My Lords, my earliest memory goes back to the moment when I had just turned the age of two. I can be certain of the date because my parents had moved house and I clearly remember the removal men in their dustcoats delivering our furniture. The date was February 1952 and Queen Elizabeth was just acceding to the throne. So, until yesterday afternoon, my entire conscious life had been exactly coincident with the second Elizabethan age.
That age has now ended. I have fond memories from its latter years of many meetings and discussions with the Queen, both professional and social, and I shall always be grateful for her kindness, her wisdom, her support and her great sense of fun, which I am happy to say was just as evident when I last spoke with her only a few weeks ago. Like the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, I also remember the winter barbecues at Sandringham, and I am proud of having been the co-producer, with my sovereign, of a particularly successful salad dressing.
The Queen was, as the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, observed, the head of the Armed Forces. She took an intense interest in their activities—their difficulties and challenges as well as their successes—but particularly in their people. She had formal affiliations with a great many formations and organisations, all of which valued the association highly. I think that over the next few days and weeks many stories will be told and memories exchanged, with that strange and piercing mixture of sadness and joy that I suspect we all experience today.
I want to focus on just one incident from several years ago. One of the Queen’s military affiliations was as the honorary air commodore at RAF Marham, a station very close to Sandringham. I commanded RAF Marham over the first Gulf War. When we started to lose aircraft over Iraq, the Queen was immediately in touch, wanting to know how she could help, and in particular how she could support the families. She came and had private meetings with the next of kin of those who were missing in action. She spoke with the families more widely. She listened to them, empathised with them and made them understand how much she cared. That is just one small incident in a very long reign, but for me it epitomises it all.
The nation has lost a Queen. The people have lost one of the best servants they have ever known in this or any other age.