How Prince Philip planned his funeral with military precision

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Victoria Ward
·5 min read
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prince philip funeral military plans grenadier-guards-royal-marine-tributes - Kelvin Bruce/Jim Bennett
prince philip funeral military plans grenadier-guards-royal-marine-tributes - Kelvin Bruce/Jim Bennett

The naval call Action Stations will be sounded as the Duke of Edinburgh's body is lowered into the Royal Vault, Buckingham Palace revealed on Thursday, as details of how he planned his funeral with military precision were released.

Prince Philip was the guiding force behind all elements of the arrangements for today, having meticulously planned the ceremony over at least 18 years.

His final journey will be made on a custom-built Land Rover Defender TD5 130, which he had been quietly modifying since 2003, requesting a repaint in military green to reflect his association with the Armed Forces and making the final adjustments in 2019.

Some of the Duke's regalia will be displayed on the altar in the chapel, again personally chosen by him and including nods to his Danish and Greek heritage. His musical choices have been adapted to be performed by a reduced choir of four singers.

Prince Philip's Land Rover hearse
Prince Philip's Land Rover hearse

Although the Queen had to make some "difficult decisions" as she pared down the guest list to just 30 mourners, she included three of her husband's German relations at his request.

The Palace revealed that the Duke made a specific request for Action Stations, given at sea to summon all hands to battle stations. It will be performed by the Buglers of the Royal Marines and, although it is not often heard at funerals, anyone connected to the Royal Navy can request it.

A Buckingham Palace spokesman said: "It just goes to show the level of detail that the Duke went into around his own funeral service. It's a fitting testimony, to remind many people who won't have realised that the Duke saw active service in the Second World War aboard a ship in the Royal Navy."

His chosen insignia, the medals and decorations conferred on him by the UK and Commonwealth countries, together with his Royal Air Force wings and Field Marshal's baton, will be sewn onto nine cushions.

They include the Order of the Elephant, Denmark’s highest-ranked honour, and the Order of the Redeemer, the most prestigious decoration awarded by Greece.

Although the entire event has been significantly pared down, royal aides are confident that the final plans – signed off by the Queen – still very much reflect Prince Philip's wishes.

It will have a strong military and nautical theme, featuring Royal Navy pipers as well as the sailors' hymn Eternal Father, Strong to Save. More than 700 military personnel from units with links to the Duke are understood to be taking part in the ceremonial elements of the day.

The bearer party that carries the coffin – which will be covered by the Duke's personal standard, with his sword and naval cap – up the West Steps of the chapel will be founded by the Royal Marines, of which he was Captain General for 64 years. The Last Post will be played to signify that "a soldier has gone to his final rest".

As details of the funeral were released by Buckingham Palace, it was confirmed that the Queen will have to sit alone for the 50-minute ceremony, with guests placed two metres apart to adhere to strict social distancing guidelines. Like all 30 mourners, she will wear a face mask throughout.

Among the select group of attendees will be three of the Duke's German relations – Bernhard, the Hereditary Prince of Baden; Donatus, Prince and Landgrave of Hesse, and Prince Philipp of Hohenlohe-Langenburg, all of whom are said to be isolating at the home of a mutual friend in Ascot, Berkshire.

The inclusion of two great-nephews and a distant cousin is again understood to have been made at the Duke's behest, a reflection of how close he had remained to his own family.

Prince Philip's funeral guest list
Prince Philip's funeral guest list

There will be no congregational singing during the funeral, with the small choir of four performing each piece of music chosen by the Duke as well as the National Anthem.

Members of the Royal family will not wear military uniform after the Queen decreed that they should wear morning coats with medals or day dress instead. The move, which breaks with centuries of royal tradition, has been made in order to present a united family front at today's carefully-choreographed ceremony.

The Duke of Sussex faced the prospect of being the only senior royal not in military dress despite twice seeing active service in Afghanistan after he was forced to give up his honorary military titles after moving to the US last year.

Meanwhile, Boris Johnson on Thursday paid tribute to the Duke's "amazingly distinguished" naval career during a visit to the Britannia Royal Naval College in Dartmouth, where Prince Philip was a cadet and where he is first thought to have met the 13-year-old Princess Elizabeth in 1939.

To commemorate the Duke, the Prime Minister attended a passing out parade at the Devon college, where he congratulated naval cadets as they became officers and spoke to them about their career ambitions.

He said: "We've just seen those wonderful cadets become officers themselves and incarnating the finest traditions of the Royal Navy in the way that the Duke did himself.

"And actually, funnily enough, here in this very garden, I think in 1939, the Duke of Edinburgh met the then Princess Elizabeth for the very first time. So our thoughts are with her again today."