Mr John Walmsley Grenadier Guard British Army Resident Royal Star & Garter (Picture: Royal Star & Garter).
Mr Walmsley is a resident at Royal Star & Garter in High Wycombe (Picture: Royal Star & Garter).
Veterans

WW2 veteran recalls the day he accompanied King George VI's coffin

The 95-year-old British Army veteran also took part in HM The Queen's coronation in 1953.

Mr John Walmsley Grenadier Guard British Army Resident Royal Star & Garter (Picture: Royal Star & Garter).
Mr Walmsley is a resident at Royal Star & Garter in High Wycombe (Picture: Royal Star & Garter).

A former Grenadier Guard has recalled the vital role he played on the day of His Majesty King George VI's funeral 70 years ago.

John Walmsley, who also took part in the Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II's Coronation ceremony in June 1953, is now a resident at Royal Star & Garter's High Wycombe home where the charity has been recounting the memories of its residents during the Queen's Platinum Jubilee year, marking 70 years on the throne, this year.

The 95-year-old British Army veteran, was a Sergeant in the King's Company stationed at Victoria Barracks in Windsor and in charge of escort detachment, when he heard the news that the King had died at Sandringham House in Norfolk on 6 February 1952.

Mr John Walmsley Grenadier Guard British Army (Picture: John Walmsley).
Mr John Walmsley as a young Grenadier Guard (Picture: John Walmsley).

Royal Star & Garter provides loving, compassionate care to veterans and their partners living with disability or dementia.

The British Army veteran was just 25 when, on 15 February 1952, he accompanied the King's coffin from a railway station at Windsor, to the castle and into St George's Chapel where a service was held and the king interred into the royal vault. 

The procession through the streets of Windsor was the first of a British monarch to be broadcast on television. However, the service itself was held in private, away from the cameras. 

King George VI about to board King's Flight at London Airport
King George VI about to board King's Flight at London Airport in 1951 (Picture: PA).

Mr Walmsley, who is described as being lovely and a real joker, recalls that momentous day in great detail 70 years on, saying: "In those days, there were two stations in Windsor, and the train carrying the King came into the top station, near the castle. 

"As soon as it arrived, I was there, as part of an escort which also included the Navy. 

"We escorted the coffin, walking on either side of the gun carriage, all the way from the station into Windsor Castle itself and towards St George's Chapel, ready for its burial. 

"I had 15 men on one side, 15 on the other and that was my little detachment." 

Image ID: B4R5DR coffin of King George VI funeral at Windsor 15 February 1952 on its way to St George's chapel CREDIT Trinity Mirror / Mirrorpix / Alamy Stock Photo
King George VI's funeral procession on its way to St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle, on 15 February 1952 (Picture: Trinity Mirror/Mirrorpix/Alamy Stock Photo).

However, the process was not straightforward and at one point the task became rather tense. The men were surrounded by thousands of people all wishing to be in Windsor to witness the procession plus the Royal Family who were mourning the loss of their loved one. 

Mr Walmsley explained what happened as they arrived at the chapel, saying: "The steps to St George's Chapel are very steep, and the coffin was lead-lined, so the lads who were carrying it had to practise in advance with weights inside it, to make sure they were prepared. 

"The coffin was walked up the chapel steps by the four men on either side. 

"These men were strong and strapping, but the coffin was very heavy, and as they walked up the steep steps, it sloped a lot, and the boys were struggling with it. 

"So, the Warrant Officer behind it had to push the back of the coffin, by just easing it forward, up with the boys. 

"We also had to adjust our march to the shuffle of the men who were carrying it. When the coffin went into the chapel that was the end of the responsibility for us." 

Remembering how he felt on the day, John added: "It's a strange feeling, especially with the public all around you, and you're aware that you're taking part in a moment of history. 

"But when you're serving, you're on duty, and it's all planned and timed." 

John joined the Grenadier Guards in 1944 and served until 1967, rising to the rank of Regimental Quartermaster Sergeant. He served in post-war Germany, Palestine and Malaya.