Role of the Coffin Bearers for the funeral of Lord Mountbatten.
Courtesy of Jeff Dykes.

  The following video and accompanying text shows the HMS Mercury personnel who acted as coffin bearers for the London ceremony, in the best possible light.

The role of HMS Mercury Coffin Bearers.

  In Lord Mountbatten’s operation order [self written] which as HMS Mercury’s Standing Officer of the Watch, I saw frequently ready at the drop of a hat to help launch for HMS Mercury’s involvement, the bearer party had to come from rank and rate of personnel serving in HMS Mercury. There were two bearer parties, one used for the Royal Ceremonial Funeral in London and the other for the private interment witnessed by the Romsey’s and the Royal Family in Romsey Abbey. Numbers but not names were published in the Op Order, Mercury to supply twenty two, two commissioned officers, two warrant officers, sixteen coffin bearers dressed in Class II square rig although some were senior rates, two chief petty officers in London and one petty officer in Romsey plus two cap bearers, these last mentioned ratings, both for the London venue, would collect from and return to each line of coffin bearers their caps, one for each row of bearers port and starboard, not worn when carrying the coffin but worn when marching in the major ceremonial procession from Wellington Barracks St James’s Palace [the Queen’s Chapel] and from that Palace to Westminster Abbey.

  HMS Mercury had pencilled-in that one of the commissioned officers required would be a lieutenant appointed as the 1st lieutenant’s runner given the internal name/appointment of ‘XL’ meaning executive lieutenant, normally a lieutenant SD[C]. In August 1979 XL was a rotary wing pilot, in Mercury grounded and under a cloud for having pranged his chopper. HMS Excellent, the lead authority for the Royal Ceremonial Parade, had learned that Mercury could not meet Lord Mountbatten’s wishes of having a bearer party composed of communicators, and as they called themselves, the Whale Island Mafia, decided that they would supply their own choice of officer supplanting Mercury’s XL with the OIC of the Regulating Branch School [integral within HMS Excellent] one, Lieutenant R.E. Doyle RN. He would joined the London bearers team, marching behind the coffin, at the head end. This was to alter the composition of the London party, and to reduce Mercury’s commitment down to twenty one. HMS Mercury also had, in conjunction with other fleet establishment and some Portsmouth based ship’s, a general commitment to supply hands on demand to RMB Eastney for tasks like street liners, guides, inter alia.

  Lord Mountbatten was murdered in Eire on the 27th August 1979 at a time when most of the major fleet shore establishments had given summer leave which necessitated a major recall to harvest the numbers as per the Op Order ready for a funeral, at this point date not known but soon confirmed as the 5th September.

  The recalled personnel, ranks and rates, came in in dribs and drabs and worryingly slow because most required new kit and almost all haircuts, and of course SLOPS were shut and the civilian barbers were on their holidays which meant the co-opting of several civilian barbers. HMS Excellent would have been used for training, as well as handling the recall, but it was honouring a long term commitment by hosting the RNEE [Royal Naval Engineering Exhibition] so the whole place was flooded with huge white marquee’s . The venue for funeral training was shifted out east to the Royal Marines Barracks at Eastney [itself having given summer leave] and it was there on day one that I was approached by the other Mercury warrant officer FCCY Les Murrell MBE to discuss who would take the ceremonial funeral and who the private funeral: this would be followed on with bearer selection and subsequent training. Quite to my surprise Les asked me if I would be happy with the London ceremony, and having only just a vague guess of what I was agreeing to, I said yes. Next the task of choosing my bearers involving those criteria of height, girth, bearing and under examination a self declared admittance to strength and durability. I knew only two of them, both CPO volunteers who were prepared to dress down changing rigs for the chance to take part in this enormous privilege. In addition to eight men good and true, I made a list by name for possible substitutes in case of sickness etc. The hat bearers were chosen much later on. It wasn’t long before I realised that from a group of men hoping to be chosen, I had in effect a team of communicators as per Lord Louis written instructions, but all of them from the wireless telegraphy branch [known as ‘G’ ratings] and none from the visual signalling branch [known as ‘T’ ratings]: tenth man of the London team being the provost marshal Lieutenant R E Doyle RN who afterwards wrote to me saying how proud he was to have been a temporary member of the communications branch. I thought at the time that my ‘shot-in-the-dark choice’ would be called into question, but no comment or criticism was ever mooted: was it ever noted I wonder? Across in Les Morrell’s team he had, counting himself, just three 'T’ ratings, and six or seven ‘G’ ratings [?], so the trend of piecemeal selection was borne out.

  Later a Chief gunnery instructor [CGI] from Whale Island thought the cause was that for no known reason or intent, 'T’ ratings had been slower to respond to the recall for whatever reason - possibly the distance factor compared to wireless telegraphy personnel who lived nearer to Portsmouth or even being abroad in Europe taking a well deserved family holiday, or perhaps something else really out of their control given that they had every intention to obey the recall, with, as it proved to be, few if any dissenters were recorded, and none punished. The response overall was better than could have possibly be expected, involving ratings from the Devonport Command responding and possibly from elsewhere!

  That the London party was wholly from the W/T branch bar one, was not contrived but a sheer coincidence: and had HMS Mercury’s XL been an ex W/T rating, it would have been wholly W/T bar none.

The list of sparkers who carried Lord Mountbatten were:
FCRS G. Dykes
CRS. D. Timmington
CRS N.E. Davies
LRO[G] I Murphy
LRO[G] R. Milne
LRO[G] T. Foster
LRO[G] M. Watson
LRO[G] C. Williams
RO1[G] S Witham
and Lieutenant R.E. Doyle RN Portsmouth Provost Marshal

Footnote by Jeff Dykes:

  The full film is by parts/section streamed in 14 parts on this page Mountbatten's Royal Funeral