Back in 1974, Her Majesty presented new Colours (AKA Standards or flags) to four of the battalions in my Regiment. Apart from the main event, Her Majesty would be moving to points around the grounds to see various presentations.
For some reason (being a Sargent with nothing else to do on the day), my job was to open Her Majesty’s car door at the Colours presentation parade and, towards the end of the day, at the DZ (drop zone) where the Red Devils Free Fall Team were to present Her Majesty with a baton. There were two of us for the initial event, one standing on either side of where the car would stop (I was to be on the far side of the car to escort the Lady-in-waiting), but would be on my own on the DZ.
It had been raining hard before the event and the forecast was for more rain through the day so we were equipped with an umbrella. The drill was: if raining, we would stand to attention and salute as the car arrived, open the door, turn away slightly, open the umbrella and hold it up as Her Majesty and Her Lady-in-waiting got out. We would then close the door, gently, and escort Her Majesty to her seat. In the event rain stopped, we would leave the brollies to one side and salute after opening the door. Needless to say there were numerous practice runs to ensure we had it down pat on the day.
As predicted it was raining when the car drew up for the presentation parade so, door open, turn away and up with the umbrella. As I turned back I was shocked to see the Lady-in-waiting heading to the other door – not a good start. I pushed the door too and did a (very) fast march around to the other door in time to hold the umbrella up ready to escort to the platform. At this point two officers, who apparently had not been told that we would be doing the escort, came up and took over, taking the umbrellas. Oh and when I pushed the door it hadn’t closed properly so the driver had to get out and close it: He wasn’t very happy.
Fortunately the rain stopped and the sun came out before the Red Devils jump so I didn’t need the umbrella, which is just as well as the officer had disappeared with it. Unfortunately the ground, being grass, was soaking wet, as was the carpet laid from the car stopping point to the platform.
Now anyone who has seen a military parade, or the guards at Buckingham Palace, will know that British soldiers do not smile or bat an eyelid, irrespective of what happens around them. In some circumstances the eyes are allowed to move from the straight ahead position, door opening being one of them just in case a hand is needed.
So there I was standing to attention as the car arrived. All went well with the door opening and me saluting as Her Majesty started to exit the car. Then I heard “I knew I should have brought my wellies”.
Have you ever tried to control the onset of a belly laugh? I’m sure my body was shaking with laughter but I managed to keep a straight face, despite my eyes nearly watering, as Her Majesty looked straight at me with a big grin on her face.
Rest in Peace Your Majesty; I am very proud to have served you.
PS: At a later date I also had the privilege to meet and have a drink with Prince Charles, now His Majesty King George III, but that’s a story for another time and probably best not told here