Her Majesty The Queen has honoured soldiers and officers who played a key role in the funeral of HRH The Duke of Edinburgh with a rare set of awards to mark what would have been her late husband’s 100th birthday. They have been made members of the Royal Victorian Order in the 'Demise Awards', with the individuals specifically chosen by the Queen.
Lieutenant Colonel Guy Stone, 48, from Notting Hill, London is the Brigade Major for the British Army’s Household Division, Warrant Officer Class One Andrew (Vern) Stokes, from Telford, Shropshire, is the Garrison Sergeant Major for the Household Division.
Together they mastermind the design and delivery of all the Army’s state ceremonial and public duties, ensuring standards of drill, discipline, bearing and appearance are always excellent.
In April they had the honour but also the challenge of creating and delivering from scratch a COVID compliant world-class military ceremonial funeral for HRH The Duke of Edinburgh in Windsor. The funeral, which was televised live, was watched by millions of people around the world and critically acclaimed as “truly immaculate” and “fitting”.
Garrison Sergeant Major Warrant Officer Class One Stokes said: “I’m hugely delighted yet humbled to become a Member of the Royal Victorian Order listed in Her Majesty’s Birthday Honours list. It has come as a great surprise.
"On Saturday, in Windsor Castle, I’ll be participating in the Queen’s Birthday Parade, it will be a surreal experience, as it is every year in my role as the Garrison Sergeant Major, but in 2021 with the knowledge that I have been recognised for ‘distinguished personal service to the Monarch’ it will be a particularly proud one.
"I am hugely grateful and incredibly excited to have been formally recognised”.
I had not heard of the award but I now know what an absolute privilege it is to be recognised by Her Majesty The Queen this way. I have told my family and they are ecstatic and I am over the moon.” Land Rover Hearse commander Corporal Craig French, REME
Lieutenant Colonel Guy Stone said: “The biggest highlight of all my military service was the honour of leading the ceremonial delivery of the funeral of HRH The Duke of Edinburgh. I’ve never been involved in anything before where everyone was working so hard, regardless of their role, to make it so right. That made me exceptionally proud to be part of the Armed Forces.
“When I heard of the award I was overwhelmed. It made me so very proud for our tiny team (and it is a surprisingly tiny team in the Household Division that runs these big events), and for all those with whom I share this honour. On Saturday, in Windsor Castle, I’ll be participating in the Queen’s Official Birthday Parade, It is the highlight of the year and a poignant way for the Household Division to thank Her Majesty for all that she does for the nation, particularly through this challenging time.”
The soldiers of the Grenadier Guards Coffin Bearer Party have received the Victoria Medal. They include:
- New father Lance Sergeant Joshua Andrews, 29 from Portsmouth, who came off paternity leave voluntarily to carry out the funeral duty after his third child (daughter, Luella) was born just days before. Joshua said: “Being in The Queens Company for as long as I have, it meant the world that I had the honour to lift and carry Her Majesty’s husband. It is something that will go down in history and my little girls will grow up knowing that their dad was a part of it”.
- Guardsman Samuel Tudor, 21, from Telford who was mobile COVID testing for the first 4 months of the pandemic in central London and will be on parade in the Guard of Honour in Windsor Castle for the visit of US President Biden and the First Lady of the United States on Sunday.
- Guardsman Daniel Coghlan, 32, from Brighton, whose 6ft 5” height was always a source of comment for the Duke when he visited the regiment – parade boots and a bearskin cap makes Daniel almost eight feet tall. A photo of HRH with the Company is framed on his mother’s wall at her home.
- Company Sergeant Major Vandell McLean, 45 from Huddersfield, was the Warrant Officer (second in command of the bearer party). Company Sergeant Major McLean was present when Lance Corporal James Ashworth was killed in action winning the Grenadier’s fourteenth Victoria Cross in 2012. He took five years out of the Army to work as a protection officer to the US Military, and has been an instructor at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst training the next generation of young officers. Company Sergeant Major McLean met HRH the Duke of Edinburgh on numerous occasions when HRH was Colonel of the Regiment, so this duty had real personal resonance for him.
Lieutenant Alec Heywood, 25, from Wiltshire, was the commander of the bearer party and is the second member of his family to be invested MVO. He’s a third generation Grenadier – His father was a Grenadier and 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 grandfather was MVO and later upgraded to LVO.
'Privilege' for Land Rover hearse drivers
When Permanent Staff Instructors are posted into 8 Training Battalion REME, in Lyneham, Wiltshire, they are all asked if they would like to volunteer to drive the Land Rover hearse for the funeral. The chosen two were Corporal Craig French who was the commander of the vehicle and Corporal Louis Murray, the driver.
These soldiers are Vehicle Mechanics by trade however they are Section Commanders at 8 Trg Bn charged with bringing on the next generation of REME soldiers.
Commander, Corporal Craig French (29) from Gloucester has been serving in the Army for 13 years. He said: “I was shocked and stunned when I was first told I had been awarded the Royal Victorian Medal (Silver). His Royal Highness’s funeral was a sombre occasion and I was nervous but I am so grateful that I was given the opportunity to show my professionalism when it mattered.
"I had not heard of the award but I now know what an absolute privilege it is to be recognised by Her Majesty The Queen this way. I have told my family and they are ecstatic and I am over the moon.”
Driver, Corporal Louis Murray (29) from Atherton, Greater Manchester who has been serving for 11 years, said:“Taking part in the funeral of HRH The Duke of Edinburgh was a once in a lifetime thing to do and I was so proud to be part of it but to be recognised like this is the greatest honour.
"If I am honest, I have never met anyone who has been awarded the Royal Victorian Medal (Silver) before but on doing some research, I now realise what a privilege it is to be a recipient of this very special award and I am immensely proud."
The Royal Victorian Order is an order of Knighthood instituted by Queen Victoria in 1896 to reward personal services rendered to the monarch. As it is a family order, conferment is solely at the discretion of the Sovereign.