As they gear up to bid farewell to Her Majesty The Queen one last time on Monday, British veterans are reflecting on the late monarch’s everlasting sacrifice of service to the nation.
Countless retired serviceman and women proudly displayed their military honors as they endured long hours in line to see the Queen’s coffin in Westminster Hall.
Many felt obliged to pay their respects.
“I came here wearing my Northern Ireland medal,” veteran Keith Walsh, who waited just under 10 hours to see Her Majesty’s coffin, told The Post. “I served in the army for five years and I did two years in Northern Ireland in the ’80s.”
Walsh, 57, said he felt a deep sense of honor waiting in line for the better part of Friday.
“For veterans, first and foremost, we knew her as the boss. She was our boss — commander-in-chief of the armed forces. So there’s more than a tie of nationality to it,” Walsh said.
“It’s the service that we put forward for her, we took an oath of allegiance to Her Majesty The Queen, her heirs, and successors, and for most veterans, that oath will be there ’til the day you pass away. It’s more than respect — there’s that bond that we served for her.”
“I will never forget her unwavering dedication to our country,” he added.
Westminster Hall opened its doors to the general public Wednesday and will remain open for 24 hours each day before closing at 6:30 a.m. local time Monday — the day of Her Majesty’s state funeral.
Each day since the lines began, thousands ignored warnings of endless wait times as they patiently inched closer to the landmark in a queue snaking around the center of the capital.
Some of the veterans reflecting on Her Majesty’s 70-year-long reign had the rare pleasure of meeting her.
Lt. Gen. Sir Andrew Gregory, who served in the British Army for 35 years, said meeting Her Majesty was something he will never forget.
Gregory, who is the CEO of the Soldiers, Sailors, and Families Association, better known as SSAFA — a veterans aid organization of which Queen Elizabeth II was patron, was one of the lucky few who had met the Queen a handful of times.
“She came to open our central office the last time she formally visited the charity in 2013. Everyone remembers exactly where they were on that day and what they were doing,” Gregory told The Post.
“Her Majesty’s involvement as patron these last 70 years genuinely and truly inspired people. What she epitomized — her service, her dedication, her commitment, her values, is what all of us would like to have.”
The Queen’s involvement with SSAFA dated back to her childhood when she and her sister Princess Margaret delivered honey from their own hives to the organization’s children’s home during the Second World War, Gregory said.
“When she married Prince Phillip in 1947, they gave some of their wedding gifts to SSAFA,” Gregory explained. “For example, a collection of empire stamps was auctioned off, and the money went to charity.”
The organization helps over 70,000 veterans and their loved ones each year.
But Gregory’s experience with the late monarch didn’t end there. As Master Gunner of St James’ Park — a post established in 1678 — Gregory became the 32nd person to ever hold the post.
“I’ve had the privilege of meeting [the Queen] in that role, I’ve had two audiences with her in Buckingham Palace,” he told The Post. “And on the 24th of October 2017, I had the honor of escorting her around as she reviewed the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery, who provided the gun carriage which moved Her Majesty’s coffin from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Hall.”
“As I escorted her around, what struck me was her extraordinary ability to engage with young soldiers and their families and to make them feel really important. It was the most enormous privilege.”
“On Friday, I spoke with the lead driver of that detachment who was terrified and deeply honored because he wanted to do it as well as he could,” revealed Gregory, who received two state awards; a Companion of the Order of the Bath, presented to me by Her Majesty in 2010, and the Knight of the Order of the British Empire, presented by Prince William, the Prince of Wales, in 2016.
As Gregory gears up for Monday’s state funeral for Her Majesty, he tells The Post he will represent the Royal Regiment of Artillery in Westminster Abbey and will march in the procession from Westminster Abbey to the Wellington Arch ahead of Her Majesty’s coffin.
“We are all preparing our kit and making ourselves as smart as we can and are determined to do our very best for Her Majesty and His Majesty,” he said.
Working alongside him at SSAFA is Wing Commander Kirsty Bushell, who served in the Royal Air Force for 24 years.
During that time, Bushell met Her Majesty “on a number of occasions.”
“I was so proud to serve her,” she told The Post. “We all attest to serving the Queen and it’s that sense of being part of a higher organization rather than the governmental side of it.”
Bushell recalled the “sense of expectation and joy” she felt when Her Majesty visited.
“We felt valued and seen. Her patronage was so important. There was a real sense of reverence when you met her — she listened very intently and understood she was making a memory for us at that time,” Bushell said. “She was such a steady, iconic and strong female leader.”