My Lords, I, too, share the deep sorrow and grief felt throughout the nation, the Commonwealth and overseas for the passing of Her Majesty. Her devotion, commitment and strength of purpose were not only most remarkable but sustained so magisterially throughout her long reign. I offer my condolences to His Majesty King Charles III and all the Royal Family.
I was 22 years old and on my flying training course when Her Majesty ascended the throne aged 25. It has always been a mark of her greatness that she assumed her role and responsibilities at so youthful an age and in such full measure. While attending the state visit of her parents to South Africa in 1947, she made on her 21st birthday the vow, already repeated today, that
“my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service”.
It was an admirable and most impressive pledge for a 21 year-old young lady.
Indeed, it was my privilege to meet her for the first time as soon as two months after she made that vow—still a princess and attending one of her early royal solo events. The occasion was the centenary celebrations at my school, Radley. The Archbishop of Canterbury had preached in chapel. The warden and others had made speeches of welcome and thanks. The school prefects, of which I was one, entertained the princess, less than four years our senior in age, to tea in our study. No masters were present; we had her all to ourselves. We plied her with meringues and biscuits and presented her with a box of chocolates; Radley’s archive still holds the receipt, making clear that this sweet offering cost all 15 of us not only 16 shillings and eight pence but a whole week of our sugar ration. Also in that archive is a copy of part of her handwritten letter to a friend, describing her day at Radley. She wrote:
“The tea with the prefects was very enjoyable, and certainly a great change from some of the rather dull teas one has on official occasions. This one couldn’t have been more fun.”
She was well known for her sense of fun, as well as for her sense of duty and responsibility.
Of course, during my time in the senior ranks of the Armed Forces, and even later, I had the privilege of meeting Her Majesty on numerous occasions. In 1991, when I was Chief of the Defence Staff, she asked me personally to Buckingham Palace to brief her on the ongoing operations in the first Gulf War. She was, as always, deeply interested in the performance of her Armed Forces.
It is the greatest of blessings to have known such a charming and charismatic person. May she rest in peace and in our memories for ever.