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1979: 'You can't buy that sort of pride'

Godfrey Dykes was a warrant officer in the Communications Branch of the Royal Navy.

He led the coffin bearer party at Lord Mountbatten's funeral and had to memorise 60 orders to deliver during the course of the procession.

Our first part in the ceremony was the evening before the funeral. The body was taken from Romsey Abbey - where it had been lying in state - to the Queen's Chapel, and we had to lift it out of the hearse and put it in the chapel.

The service was attended by all the males of the royal family and we stood together, heads bowed in the tiny chapel. The church was bedecked with lilies and powerful smelling plants.

That to me was an important night. I'm not a sentimental person, but it really did pull on my heart strings.

Adrenalin

The day itself was splendid - for all the reasons under the sun: pride of belonging to the navy and being there at the time. Pride of knowing my parents were watching it.

My adrenalin flowed so fast it took me over, and yet I needed utter concentration. I was conscious I was marching very close to the most senior admirals in the land with all kinds of obstacles on the way.

And all the time the bell of Westminster Abbey tolled. As we entered Whitehall, I could hear it very clearly, and I had to get myself ready to give all those orders, thinking things through.

I was very proud I kept a steady head.

Noises

At the steps of the Abbey I know I've got to do it right - for myself and for everyone watching: family, peers, the country. I thought, "This is it."

I walked into Westminster Abbey and saw Churchill's tombstone, the tomb of the Unknown Warrior and the organ started with the trumpet fanfare on top.

The noises came down the walls, across my feet and took me up. I was on my own - the insignia bearers were quite some way ahead.

I was not sure how far the coffin was behind me because I couldn't look behind and there's no way the bearers could shout, "Hey, boss come back!"

Thinking on your feet

The bearers placed the coffin on the catafalque in front of the Queen, who was a few feet away and could see everything I did.

For some inexplicable reason, they stopped and stood to attention. They thought they'd positioned the coffin correctly, but I saw it was six inches from the backstop peg.

I side-stepped down the length of the coffin and told the first guy - fortunately he heard well above the organ music and nodded to his opposite man. They pushed it six inches and I walked all the way round the coffin to pull the flag down and tuck it in so you could see no bare wood.

You try and make it look part of the ceremony, but it isn't. It's thinking on your feet - I've never had to do it that fast again.


" We stood to attention and bowed our heads "

It was much easier coming out after the service. But as we left the Abbey a great phalanx of the Royal Marine guard of honour came to the royal salute - quite unnerving. Then we put the coffin on an army Landrover.

We drove across Lambeth Bridge and arrived at Waterloo in time to place the coffin onto the special train.

That was my last function. We stood to attention and bowed our heads.

It doesn't matter what wealth you get in life - it can't buy you that sort of pride.

Even today it's still a very vivid memory.

In Context
Warrant Officer Godfrey Dykes retired from the Navy in 1983 after 30 years of service.

He started his own communications business in 1985 and ran it until his retirement in 2002.


Web Links
Godfrey Dykes.com
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