I will be forever grateful to Peter Duffell, who reminded me in conversation one day that “Readiness is key!” Nowhere was this truer than in Rideau Camp, Belize, on 24 February 1994 when the Regiment hosted a visit by Her Majesty the Queen. This perhaps droll report conceals a day of unwitting and relentless drama.
Our preparation had been thorough and meticulous and we had not allowed the complexities of being at the end of a sometimes tenuous line of communication stand in our way. As the visit would include lunch most of the Mess silver had been flown in from Hong Kong, a couple of chefs, so too the Queen’s Truncheon. The camp had been smartened up – not the easiest of exercises given its jungle location adjacent to a dirt track road – and the Mess with its atap proof, although not quite House & Garden material, had never looked more loved and gave the whole place an exotic al fresco feel. My quarters (as Commandant I enjoyed my own portacabin and, importantly, an ensuite bathroom) had been deep cleaned ready for royal ablutions as necessary. All we now needed were the key players.
The Duke of Edinburgh was the first to arrive by helicopter, supposedly en route to a WWF lunch deep in the jungle. He was accompanied by Miles Hunt-Davis, his Private Secretary and as Brig BG one of my previous bosses. HRH descended from the RAF Puma: “Why am I here?” he demanded. “Well sir”, I said “you’re here to change and freshen up while the heli refuels and then it will take you on to your jungle lunch.” He replied: “I am not thirsty, I have already changed and I don’t need a pee”. He may not have done but I was beginning to need one! Miles did not/could not help because he was laughing so much. Clearly not the best of days for the great man. However, after one of those brief, unstructured and pointless conversations that one indulges in on helipads it was something of a relief to send HRH on his way with a full tank of petrol.
The Gurkha Major and I retired to my office for a breather. All seemed to be well when the phone rang – it was Inspector Flowers, Chief of Police, Punta Gorda District. ”Colonel, de Queen am arriving in five Minutes !” He shouted down an uncertain telephone line. I replied: “Thank you Inspector,the Queen is arriving in 55 minutes” I was hugely comforted that she at least was, in Programming terms, behaving. “No Colonel, de Queen am arriving in 5 minutes!” Inspector Flowers shouted.
Thank God for Gurkha Majors. Thank God for Gurkha soldiers. Thank God for Peter Duffell. It took us probably two minutes to alert the Camp, time enough for the Quarterguard to deploy, for the Royal Standard to be readied and for the GM and I to scurry round to where we would meet Her Majesty. Three minutes later Her Majesty and entourage entered Rideau Camp with dust and at speed.
Her Majesty was clearly aware of the adjustment in timings: “I hope I am not too early” she said as she exited her landrover and retired with her Lady in Waiting to my quarters. I used the intervening few minutes to brief my Second in Command (Brian Clesham) onessential adjustments to the Programme, mostly an extension of the pre-lunch drinks and the introduction of more people into the Mess to fill the time. A number of personnel, thinking they were not involved in the royal visit, suddenly found themselves being presented to the Queen. We spent longer inspecting the QT than planned and I let the Gurkha Major, the Truncheon Jemedar (Lokbahadur) and the escort work their Gurkha charm.
Her Majesty The Queen inspecting the Queen’s Truncheon in Belize, accompanied by (to her right) the Commandant, Lieutenant Colonel WF Shuttlewood, and (to her left) the Gurkha Major, Major (QGO) Lalbahadur Gurung. Lieutenant (QGO) Lokbahadur Gurung was the Truncheon Jemadar.
It was obvious that she enjoyed the increasingly spontaneous direction her Visit Programme had taken and it made for a very relaxed and thoroughly enjoyable lunch. And at the end, Her Majesty, now joined by the Duke of Edinburgh, was taken on a brief and hugely informal walking tour of the camp, escorted by the Regiment en mass, before departing by road and perhaps another early arrival! It could not really have gone better.
The Private Secretary’s subsequent letter thanks, on notepaper headed: “The Royal Yacht Britannia, en route to Grand Cayman” opened by saying: “I am sure it was apparent to all just how much Her Majesty enjoyed her visit to your Regiment …..”. So did we.
And the reason for the early arrival? The Royal Recce Party in December had been meticulous in recording the travel time by road between various locations – and these had been reflected in the Visit Programme.. Unfortunately the Belize Government had spent the following two months filling in all the potholes, allowing the Royal Convoy to travel at 40 mph rather than 10 mph!. As Peter Duffell said: “readiness is key”!
I recall that Her Majesty arrived some 40 minutes earlier than planned because after the visit recce two months previously the Belize Government had filled in all the potholes in the road she was going to use. Her convoy was therefore able to travel at 40 miles an hour instead of the expected 10. Ironically the extra time introduced by her early arrival made the visit more relaxed than it would otherwise have been, and her Private Secretary subsequently wrote to say “I am sure it was apparent to all just how much Her Majesty enjoyed her visit to your Regiment …..”. So did we!