The unspeakable beauty and simplicity of that magnificent and so fitting funeral of the Duke of Edinburgh will stay with me - and with many of us - for a long time to come.
The glorious mediaeval setting in the perfect Spring weather; the detailed perfection of the military guards of honour, and the massed bands; the little carriage with its two black horses and the Duke’s personal gloves and whip in the driver’s seat; the Landrover hearse; the King’s Troop firing the minute salute; the sailors piping their Admiral into the Chapel; the fine words and superb music of the service itself; that moment when the piper playing the Lament marched away into the distance; even just the members of the Royal Family walking back up in the sunshine to the main part of the castle, all of these things were great moments. It was the most superbly planned and executed and moving of ceremonies, in no way lessened by its smaller Covid-induced scale. Indeed it was more fitting in many ways than would have been a great panoply of State in central London had that been allowed.
Somehow the sheer simplicity yet grandeur of the event was just so appropriate to the great man about whom we have heard so much in the last week or so. It was in every way the most perfect memorial that anyone could possibly have wished for, and I hope that Her Majesty and the other members of the Royal family were as touched and as impressed by it all as was the whole Nation, and so much of the world able to witness it on television.
There seem to have been an awful lot of sad deaths just recently – or is it just my age and stage in life? My friends Chris Wannell and Enam Chowdhury leave a great hole in the life of Royal Wootton Bassett. Tim Holderness-Roddam from West Kington was a well-known local figure involved in so many charities and voluntary organisations; Arthur Chapman from Cricklade served in the RAF as a navigator for 36 years, 11,000 hours flying in a Hercules. All truly served their communities and the nation. They came from the same mould as HRH Duke of Edinburgh. In a way so much that we saw in Windsor on Saturday could stand proxy, as a symbol, for so many people who have died, or been bereaved over the last dreadful twelve months. It was not just about the Duke. In a strange way it was about the nation and all that we have lost, and about remembering all that was so good about our dear departed.
I was lucky enough to be asked to the memorial service in Salisbury Cathedral the previous evening. Amongst many other wonderful bits (the choir was superb), I am always moved by the great old prayer from the Evensong Prayer Book, which my Father said every night in the months before his own death in 1984:
“Support us, O Lord, all the day long of this troublous life, until the shadows lengthen and the evening comes, the busy world is hushed, the fever of life is over and our work done. Then, O Lord, in your mercy, grant us a safe lodging, a holy rest, and peace at last; through Christ our Lord, Amen.”
A safe lodging, a holy rest and peace at last for Prince Philip and for so many of our dear friends and relations.