Lord West tribute to Queen Elizabeth II: ‘She had great affection for the Royal Navy'
The Queen was always surrounded by the Royal Navy. Her grandfather and father were both naval officers. Her father, later King George VI, was awarded a Mention in Despatches for his actions at the Battle of Jutland in 1916, as was Prince Philip at the Battle of Cape Matapan in 1941.
During World War II, the then Princess Elizabeth kept in correspondence with lieutenant Philip Mountbatten, keeping a photograph of him on her desk. It was reportedly love at first sight. After their wedding in 1947, the young naval wife enjoyed her first and last taste of carefree married life during Prince Philip’s posting to Malta. One cannot fail to be charmed by the part the Navy played in the love story between Queen Elizabeth and her husband.
Some years earlier, Elizabeth and her sister Princess Margaret had accompanied the then King and Queen on a royal tour to South Africa. Always at ease with sailors, newsreel films show the Princess skylarking with the ship’s officers onboard the battleship HMS Vanguard.
Her broad smile lit up the room
In 1952 after the death of King George VI, Elizabeth became Queen and Lord High Admiral, the ceremonial head of the Royal Navy, and one of the nine English Great Officers of State. The Queen launched and sponsored numerous warships over her reign, the last being the new aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth. She took her role as godmother of several ships very seriously.
During the year of the Golden Jubilee, there was an event in the arena alongside HMS Victory. The crescendo was the firing of the ship's broadside with blanks. I was seated alongside Her Majesty, directly opposite the muzzles some 50 metres away. The Queen asked me if it was safe, and I replied that I had been assured all the guns had been checked. There was a vast impressive explosion as the cannons fired and to my horror an apple shot out of one barrel. “Missed”, said Her Majesty, looking at me with a huge smile.
One great nautical tradition the Queen enjoyed were the fleet reviews. There were numerous smaller reviews around the United Kingdom throughout her reign but the biggest were the 1953 coronation fleet review, the 1977 Silver Jubilee review and the 2005 review for Trafalgar 200 – all held in the Solent.
At the bicentennial Trafalgar night dinner onboard HMS Victory, the Queen was my principal guest of honour seated alongside me. She gave me a knowing look and said: “you have laid on some interesting entertainment”. I looked at the menu and found to my horror that the exotic harpist who was going to play for us had been labelled as an “erotic” harpist. Her broad smile lit up the room.
Queen Elizabeth understood the sacrifices by the men and women of the armed services and the pain of bereaved families. While Prince Andrew served in the Falklands War, the Queen shared the worries and fears of her subjects and the joy on his safe return. In addition to awarding military honours, she introduced the Elizabeth Cross. It was the first medal to which the Queen put her name. Instituted in 2009, it gives special recognition to the families of those who have died on military operations or from terrorism since 1948. Queen Elizabeth led the nation in paying respect to the fallen at almost every Remembrance Sunday throughout her reign.
A strong and important link between the Queen and the Royal Navy was the Royal Yacht Britannia. Prince Philip had considerable impact on its design and Elizabeth spent some of the happiest days onboard her. The only time Her Majesty shed a tear in public was when the ship paid off in December 1997. It was a cruel thing for the nation to do. She bore its loss stoically, never complaining publicly.
Queen Elizabeth had great affection for the Royal Navy and the Navy loved her in return.
Lord West of Spithead, Labour peer and former First Sea Lord.
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