Queen’s Mary’s Funeral

A very detailed report circulated to the Officers of The Queen’s Own Rifles by then Lieutenant Colonel J. Neil Gordon on his participation as a pall bearer at the funeral of Colonel-in-Chief Queen Mary in 1953.

The Queen’S Own Rifles of Canada
University Avenue Amouries
Toronto, Ontario

24 April 1953

To:            All Officers, The QOR of C
From:       C.O.

I an sure you will all be interested to read gone detail on my trip to England. I am, therefore, sending you this letter as I will be unable to see many of you who live outside the city for some time to come. I am simply going to set down my impressions of the trip in chronological order and this letter is a copy of what will appear in the War Diary of the Regiment.

On Tuesday the 24th. of March, the death of Her Majesty Queen Mary was announced. The Late Queen Mary, who as we all know was a very regal person and an outstanding example of why the monarchy is so popular in Great Britain and the British Commonwealth, had been Colonel-in-Chief of The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada since 1928. It was the great fortune of many of the officers of the Queen’s Own to have met Her Majesty and in some cases to have been received at Marlborough House by Queen Mary.  She had always taken a very real interest in The Queen’s Own Rifles and in many of the officers of the Regiment. Her passing has left a very real sense of loss in the Regiment. All ranks, both past and present, will remember Her Late Majesty, Queen Mary.

When Queen Mary’s death was announced, several of the ex-Commanding Officers, Brig. Spragge, Col. MacKendrick, H/Lt Col. Johnston and Lt. Col Macdonnell agreed that the Commanding Officer’ of the Home Battalion should be sent to represent the Regiment at the funeral. These gentlemen had arranged the financing of such a trip and Brig. Spragge spent most of the 25th. trying to get through to Maj. Wickhan, Queen Mary’s Secretary, by telephone. Brig. Spragge had cleared with Ottawa that it was permissible for me to go, and wished to obtain sanction for my presence at the funeral. No telephone lines were available during the day so Brig. Spragge cabled Maj. Wickham and requested permission for me to represent the Regiment at the funeral.

A Regimental parade was held on Wednesday the 25th, of March and the whole parade was devoted to a. memorial service for the Late Queen Mary. Although it had not been possible to send out any warning, the galleries were well filled with ex-members of the Regiment end friends, and some general public. The parade took the form of a normal battalion fall-in following which the massed bands played retreat. The parade was then turned over to H/Lt. Col. the Reverend Canon Stewart who addressed the battalion and made appropriate,e reference to the t,tremendous loss which the Empire had suffered. He then led prayers for the Late Queen Mary. This ceremony was conducted with the Regimental drums draped as a background for the padre. The Regiment then marched past the Commending Officer and seven of the former Commanding Officers who had tuned out. After the march past, the Regiment was dismissed thus ending a very short, but nevertheless, I believe, fitting tribute to our Colonel-in-Chief.

Late on the evening of March 27th., Brig. Spragge received a cable from the War Office that said in effect if Col. Gordon arrived he would be a pall bearer in the procession on Sunday the 29th. This cable also informed us that three officers and 18 other ranks from the Queen’s Own Company in the 27th. Brigade at Hanover, Germany, would be in the procession. They requested to know whether Col. Gordon would arrive. Brig. Spragge immediately cabled that I would arrive. I had in the meantime been attempting, without success, to get a. flight on any airline to arrive in England Some time on Sunday or Monday. I immediately tried to get a flight which would arrive on Saturday the 28th. On Friday morning the 27th, after rush trips to the bank, the post office to collect my passport, the doctor to get vaccinated, and interspersed with frantic telephone calls to the airlines to try and get a flight, I finally was able to get a flight to Montreal. I rushed home to pack my uniforms. The speed of press information services is illustrated by the fact that two reporters were at Malton for interviews when I left, and one at London when I arrived in England.

When I arrived in Montreal I found that BOAC, realizing the importance of my flight, had arranged to put me on a tourist plane leaving Friday evening so I immediately went to the overseas air terminal. I found that I was to sit in what normally would have been the stewardess’ seat as that was the only way BOAC could get me to England. I left Montreal at 2000 on the 27th. and flew via Goose Bay and Prestwick to London airport arriving there at about 1630 GMT on Saturday the 28th.

I was met at the airport by Col. Semark from the Canadian Amy Liaison establishment in London. He had for me the orders for the procession the following day and a sword, as swords were to be worn. He had also arranged hotel accommodation and a driver to get me to the hotel. That evening I met Maj. Henk Elliott who had arrived from Germany with a Capt. Wilson, Lt Mike Symons, end 18 men from the Queen’s Own Company. I did not see Lt. Symons that evening as he was busy looking after the 18 men who had been stationed in the guard’s barracks. They were busily getting their uniforms in shape for the procession. The following morning, Sunday the 29th of March, I reported to Friary Court which is a portion of St. James Palace immediately opposite Marlborough House. With typical British efficiency, there was a marker to show where to report and a Colonel of the Guards, one of the marshalls of the procession, to issue last-minute instructions. He was also to show us where to fall in and what the pall bearers were to do throughout the procession.

There were six pall bearers. Queen Mary had been Colonel-in-Chief of only six Regiments. One of these, an Indian Regiment, was not represented. The four other Regiments were all represented by the Colonel of the Regiment. The Colonel fo the Regiment is equivalent to an H/Col. in the Canadian Army. The fifth pall bearer representing one of Queen Mary’s Regiments was myself. The sixth was a Major from the regular British army. He commands the 50th. Field Battery, Royal Artillery. The Major had been put in as a pall bearer when it was found that I would be, in fact, attending. The 50th. Battery had been one of the units that had done a great deal of service around Queen Mary’s residences. This Battery was one of her favourites and w.s allowed to wear her Royal Cipher. However, she was not Colonel-in-Chief of the Battery. The Colonels of the four British Regiments were a General, an Admiral, and two Major-Generals.

The procession famed up outside Marlborough House. The seniority of Regiments is reversed in the funeral procession so that the seniority works outwards from the gun carriage. The procession was heeded by 210 all ranks from the Air Force; followed by 210 all ranks from the Brigade of Guards; 42 all ranks from the Household Cavalry; 262 all ranks from the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines; then the massed bands of the Brigade of Guards; the G.O.C. London District, and his staff; then two of Queen Mary’s footmen, two of her pages, and her steward; followed by the gun carriage of the King’s Troop, Royal Horse Artillery, bearing the coffin; with the three pall bearers on either side flanked on the outside by the bearer party from the Queen’s Company of the Grenadier Guards. Then came the four Royal Dukes: Edinburgh, Gloucester, Windsor, and Kent; Prince George of Denmark; members of the British nobility; The First Sea Lord, Sir Roderick McGregor; the Adjutant-General to the forces, General Sir John Crocker; Air Marshall Sir John Whitworth Jones; and detachments from the following regiments of which Queen Mary was Colonel-in-Chief.

  • The 13th/18th Royal Hussars, (Queen Mary’s Own)
  • The Queen’s Royal Regiment (West Surrey)
  • The 299th. (Royal Buckinghamshire Yeomanry and Queen’s Own Oxfordshire Hussars) Royal Artillery T.A.
  • The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada
  • The 298th. (Surrey Yeomanry -Queen Mary’s) Field Regiment, Royal  Artillery, T.A.

Also included were detachments from:

  • The 50th. Field Battery Royal Artillery
  • Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps
  • Queen Alexandra’s Royal Naval Nursing Service
  • And a Rear Party of the Brigade of Guards

The whole procession was televised and, of course, many newsreel pictures were also taken. During the BBC commentary the only regiment mentioned by name was The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada and the commentator went on to say that many of his listeners would remember the gallant regiment that had led the assault on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day. There were also references to the fact that, the Commanding Officer from The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada had been flown over to take part in the procession. It is interesting to note here that, as far as I could determine, it was the first tine in history that a person from outside the British Isles had ever been a pall bearer at the funeral of a King or Queen of England.

I had many favourable comments given to me about the marching and appearance of The Queen’s Own Rifles contingent. I was very pleased to find that they were unanimous in stating that the marching and appearance of our contingent was only equaled by that of the Royal Marines. This, by the way, cane from many English people as well as many senior Canadian officers from the Canadian Army Liaison Establishment. The procession moved from Marlborough House down the Mall, through the Horse Guards Arch to Whitehall, and down Whitehall past the Cenotaph, then to Westminster Hall which, as you know, is a part of the Houses of Parliament.

No Compliments were paid during the march by the troops taking part. The Royal Dukes, however, saluted the Cenotaph.

The whole route was lined with Guards, Navy, and Air Force, all at reverse arms. As the gun carriage cane abreast, they presented arms and returned to reverse position when the gun carriage had passed.  The route, which is approximately a mile and a half long, was absolutely jammed with a great mass of silent people. These people were standing on the stands which have been erected for the Coronation Parade. In spite of the length of the march and the huge stands which were available, many hundreds of people could not get close enough to see the procession. It is a most impressive sight, to march behind the massed bands of the Brigade of Guards through a sea of faces from which not a sound comes.

We marched to Westminster Hall at a pace of 80 to the minute which is a little slower than a slow Highland March. This pace is necessary as it ls as slow as the horses can go and still maintain an even rate of speed.

When we arrived at Westminster Hall, the bearer party carried the casket from the gun carriage into the Hall where it was mounted on the catafalque. The four Royal Dukes followed by the nobility and senior representatives of other countries followed the bearer party into the Hall. The pall bearers moved in behind this group. During the service, we stood immediately behind the Royal Dukes and the nobility. The Queen, Queen Mother, and Ladies of the Royal Family were at the opposite side of the catafalque.

In Westminster Hall there was a very simple service conducted by the Archbishop of Canterbury. The most impressive portion of this service to me was the magnificent singing of the choir, and the fact that the Hall was lined on each side with the members of Parliament and the House of Lords together with their Ladies. After the ceremony, the Queen, followed by the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret, followed by Ladies-in-Waiting and the Royal Dukes, moved out past, where I was standing to go back to the palace. As they moved out, they each one in turn passed within three or four feet of me so I had an excellent, look at all of the Royal Family.

It ls perhaps appropriate to point out here that the British press gave this procession full pictorial coverage and that The Queen’s Own Rifles received a great deal of favourable comment. There were good pictures of our contingent, marching including an excellent one of them passing the Cenotaph which will be in the mess for any officer to see. There also were two or three papers which carried special features about the arrival of the Commanding Officer of The Queen’s Own Rifles from Canada with write-ups of how I had been flown over specially for the occasion.

I found that the pall bearers were being even further honoured by being requested to partake in the family ceremony at Windsor on Tuesday the 31st. of March.

On Monday the 30th. of March, the pall bearers were taken by War Office car to Windsor which, as you know, is a about 40 miles from London. There we went through a rehearsal of everything that was to be done on the following day. In true Guards fashion, the bearer party were there with a box filled with sand bags weighing five hundred pounds to represent the casket they would carry on the following day. The funeral was in St George’s Chapel which, as you know, is where each of the Knights of the Garter has a stall with his personal standard hanging above it. This to me has always been one of the most interesting and beautiful buildings in Britain. It was, of course, to be a much more impressive sight during the funeral.

On Tuesday the 31st. of March the pall bearers and all the mourners who were going to the Funeral from London went to Paddington Station to board a special train. This took us to Windsor and we walked from the station up to the Castle. On the lawns of St. George’s Chapel were spread all the multitude of floral tributes which had come in from people all over the world. This was a tremendously impressive sight as there were hundreds and hundreds of huge wreaths and sprinkled through them were a very large number of small bouquets obviously gathered by hand in English gardens or parklands and sent in by children end ordinary English men and women. The Regiment had sent a tribute which took the form of a mass of beautiful red roses about three feet in circumference which was mounted on a green background and was, I felt, entirely suitable.

The pall bearers moved in to the Albert Memorial Chapel which is behind the alter of St. George’s Chapel. We then moved with the coffin through a passage which runs down the side of St. George’s Chapel into the main body of the church, and then back up through the centre of the chapel towards the altar. The casket was preceded by Capt. Arthur Pageant, Lord Claude Hamilton, and the Honourable John Coke, bearing the insignia of her Late Majesty, and by the Lord Chamberlain. Following the casket came the four Royal Dukes: Kent, Gloucester, Windsor, and Edinburgh; and the Earl of Athlone. Then came the Crown Prince of Norway, the King of the Belgians, King Hussien of Jordan, Prince Axel of Denmark, Prince Chula of Thailand, Prince Bertil of Sweden, Prince Felix of Luxenbourg, Prince George of Denmark, The Duke of Brunswick, Prince George of Hannover, Prince Louis of Hesse, Admiral Earl Mountbatten of Burma, Honourable Gerald Lascelles, The Earl of Harewood, The Marquess of Carisbrooke, Admiral Sir Alexander Ramsay, The Marquess of Cambridge, The Marquis of Milford Haven, The Duke of Beaufort, Mr. Rlchard Abel Smith, Sir John Weir, Lord Webb-Johnson., and Sir Horace Evens.

The Queen, Queen Mother, Princess Margaret, the Duchess of Kent, and the ladies of the Royal Family were all standing in stalls under the banners of the Knights of St. George. As well as the members of the family, Prime Minister Winston Churchill and many of the senior nobility were also standing in the stalls. The service was conducted by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Dean of Windsor.

The burial service commenced. Here again one of the outstanding things was the singing of the choir which is small and all maIe. The singing was extremely beautiful as many of you will have heard over the radio. The Queen sprinkled soil on the casket as the words ”ashes to ashes, dust to dust” were pronounced. After the service, the Queen, Queen Mother, Princess Margaret, and ladies of the Royal Family came forward and curtsied in front of the casket as they left. They were followed by the Royal Dukes who bowed and moved on. All these Royal Mourners then passed within one or two feet of the pall bearers on their way back into the main part of the Castle.

One of the outstanding portions of the funeral ceremony was the reading by Sir George Bellew, Garter King of Arms, the styles and titles of her Late Majesty. The Garter King of Arms was dressed in the regalia of a Knight of the Garter.

For the ceremony at Windsor the pall bearers wore No. 1 dress so that I wore patrols, nickel plated sword, black cape, and the F.S. green cap. During the procession on Sunday, the pall bearers had all worn service dress, flat hat, greatcoats, and carried swords.

Following the funeral, we were taken back by special train to London where I met The Queen’s Own contingent. As I had been unable to obtain an air flight to Hannover due to the Easter rush, I went back with the contingent to Hannover by taking a train on Tuesday night to Harwich at the mouth of the Thames and then by overnight boat from Harwich to the Hook of Holland. The following day we took an all-day journey by train from the Hook of Holland. This train was a British Army train and was fairly comfortable.

On Wednesday the 1st of April, I arrived at Hannover about 1800 and was met by Lt Mike O’Grady who took me to the 27th. Brigade Headquarters where I was to stay. Brig. John Pangman, a former Queen’s Own officer, is the Brigadier and he had a mess dinner for me at Brigade Headquarters.

The following morning, Thursday April 2nd., Brig. Pangman drove me over to visit the 1st. Canadian Rifles. Unfortunately, Col. Delamere, a Queen’s Own Officer who commands the Rifles, was away on leave. However, his 2IC, Maj. McPherson, took me on a tour of the camp. I was very impressed with the accommodation which is as good as I have ever seen anywhere for troops. The facilities such as canteens, theatres, chapels, and clubs, that are available for the men are excellent. The food was much better than I remembered from the Army during the war and is, I believe, as good or better than most of us would eat at home. I was very impressed with the type of officer and senior NCO they had in the Rifle Battalion.

I had lunch in the Rifles’ Mess which is extremely well appointed. They have civilian girls as waitresses dressed in Rifle green smocks. They have china and silver bearing the Rifle crest. In all, it was a first class show. In the afternoon I spent my time with The Queen’s Own Company and here it might be well to mention that Maj. Bill Weir, Maj. Hank Elliott, Lts. Mike Symons and Art Whaley are all in good form. So is Lt. Mike O’Grady who is in L.O. at Brigade. I made quite clear that if Symons, O’Grady and Whaley do go back to civilian life when their period of service is up this fall, we would be extremely pleased to have them back in the Reserve Battalion. Majors Weir and Elliott are, of course, regular soldiers. During the afternoon, Bill Weir took me for a tour of Hannover and a quick look at the shopping area. It was very impressive to see how much re-building had been done in one of the worst bombed cities of Germany. It was not as well cleared up or rebuilt as London is, but it was amazing to see how much work had been accomplished in the period since the war. In London, by the way, with the exception of the area around St. Paul’s, it is now almost impossible to see any evidence of bomb damage.

Everywhere I went I heard excellent reports on the Queen’s Own Company and the Rifle Battalion. It seemed quite clear to me that the Rifle Battalion is the best battalion in the 27th Brigade, and that the Queen’s Own Company is the best Company in the battalion.  I think this is a real tribute to the quality of officers and men we sent when the battalion was being formed. The Queen’s Own Company is, as you know, the Support Company now commanded by Maj. Elliott, while Maj. Weir, who was the original Support Company commander, now commands Headquarters Company. Support Company have managed to win nearly every competition which they have entered, not only in the 27th. Brigade, but also in the British Army of the Rhine.

During the evening, I had dinner with Bill Weir and his wife in a very pleasant apartment which they have in Hannover. Later in the evening all the Queen’s Own officers went out on a tour of Hannover. However, in an account of this nature, it is possibly best to leave the social part of the trip to the imagination. Suffice to say that Mrs. Weir and the six QOR officers had a very enjoyable evening. The Weir’s are excellent hosts and their family are all well.

The following morning I flew from Hannover via Amsterdam to London. From the air, the flood damage sows up very clearly. Parts of the area in Holland were still under water. The parts that had been drained were brown and the parts under cultivation were a very vivid green.

I arrived back ln London Friday afternoon and immediately made arrangements to see Maj. Wickham, the late Queen Mary’s Secretary, at Marlborough House on the following morning. During the evening, I went out with some friends at the Caledonia Club (Scots only) and when I got back to the hotel the porter told me that there had been a man trying to get in touch with me all evening. He had just, finished calling again and the porter suggested that I call him immediately. I did and found it was a British free-lance journalist who tuned out to be more high-pressure than a life insurance salesman.

He explained that he wanted to get my complete story to write up for one of the British magazines and wished to see me the following morning. I explained that I was going shopping the following morning and then proceeding to Marlborough House, and was catching a plane at noon. However, he insisted on meeting me for a few minutes over a cup of coffee in the morning. I explained to him that I was going shopping to try and get a gift for my wife end he stated that he would meet me at Fortnum & Masons, one of the best English Shops. To this I finally agreed.

The following morning as I was hawing breakfast, the journalist phoned to explain that as it was Easter Saturday, all the best shops in London were closed. However, he could still meet me at Fortnum & Masons where the grocery department only was open. About fifteen minutes later, he phoned again to explain that he had been talking to the General Manager of Fortnum & Masons and had arranged with him for me to shop any place I wished in the Store.

When I arrived at Fortnum & Masons, I went in the maln entrance and immediately saw two men in morning coats and a man in a lounge suit all bow. These people turned out to be the journalist, the General Manager of the store, and one of his assistants. Needless to say I obtained a very nice gift for my wife.

The journalist got his interview end I went along to Marlborough House. I spent a very pleasant hour with Maj. Wickham during which he enquired for many of the officers such as Brig. Spragge, Col. MacKendrick, H/Lt Col. Johnston, Lt. Col. Lett, Maj. Jennings; and Maj. Dunkelman. whom he knew by repute. I endeavoured to express to Maj. Wickham, the appreciation of the Regiment for all the assistance he has always given us.

I then got a TCA plane from London airport which flew via Shannon where we stopped for an hour. The time was very pleasantly spent as all continental airports have a bar. We then flew to Canada where we were to land at Gander. However, our old friend the Gander Airport was fogged in so we went right through to Moncton. When we went to take off from Moncton we developed engine trouble and could not get off . We had a seven hour wait while they sent a plane from Montreal to pick us up. Another short flight to Toronto and I had completed approximately 8,000 miles in nine days.

I can hardly close this letter without giving credit to all the officers, not only our own ex-C.0.s, but the officers in Canadian Any Liaison in England and our own officers in Germany, for all the courtesies and kindnesses they paid me during my trip. I should also mention that when I arrived back I found that the Canadian Army was paying for the trip and that Procter & Gamble [where Gordon worked] had offered to make up any expense which I incurred.

I must also point out that the Regiment received a tremendous amount of, what I believe was, extremely favourable publicity both in Canada. and England end also in other countries. Although it would appear that much of this publicity was personal, I think we must all bear in mind that it was given to the Commanding Officer of The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada. It was my great fortune to be the incumbent at this particular time so I am, therefore, writing this to try and share with each of you the honour that came to the Commanding Officer while representing the Regiment at the funeral of Her Late Majesty, Queen Mary.


J.N. Gordon  Lt. Col,
The Queen’s Own Rifles Of Canada

"In Pace Paratus – In Peace Prepared"

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