God Save the King!
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II had a special place in the hearts of every serviceman and woman of this country. This isn’t mere sentimentality, but a fact hard rooted in our constitution. All servicemen and women owe their loyalty not to a particular group or class, or to the political group that happens to have a majority in Westminster at the time, but to the monarch personally. It’s a powerfully unifying and comforting concept. I recall a senior Royal Marine commander during the Falkland’s War commenting (and I paraphrase here) that he was damned if he was going to sacrifice his life for Mrs Thatcher, but he was quite content to do so for his Commander-in-Chief. All soldiers have had the same thoughts. Soldiers live, breathe, serve and sometimes die in the service not to the prosaic stuff of political happenstance, but to a higher representation of British society, represented in the person of the monarch.
The Queen knew the importance of this relationship to all of us, those who served her in uniform, and made a quite remarkable effort to become one of us. She was our Commander-in-Chief. She knew it, and so did we. She visited us on battlefields at home and abroad. She met with the humblest of rifleman and their families and chatted quite happily and knowledgeably to anyone, without any kind of favour. She did so with me, as did her mother, and I treasure these memories, but she did likewise to many thousands and thousands of her loyal troops, sailors and airmen over seventy years of service. Everyone in uniform who met her will hold these memories precious. We found a comfort not just in the thought of her role, but in the physical reality of it. We respected her not just for her remarkable sense of duty, but also for interest in us. It was personal. And it was quite remarkable. She repaid our commitment to her with equal service in return. She never wavered in her duty, right to the end.
Our grief at her passing is because we all know, in our heart of hearts, that she was a quite remarkable person. She transcended the prosaic and the ordinary. She reflected our ideal of how we wanted our society to be, and to behave. Lots of words will be said about her life, but for me it was her sense of duty and her relentless commitment to the service of her Armed Forces that I will never forget. We will never see her like again.
But the loyalty we all gave The Queen now flows to King Charles III, a man bred to the same commitment to other rather than to self. He will receive the same loyal service of the Armed Forces as did his remarkable mother, for the same reasons.
God Save the King!
Robert Lyman served in the British Army for 20 years, and is now a historian and writer, and author of A War of Empires: Japan, India, Burma & Britain 1941-45.