Soldiers who took on the role of coffin bearers for Queen Elizabeth II on her final journey home have attracted praise for performing the monumental task “with great dignity and poise” under the watchful eyes of millions.
Members of the public lauded the eight pallbearers for their steadiness and composure while shouldering the late monarch’s coffin into Westminster Abbey for her funeral and later carrying it up the steps of St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle for the committal service.
Relatives and neighbours of the men, picked from the 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards, have since come forward to say how proud they felt after watching them carry out their duty.
The queen was company commander for the soldiers who were all serving in Iraq when she died on September 8. They flew back to the UK and prepared for the ceremonial events surrounding the death of Britain’s longest-reigning monarch.
After carrying the coffin into Westminster Hall last week for the queen’s lying in state, they returned to the spotlight this week for her state funeral, attended by the king, the royal family and world leaders. They were led by a ninth soldier, Company Sgt Maj Dean Jones, a married father-of-one, with another guard at the rear of the casket.
“It was an honour to see him and he did an amazing job,” his mother Gaynor said. “I am very proud of him.”
Deserving of recognition
There have been calls for the troops to be given awards for their efforts, with some suggesting they should be presented with medals while others say they deserve to be knighted.
Lord Dannatt, the former head of the British Army, backed calls for the men to be awarded medals. “The Royal Victoria Order is given for personal service to the sovereign,” he said. “What could be more personal than carrying the sovereign's body for lying in state, as well as the state funeral?”
Among the group chosen for the huge task were a teenager and a former reservist.
The father of Luke Simpson from Nottinghamshire, identified as one of the pallbearers, told of his pride in his son.
“I would like to say thank you for all the lovely comments for yesterday,” Mark Simpson wrote on Facebook on Tuesday. “We are so proud of Luke.
“We had a tear watching but they have all done us proud. It's been an honour to watch this and see them all doing their best for the country and the crown.”
The soldier was second from the back of the right-hand side of the coffin. Mr Simpson’s local MP Lee Anderson heaped praise on him and his fellow constituent Arron Lowe, who also took part in the funeral.
“Ashfield Lads. Luke and Arron doing their duty and making their families and the whole of Ashfield feel incredibly proud. Serving queen and country,” Mr Anderson wrote on Facebook.
His local football team also praised his performance. A post on Selston FC's Facebook page read: "Respect to you Luke Simpson, flawless under pressure with the whole world watching on. You have done your country, village, family and friends proud!"
Other guards serving alongside them included David Sanderson from Morpeth in Northumberland and Fletcher Cox, a 19-year-old from Jersey. The teenager was in 2018 awarded the Lieutenant-Governor's medal, the highest honour that can be awarded to one of the island’s Army Cadets.
The young soldier who was at the back of the pallbearer party was said to have displayed a “passion” for service from an early age. Laura Therin, a staff sergeant with Jersey’s Army Cadet Force, told ITV: “We were all quite astounded — seeing him wasn't something any of us were expecting, but we're all so incredibly proud of Fletcher and his achievements.
“I've known Fletcher since he first started with the Cadets. He always was a very organised young man who lived and breathed Cadets. He always knew he wanted to go into that line of work — it always was his passion and it's so great to see that paying off.”
Lee Dixon, Mr Sanderson’s grandfather from Newcastle upon Tyne, took to social media to speak of his pride.
“I would like to put my proud grandfather head on and let you know that my grandson, David, who is in the Queen’s Company of the Grenadier Guards, was one of the pallbearers for the coffin,” he wrote on Facebook. “He is the blond haired one at the front, on the left of the coffin.
“Myself and my daughter, son-in-law, and every one of our family are very proud of David and what he has achieved, for himself and our country.”
Mr Dixon, a retired police officer, said his daughter had “cried until she went to bed” after watching her son take part in the queen’s funeral.
Others who had links to the soldiers, or simply admired them for their work, took to Twitter to praise them.
"My friend’s nephew was one of the queen’s pallbearers," wrote one woman with the Twitter handle @SalopSkyBlue2. "There he is, 3rd from the front. What a great honour and a huge responsibility. He and his colleagues carried out their duties with great dignity and poise. I trust they will be congratulated and honoured in due course."
Kathryn Hall tweeted to praise the men for their "incredible" work. "I think we can all agree the eight pallbearers of the queen's coffin absolutely deserve recognition," she said. "Medals, knighthood, titles."
Adrian Hilton, a lecturer in politics and political philosophy, said a certificate would hardly suffice given the huge responsibility the Grenadier Guards had been given.
“You get a certificate for swimming a length,” he wrote on Twitter. “Of course the bearer party deserve MBEs [Most Excellent Order of the British Empire]: they were magnificent.
“If the relevant state honours committee doesn't agree, the king has his own order of honours and could appoint them all MVO [Member of the Royal Victorian Order] or LVO [Lieutenant of the Royal Victorian Order].”