and it is my job to support the driver, so essentially I ensure that the driver puts the vehicle in the right place at the right time and whether to speed up or slow down.”
“We have done a lot of practice over the last few days and you get to feel what the correct speed is, and we know what pace we have to be at. It’s now like second nature. There are also a couple of difficult sections on the route and on either side, there are people accompanying the hearse, so it is important to keep a safe distance.”
Driver Corporal Louis Murray, also aged 29, will be driving the Royal Hearse carrying the Duke of Edinburgh’s coffin. He said: “It is a great privilege and a once-in-lifetime thing to do. I’m very proud and I think my family will be very proud too.”
Vehicle mechanics by trade, both drivers are permanent staff instructors based at The Prince Philip Barracks, Lyneham, Wiltshire, where they are Section Commanders at 8 Trg Bn charged with bringing on the next generation of REME soldiers.
Corporal Craig, from Gloucestershire, said: “I am so proud to be doing this and millions of people will be watching, so I am determined to step up to the plate. It is stressful but it is also big honour, even if it is a sombre occasion.”
Corporal Louis, from Atherton, Greater Manchester, added: “My Grandad, who passed away, was very, very fond of Prince Philip, he thought he was a great man and there are not many people who can say they drove the vehicle that carried His Royal Highness’s coffin. It is an honour to do so.”
The Ceremonial Royal Funeral, being held at St George’s Chapel, Windsor, was chosen by Prince Philip himself. A bearer party from the Grenadier Guards will place the coffin in the hearse at the entrance to Windsor Castle. Then the vehicle will move slowly off, at walking pace, to the west steps of St George’s Chapel for the funeral ceremony and private interment.
The Land Rover Defender TD5 chassis cab in dark bronze green with an open top rear section to carry the Duke’s coffin, was designed and custom-made to His Royal Highness’s specification. It will be flanked by military pall bearers reflecting the Prince’s special relationships with the respective Services and Stations.
Prince Philips’s affiliation with the REME began in July 1969 when he was made Colonel-in-Chief of the Corps. Passionate about engineering and technology, he was the perfect figurehead for the likeminded, innovative and creative professionals who keep the Army’s equipment in battle-ready condition.
The Duke’s life-long affiliation with Land Rovers goes back even further. Such is his fondness for the vehicles, he granted his Royal Warrant to Land Rover more than 40 years ago.
Land Rovers, with their versatility and go-anywhere capabilities, have been an Army stalwart for decades. The Series 1 first being procured in 1949. It was cheap and light and an ideal vehicle to be developed. Since then, variants, including a battlefield ambulance, have seen tens of thousands of British soldiers through many conflicts. Several variants are still used today, fulfilling a variety of roles across the Armed Forces.