The passing of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II has left an almost tangible void, writes Sergeant ROBERT WILSON, South Devon Police Officer.
To have been recommended by the South Devon Police Area as a candidate to represent Devon and Cornwall Police at his funeral was a great honor and it is with a great sense of pride that I told my family that I had been proposed.
To be told that I had been selected by the Group Chief Officer was astounding and extremely humbling.
The news sparked a flurry of activity involving lots of boot-shine, Brasso and checking train timetables.
It also sparked important reflection on Her Majesty, her impact on the nation, the world and me as an individual.
It’s a sad fact of life that “you don’t know what you have until it’s gone” and I’m guilty, among millions, of taking for granted what she gave to the nation, during such an important period.
It also prompted reflection on the monarchy as a whole and the parallels between the monarchy as an institution and the organizations that wear the crown on any badge, the police in particular.
Public service, professionalism, responsibility and dedication are attributes that we strive for in our daily work, attributes that if not met lead to a loss of public trust and confidence, attributes that the Reine embodied and never let up.
I traveled to London, thanked by members of Great Western Railway for my “service and devotion”.
This theme of appreciation followed me wherever I identified as a police officer.
The gravity of what I was about to participate in grew every minute.
I was at Lambeth Police Headquarters at 5am on 19th September and at 6am I was marching through the still dark streets to The Mall, not alone but with representatives from each of the UK National Forces and overseas territories including Anguilla, Barbados, The Cayman Islands, the British Virgin Islands and the Falklands.
We encountered members of the public as soon as we crossed the Thames. People wrapped themselves in the cold of the night, camped out on lounge chairs, cheering as they passed.
I argued that if an officer needs a morale boost or recommitment to what policing is, all he has to do is spend about an hour patrolling on foot in his local town.
Within minutes they will hear ‘good to see you’, ‘thank you for what you are doing’, which I experienced hearing the applause of hundreds of people, who had been sitting all night, shouting ‘ thank you’, ‘you all look amazing’ literally brought tears to my eyes.
We were told we would be deployed to the Victoria Memorial, outside Buckingham Palace.
The gravity of the task at hand was clearly exposed.
We were the last line of defence, expected to do our duty and prevent anyone from harming or obstructing the motorcade if they crossed the barrier.
We represented our own forces, but also the police as a whole, we would be in full view of the thousands of people present in person and the billions of spectators around the world.
The briefing was summed up in three sentences: “Look smart, act smart, think public service”.
Regrouping on The Mall as the daylight grew, we moved in groups of 50 down the center of one of the world’s most famous streets, clapping and clapping as we went.
The crowd’s appreciation for us, and when I say us, I mean the police, was tangible, I could feel it, it made my hair stand on end.
We were placed along the opposite hemisphere of the Victoria Memorial from where the procession would pass, past the world’s media encampments and a small portion of the thousands of people lining The Mall.
All were represented in the crowd, from all corners of the UK, travelers from all over the world, of all ages, ethnicities, backgrounds, all connected to want to be there, to pay their respects.
Respect was the dominant feeling of the crowd, respect for Her Majesty, respect for the royal family, respect for the military and the police.
I saw no waving flags, no inappropriate behavior, no one to argue with, no one to worry about.
The funeral service was broadcast on an incredible audio system on The Mall, the voices of the choir filling the air, the crowd silent throughout.
As the service ended, the anticipation grew, the massed bands could be heard, the bass drums growing louder and louder as they approached.
I saw only fleeting glimpses of the hundreds of attendees, I saw nothing of the passing gun carriage carrying Her Majesty’s coffin, but I felt it all.
The sound of bands, the smell of wax and horses, the rhythmic crackle of thousands of footsteps in perfect rhythm.
Initially, the temptation to turn around and see was so strong, but not seeing it, focusing on my role in all of this, hearing and feeling, rather than seeing, seemed to give it more gravity.
It built like a wave and disappeared, leaving silence behind.
As the coffin was on its way to Windsor, the massed bands and the gun carriage drawn by members of the Royal Navy returned, at a brisk march, playing music which demonstrated pride in a job well done and which really had been.
We gathered in the middle of the Mall, facing Buckingham Palace for a group photo, over 50 officers from every corner of the nation and as far away as possible, united in a truly historic event.
In a final gift from the officer in charge, we were driven back to the center of the Mall, through the middle of Horse Guards and that iconic arch and along the procession route to Lambeth. An incredible privilege.
I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to be a small part of ‘Op Bridge’.
I am grateful to everyone I came into contact with, from National Railway staff, London Transport, Met officers and staff to street cleaners and marshals who made the event possible.
It gave my boundless energy and positivity for the work we do and what we stand for, even more of a boost.
It reinforced the bond I have with the crown I wear on my uniform, it reaffirmed what that bond is, it’s dedication to duty, professionalism at all times, it’s public service .
My responsibility as a police service is to build on the legacy and example set by Her Majesty.
Long live the king.