Get all your news in one place.
100’s of premium titles.
One app.
Start reading
Evening Standard
Evening Standard
Robert Fox

All our forces knew that for the Queen, it was personal

In early 1945 Elizabeth Windsor, recruit number 230873, joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS). That summer she took the six-week mechanics training course, which enabled her to strip, maintain and drive Jeeps and ambulances.

She was promoted to subaltern and then Junior Commander. She appeared in her ATS uniform on the balcony at Buckingham Palace alongside her father, mother and sister and the prime minister, Winston Churchill, to mark Victory in Europe on May 8, 1945. Still in uniform, she sneaked out with her sister to join the throng on the Mall.

The experience of active service in the ATS marked the future Queen Elizabeth for life. She and her husband, Philip Mountbatten, were veterans who saw active service in the Second World War.

At her death she is the last head of state who saw military service in that war.

The connection with the services remained a part of her life, both public and private. She knew what her regiments, ships and squadrons were up to — sometimes in embarrassing detail.

Her mechanical skills learned at the Aldershot Depot also stayed with her. She loved driving herself, she could always change a tyre and knew what was going on under the bonnet of even the most venerable Land Rover at Balmoral. She seemed to delight in personally driving distinguished guests at Windsor or in Scotland — often to the consternation of those from the more conservative zones of the Arab world.

Duties as colonel-in-chief of a regiment went beyond mere ceremonial — hazardous deployments would be followed by a stream of letters and goodwill messages.

There are also special roles. The Queen was the commander of the Queen’s Company, the Grenadier Guards, who will carry her coffin to her funeral, and final resting place. Day-to -day command falls to the Captain but the Queen is technically the commander. I accompanied the company on a welfare mission to a particularly unsafe village in Helmand. The Company Sergeant Major was more worried about the approval of the Officer Commanding, ie the Queen, than any practical orders from his immediate boss. The CSM would rise each morning, apparently, and muse, “I wonder what the Commander wants of us today?

Campaigns and crises were followed with care and generosity. In June 1982, the Queen asked to see my brother at Royal Ascot, where he was the auditor.

He was astonished to be asked how I, his younger brother, was getting on in the Falklands — I was then the BBC reporter embedded with the Paras at Goose Green — and she and her husband were quite concerned about my activities. The Queen and Prince Philip led by example in the discreet attention to the services, lending a unique human, family, touch.

Sign up to read this article
Read news from 100’s of titles, curated specifically for you.
Already a member? Sign in here
Related Stories
Top stories on inkl right now
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Already a member? Sign in here
Our Picks
Fourteen days free
Download the app
One app. One membership.
100+ trusted global sources.