Planning the late Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral would mean careful detail and precision was required to make sure everything ran on time with the utmost accuracy.
One important person in charge of the high-profile state event was Garrison Sergeant Major Andrew “Vern” Stokes who has revealed that the rehearsals for the funeral became a “comedy of errors”.
Despite this, the Sergeant, who was also behind planning the King Charles’s Coronation, has said he remained totally calm.
It was Garrison Sergeant Major Stokes’ responsibility to ensure every soldier, sailor, and aviator knew their role and delivered a perfect parade.
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In an interview with The Sun, GSM Stokes revealed the ten days before Her Majesty’s funeral, rehearsals were a “total disaster” which actually gave him confidence that the important day would pass without a hitch.
GSM Stokes said: “Everything that could have gone wrong went wrong on the overnight rehearsal. It was so dark and the musicians couldn’t read their music cards — they played every note but I don’t know what order they were playing them in.”
He also revealed how the Gentlemen at Arms (the Sovereign’s military bodyguard), hadn’t listened to his brief as they left Westminster Hall.
He added: “They ended up coming out of an exit like a football turnstile and by the time we got the state gun carriage to Westminster Abbey, was looking around wondering where they all were.”
Then the rehearsals took a turn for the worse. Vern explained: “Then I told them not to flank the state gun carriage as we went through Wellington Arch because it was so narrow. But they ignored it and then they realised there wasn’t enough room for them. One tripped over and got run over by the carriage.”
The Sergeant, 51, reveals the King, his heir – Prince William, and Princess Anne, Prince Andrew and Prince Edward held a meeting with him and decided they wanted the 6ft 4inches tall Sergeant to walk between them and the coffin, which he did so, proudly.
For the past eight years, GSM Stokes has been in charge of every major military ceremony, from Trooping the Colour and Remembrance Sunday to the Queen’s 90th birthday.
On September 8 last year, he was at Windsor Castle when rumours grew that the 96-year-old Queen was on her deathbed.
He described his time arranging the funeral as like “being on a treadmill”, explaining it was so fast-paced and he was “purely running on adrenalin” with no time to sleep.
During those days, Vern often visited Buckingham Palace to update the King and Royal Family on proceedings.
He added “It was very sombre. At the heart of everything we were delivering was a really close family deep in mourning, and we had to be respectful of that.”
As a thank-you for his work throughout his service over the years, the Royal Family made GSM Stokes a Member of the Royal Victorian Order.