ROYAL BRITISH LEGION FESTIVAL OF REMEMBRANCE ROYAL ALBERT HALL LONDON

On 4 November, I made my way to RAF Halton, with apprehension as to what I had got myself into again, to participate in the 2017 Royal British Legion’s Festival of Remembrance, held annually at the Royal Albert Hall London.

Having previously participated in this prestigious event back in 2015, I understood what was involved, and the effort and standards of foot drill that are expected by the Queens Colour Squadron (QCS). Unfortunately, I had underestimated the early mornings, late nights and travel involved with this year’s event, as in previous years personnel drawn from all ranks and trades within the RAF were accommodated at RAF Northolt, due to other RAF commitments over the remembrance weekend personnel were accommodated at Halton, which meant daily travel to Northolt to undertake foot drill training, and the dreaded stairs training.

Being taught by an RAF Regiment SNCO how to walk down stairs was, once again an experience, walking down stairs is an instinctive act, you would think…… It is not, learning this act all over again, without looking down and keeping your arms to your side, is the most un-natural feeling, but once you have carried it out a few hundred times, it becomes easy and more natural.

Regrettably, QCS do not leave the stairs training alone, they move you around different flights of stairs at Northolt and Halton until the Friday before the festival, when we were bussed to the Royal Albert Hall, at stupid o’clock in the morning and began the stairs practice all over again, on the actual stairs we were to descend during the performances, in a smart military manner on the day of the Festival of Remembrance.

After a few attempts, the entire RAF personnel contingent became experts at marching down stairs and we all found ourselves walking up and down various stairs around the Albert Hall in unison, without even realising (quite embarrassing really).

During the Friday rehearsals at the Royal Albert Hall, the BBC decided that they wanted to put the 2 minutes silence live on the Royal British Legion website at 11.00 (11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month), this in itself was not too painful, but was under the full bright lights, of the Royal Albert Hall, which became very uncomfortable. If this is what the performance was to be like, then we need help, and plenty of water!

Following our dispersal for lunch some of the professional artists came over to speak with and have photos taken with the RAF contingent, the likes of Alfie Boe (formerly lead role in Les Miserables), all performers also had time to mingle with the others and we rapidly found that all were as nervous as each other, more so the celebrities.

Saturday 11 November 2017 began with a very early start and we  were looking forward to a very long day, beginning with more stairs and standing still practice, which was not too painful, this was again under the full bright lights, of the Royal Albert Hall, which again became very uncomfortable.

14.00 hrs, Saturday 11 November 2017, ShowTime, it was not the time to get it wrong in this performance, not only would we look like a bunch of amateurs, but the QCS, Garrison Sargeant Major (GSM), and over 4 million people viewing on television would see the mistake on the TV. Fortunately only the Army and Navy made the mistakes on the afternoon performance. Finally the time came at 19.00 hrs on the Saturday evening when we were to perform the Military Muster in front of Her Majesty the Queen.

Nerves had set in with all performers and if we got it wrong here……well, who knows what would happen and we were definitely not going to find out, so all of the members of the RAF contingent and QCS of the military muster pulled out all the stops and performed our drill to the best of our ability, we knew we could do it as we had been given some of the best foot drill instruction of our careers, and QCS would not suffer anything less than the best of standards.

The evening show began at 19.30 hrs on the dot, with the arrival into the arena of the Standards of the Royal British Legion, The Royal Family took their seats and the performance continued with various celebrities (Emeli Sande, Alfie Boe, Tom O’Dell and Leslie Garrett) performing to the audience appreciation.

QCS celebrated 75 years of the RAF Regiment, with a spectacular continuity Drill display, wearing uniforms of WW2 RAF Regiment and Current No1 uniform. There was also a commemoration of Passchendaele 100 and women 100 (women serving in the Armed Forces). 

Finally it was time for the Military Muster, firstly the Royal Navy took to the stairs, all seemed well, next the Army….oops a stumble, but all was well otherwise, finally the RAF, perfect, if a step was missed then it was rectified quickly, some 45 minutes after first arriving in the arena we were given the signal of the opening bars of the National Anthem to about turn, phew a movement out of the attention, and three cheers for Her Majesty the Queen was given by the GSM, again another movement once the Queen had departed the GSM made his way through the Muster and we were dismissed, phew we could move again.

After talking to some of the other service members and veterans we made our way back to the dressing room to change and return to RAF Halton, all ready for the various Cenotaph and Church services in Central London.

All I can say is what an experience, the feeling of being part of the RAF Contingent at this event is second to none, and the appreciation from the veterans and their families for our commitments today is something that will live with me for the rest of my life. If anyone has the opportunity to participate in such an event, my advice is give it a go you will almost certainly enjoy it.

By Cpl Richard Fuller

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