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UK military prepares for big role in Prince Philip's funeral

Last Updated Apr 16, 2021 at 11:46 am PDT

A TV camera is silhouetted against a portrait of Prince Philip in Windsor, England, Friday, April 16, 2021. Prince Philip husband of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II died April 9, aged 99, his funeral will take place Saturday at Windsor Castle in St George's Chapel. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
Summary

More than 700 military personnel set to take part in Saturday's funeral ceremony at Windsor Castle

COVID restrictions mean instead of 800 mourners, there will only be 30 inside St. George's Chapel for service

WINDSOR, England — British soldiers, sailors and air force personnel were practicing, polishing and making final preparations Friday for Prince Philip’s funeral, a martial but personal service that will mark the death of a royal patriarch who was also one of the dwindling number of World War II veterans.

More than 700 military personnel are set to take part in Saturday’s funeral ceremony at Windsor Castle, including army bands, Royal Marine buglers and an honour guard drawn from across the armed forces.

But coronavirus restrictions mean that instead of the 800 mourners included in the longstanding funeral plans, there will be only 30 inside St. George’s Chapel for the service, including the widowed Queen Elizabeth II and her four children.

Philip, who died April 9 at age 99, was closely involved in planning his funeral, an event which will reflect his Royal Navy service and lifelong military ties — and his love of the rugged Land Rover. Philip drove several versions of the four-wheel-drive vehicle for decades until he was forced to give up his license at 97 after a crash. His body will be borne to the chapel on a modified Land Rover Defender that he designed himself, painted military green and with an open back to carry a coffin.

The children of Philip and the queen — Prince Charles, Princess Anne, Prince Andrew and Prince Edward — will walk behind the hearse. So will grandsons Prince William and Prince Harry, although not side by side. The brothers, whose relationship has been strained amid Harry’s decision to quit royal duties and move to California, will flank their cousin Peter Phillips, the son of Princess Anne.

The moment is likely to stir memories of the image of William and Harry at 15 and 12, walking behind their mother Princess Diana’s coffin in 1997, accompanied by their grandfather Philip.

Armed forces bands will play hymns and classical music before the funeral service, which will also be preceded by a nationwide minute of silence.

Inside the gothic chapel, the setting for centuries of royal weddings and funerals, the service will include Royal Marine buglers sounding “Action Stations,” an alarm that alerts sailors to prepare for battle. That was a personal request from Philip, who spent almost 14 years in the Royal Navy and saw action in the Mediterranean, Indian Ocean and Pacific during World War II.

Gen. Nick Carter, the head of Britain’s armed forces, said the ceremony would “reflect military precision and above all, I think, it will be a celebration of a life well-lived.”

“It will also show, I think, how much the armed forces loved and respected him,” Carter told the BBC. “The military always have a great respect for people who have their values and standards, and who indeed have shown great courage.”

Along with Philip’s children and grandchildren, the 30 funeral guests include other senior royals and several of his German relatives. Philip was born a prince of Greece and Denmark and, like the queen, is related to a thicket of European royal families.

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Mourners have been instructed to wear masks and observe social distancing inside the chapel, and not to join in when a four-person choir sings hymns. The queen, who has spent much of the past year isolating with her husband at Windsor Castle, will sit alone.

People continued to lay flowers outside the castle, 20 miles (32 kilometres) west of London, as they have done all week, despite official entreaties to stay away because of the coronavirus.

Many said they were motivated by sympathy for the queen, who has lost her husband of 73 years.

“Mainly we are here for the queen,” said Barbara Lee, who came with her children and grandchildren. “You know, we feel so sorry for her, the same as we would for our own grandmothers, mothers. It’s a long time to have been with somebody, a whole life, and she must be absolutely devastated. And so must they all, because at the end of the day they are a normal family.”

Prince Edward, the youngest son of Philip and the queen, and his wife Sophie stopped Friday to look at the flowers and cards. Many were written by children, others by politicians including Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

The prime minister’s handwritten message said: “In grateful memory of a man to whom the nation owes more than words can say. Sent on behalf of the nation.”

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In a break with custom, members of the royal family who have served in the armed forces or have ceremonial military appointments will wear civilian clothes to the funeral.

The decision, signed off by the queen, means that Harry won’t risk being the only member of the royal family not in uniform. Harry lost his honorary military titles after he gave up frontline royal duties last year. As a result, protocol suggested that Harry, an army veteran who served two tours of duty in Afghanistan, would only wear a suit with medals at royal functions.

The decision also sidesteps another potential controversy after reports that Prince Andrew, the queen’s second-oldest son, considered wearing an admiral’s uniform to his father’s funeral. Andrew retains his military titles even though he has been sidelined from royal duties because of scandal around his friendship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

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Lawless reported from London.

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For AP’s full coverage of the death of Prince Philip go to https://apnews.com/hub/prince-philip

Jill Lawless And Jo Kearney, The Associated Press