With Windsor bathed in sunshine, Prince Philip's goodbye was a fitting tribute to a warrior from the Greatest Generation
FOR once it was the Queen who was a few paces behind the Duke.
As the national anthem rang out amid the ancient battlements of Windsor Castle, Her Majesty’s State Bentley slowly took its place in her husband’s funeral cortege.
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Then, bathed in brilliant spring sunshine, the monarch's closest family began their procession behind the customised Land Rover Defender bearing the Duke of Edinburgh on his final engagement.
No fancy limousine hearse or horse-drawn gun carriage for him.
As the Windsors prepared to bury their patriarch, they were doubtless missing the nerve-calming candour and dark humour Philip would likely have brought to such an occasion.
His advice – as witnessed at his daughter-in-law Diana’s funeral – would surely have been stiff upper lips all round.
Accompanied by a lady-in-waiting in the Bentley, the Queen, wearing a black mask, appeared bereft.
Her narrowed eyes betrayed the pain of losing her Consort and confidante of 73 years.
With the Royal Standard fluttering in 12C sun, a bell in the 13th century Curfew Tower solemnly tolled the procession’s eight-minute progress to the duke’s final resting place in St George’s Chapel.
Each minute of the cortege’s mournful progress was punctuated by a volley from a King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillary’s cannon reverberating from the Castle's immaculately-trimmed East Lawn.
The duke’s Lord High Admiral’s cap and ceremonial sword poignantly took pride of place on top of the casket.
Some 700 military personnel from each of the services lined the processional route.
It was a reminder to a watching world that Philip was a warrior from the Greatest Generation.
This was a man who fought fascists and was mentioned in despatches for his Royal Navy service during the Second World War.
A Greek-born prince of Danish and German descent who was a true British lionheart.
Behind the duke’s coffin, bedecked in his personal standard, came Princess Anne – said to be Philip’s favourite child – alongside Prince Charles in the processional party.
Dressed in morning suit, black tie and white shirt – his array of medals glinting in the sunlight – Charles’ ruddy face was a stoic mask etched with grief for a man he called “papa”.
Charles strode forwards knowing he now has to step out of his father’s giant shadow.
Anne – who has all her father’s sense of duty and graft – walked mournfully in dark ankle-length overcoat.
Behind them were Edward and Andrew – a man whose reported desire to wear an Admiral’s uniform for the occasion suggests a pomposity not pricked by his fall from grace.
Then it was the grandsons. William and Harry kept apart by the sturdy presence of cousin Peter Phillips who walked a pace behind the pair.
Dressed in their dark morning suits and grey trousers, the brothers stared dolefully ahead towards their grandfather’s coffin.
The distance between them – skillfully engineered by the Queen – gave little opportunity for signs of forgiveness and rapprochement.
Warring princes are nothing new in this 1,000 year-old dynasty – in previous centuries the feud might have led to the battlefield rather than the Oprah Winfrey Show.
In earlier years, no nonsense Philip might have knocked the pair’s heads together.
For today at least – the brothers were a united front – walking in step together.
As the cortege arrived at St George’s Chapel, the Duchess of Cambridge – wearing the Queen's pearls and drop pearl earrings, a black face mask, pillar box hat with net veil – bowed her head.
Shortly before 3pm, the Land Rover arrived at the West Steps of St George's Chapel and the band from the Rifles Regiment again struck up the national anthem.
In death as in life, the duke was paying homage to his Queen.
This was a ceremonial funeral rather than a state one – state funerals are usually reserved for monarchs.
In a nod to his nautical background, a Royal Navy "piping party" piped a call known as "the Still" as the coffin was borne aloft up chapel steps.
Then came the 3pm minute’s silence to allow the nation to pay respects to a man whose life spanned a century.
The duke was born into a very different world when the British Empire covered 24 per cent of the Earth's landmass.
When Philip was born on a Corfu dining room table in 1921 there was no television, computers, jet engines or penicillin.
Today many followed this final act of a life well lived on their smart phones and tablets.
Whatever people’s feelings about royalty, the Duke’s life has punctuated our own.
Observing the silence was a moment for all to reflect on loved ones lost and of family continuity.
Inside Edward III’s gothic 14th century chapel, the Queen sat alone with her thoughts in the Quire, as her beloved husband was brought to his final resting place.
Doubtless she would have cast her eye towards the empty seat that was once the Duke’s place during services.
Many across the nation would have shed a tear for her. All those who have buried a loved one will know her visceral pain.
For some this grand occasion with just 30 mourners was a reminder that across the land many families have been unable to be at loved ones’ funerals.
This is the Queen’s family church. Among those interred here are Henry VIII, Charles I, George III, Edward IV and her own father George VI.
The funeral party donned face masks as they entered the echoey chapel. An image that will be a vivid reminder to future generations of our age of pandemic.
In the chapel procession, William went on ahead with Peter Phillips while Harry dropped back alongside the Earl of Snowden. The spare making way for the heir.
The Dean of Windsor David Conner’s warm words in the Bidding would have struck a deep chord with many.
"We have been inspired by his unwavering loyalty to our Queen, by his service to the nation and the Commonwealth, by his courage, fortitude and faith," he reverently intoned.
The 50-minute service reflected the Duke’s "get on with it" reputation. There was no sermon or eulogy and focussed on his love of the sea.
The Dean told Philip’s 30 closest family and friends how their lives had been "enriched" by the duke’s "kindness, humour and humanity".
That waspish humour was displayed when the Royal Navy battle cry Action Stations was sounded by buglers as his casket was lowered by mechanical lift into the Royal Vault beneath the altar.
Phillip would be interned in the vault where George III, George IV and William IV are buried.
A mix of pomp, pageantry and personal touch, this immaculately self-planned goodbye to his beloved family and nation was fitting testament to this unique man of service and honour.
A wreath from the Royal Navy laid in the chapel wished the duke “fair winds and following seas."
A salutation this man of the sea would have cherished.
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