i met him once, the duke of edinburgh*
Updated: Apr 10
I was a 20 years-old Senior Air Craftsman, a nobody, stationed at RAF Wattisham in Suffolk. I was part of a team shifting around explosives and the like.
One day it was announced we were to receive a top-secret VIP to the station. From this moment it all went mental. If it could be painted, we painted it. If it could be painted again, we painted it again. We practised parade after parade after parade. For three months we cleaned, polished, trimmed, cut, swept and fixed everything, absolutely everything.
The day arrived with a perfect blue sky. Dress uniforms were donned, rifles and white gloves issued, and we all made our way to our allocated start point. The band started playing and orders shouted: “by the left …queek match”. Hundreds of blue-grey uniforms marched onto the vast tarmac to the sound of the Royal Air Force March Past.
When the whole parade had assembled, we were ordered “at eeese”, this was our relaxed position, we were allowed a small amount of knee bending to keep the blood circulating.
“Parrrayyyd” we stiffened, “attennnnn … shun”, and as one, our left foot was brought in to meet the right foot. We stood to attention for inspection.
When you are being inspected, you stand to full attention, stiff, with arms straight down either side, your head is straight forward but your eyes are staring at the cap badge of the officer standing in front of you. You DO NOT look at the eyes of the inspecting officer. Normally, the officer gives a perfunctory gaze at the boots of one airman, the uniform of the next one, and the face of the third, while walking swiftly down the line. You do not, and I mean DO NOT want to be noticed.
Being noticed is bad, always bad, being a nobody in the crowd is always good.
Today, the inspecting party started with the Duke of Edinburgh and followed in descending rank order, a bit like the tallest at the front and the smallest at the back.
I could see him approach out the corner of my eye, extra stiff, eyes up high … and then he stopped right in front of me. He was tall and I am small, my eyes were stretching up to his cap badge. He stopped and turned to face me directly, he was staring at me. He looked at my shoes, the creases on my trousers, my rifle … a small sick feeling came over me and tiny beads of sweat started to form on my brow. He was examining the creases on my sleeve, and then he looked straight at me. Not a glance but a full-on stare, like he had a personal grudge with me.
He glared at my face and I stared at his badge cap, he stared at my face and I gazed, off into the vast reaches of space, and sweated.
Then after about a decade, he moved on. I then had every other person in the entourage took turns to stare at me, all the way down the ranks, they were all trying to work out why the Duke was so interested in me. They stared at me, one after another, I stared at the imaginary cap badge.
The last one in the party was a sergeant. He moved his face to about 1 inch from mine, eye to eye, nose to nose and said through gritted teeth “what the fuck was that about?”.
I didn’t know then and now, I will never know.
* to be absolutely precise I didn't actually meet him, not personally but allow me a little artistic licence.