Her Majesty, the Queen as Sovereign is Head of the Armed Forces. Throughout history, Kings and Queens have had strong links with the Armed Forces. Armies have defended and attacked territories on behalf of their rulers and have looked to them for guidance and inspiration in times of war and peace since ancient times. The Queen and the family which supports her have a substantial investment in the Armed Forces as both Head of the Armed Forces, Patrons and members of the Armed Forces themselves. Her Majesty is not just the Head of the Armed Forces, but also the wife, mother and grandmother of individuals either having served, or are currently serving, in the Armed Forces. The Queen is the only person to declare war and peace. This dates back from when the Monarch was responsible for raising, maintaining and equipping the Army and Navy. Today, this power can only be exercised on the advice of Ministers. On enlistment, the Army and Air Force Acts require members of the Army, Royal Air Force and Royal Marines to take an oath of allegiance to the Monarchy as Head of the Armed Forces.
Members of the Royal Navy have never been required to swear an oath – the service was formed hundreds of years ago and its existence stems from the Sovereign’s prerogative. The Queen takes a keen interest in all the Armed Forces, both in the United Kingdom and in the Commonwealth. She undertakes regular visits to Service Establishments and ships, to meet servicemen and women of all ranks, and their families, both at home and overseas. The Queen and other members of the Royal Family hold various appointments and honorary ranks in the Armed Forces. Such appointments include special relationships with certain ships, and honorary colonels (known as Royal Colonels) in Army regiments and Corps, and honorary ranks connected with Royal Air Force stations. The Queen meets regularly with the Chief of the Defence Staff and the Single Service Chiefs. Her Majesty also keeps in touch with the work and interests of the Services through her Defence Services Secretary, a serving officer who is also a member of the Royal Household, who acts as the official link.
The first British Sovereigns were the military commanders, rulers and administrators with the best fighting forces behind them. Their role was hands on: they were fighters as well as military strategists, and many were present on the battlefield. In 1066 King Harold died on the battlefield: hit by an arrow and then mowed down by the sword of a mounted knight, whilst the soon-to-be new king, William I ‘The Conqueror’ directed his troops. Over time, rulers have taken part from a safer distance, leaving the day-to-day business of warfare to experienced commanders and involving themselves more in strategic matters rather than risk death in the field. This did not necessarily prevent some of them from being great leaders, motivating their troops as they fought for King or Queen and Country. In 1588 on the eve of the Spanish Armada, Elizabeth I addressed her troops in a rousing and oft-quoted speech:
‘I know I have the body of a weak, feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king – and of a King of England too, and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realm; to which, rather than any dishonour should grow by me, I myself will take up arms – I myself will be your general, judge, and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field.’
In the centuries since, Monarchs have evolved this ‘general, judge, and rewarder’ into a more politically neutral, motivational one. Members of the Royal Family are encouraged to serve in the Armed Forces and to develop special relationships to better understand its ongoing work and culture. Today The Queen and the family which supports her have a substantial investment in the Armed Forces as both Head of the Armed Forces, Patrons and members of the Armed Forces themselves. The last British Sovereign to have seen action in battle was The Queen’s father, George VI. As a 20-year-old Sub-Lieutenant in the Royal Navy, he fought in the battle of Jutland in 1916.
The Queen holds the position of Colonel-in-Chief of numerous regiments in the United Kingdom and throughout the Commonwealth. Her Majesty is supported by other Members of the Royal Family who have special relationships, such as honorary colonelcies (known as Royal colonels), with various Army regiments and corps. On official visits, members of the Royal family often wear their regiment’s uniform or other objects, such as regimental broochs. They are also worn on special occasions, such as Remembrance Sunday.
Members of the Royal Family have personal experience of life in the Armed Forces. As Princess Elizabeth, The Queen joined the Auxillary Territorial Service in 1945, becoming the first female member of the Royal Family to be a full-time active member of the Services. The Duke of Edinburgh served in the Royal Navy from 1939 to 1952, seeing active service throughout the Second World War. The Prince of Wales also served in the Royal Navy and also trained in the Royal Air Force. The Duke of York served for over 20 years as an officer in the Royal Navy before leaving the Service in 2001. He flew as a second pilot in Sea King Helicopters on anti-submarine and transport duties during the Falklands conflict in 1982. Prince William served as a regimental officer in the British Army before undertaking attachments to The Royal Air Force and The Royal Navy. In September 2008 it was announced that he would train to become a full-time pilot with the Royal Air Force’s Search and Rescue Force (SARF). Prince Harry is also currently focusing on his military career. He is an officer in the British Army and a Lieutenant in the Blues and Royals, which, together with the Life Guards, forms The Household Cavalry.
The Queen holds the position of Lord High Admiral in the Royal Navy and is supported by other Members of the Royal Family who have special relationships with the Royal Navy and Royal Marines. These relationships are either an honorary position or as a serving officer. Regular visits to naval bases and ships strengthen the relationships. The Duke of Edinburgh holds the rank of Admiral of the Fleet in the Royal Navy, the Royal Australian Navy and the Royal New Zealand Navy, he is Admiral of the Royal Canadian Sea Cadets and Captain General of the Royal Marines. In his younger years Prince Philip served with the Royal Navy rising to the rank of Commander. He was mentioned in dispatches in 1941.
The Prince of Wales holds the rank of Admiral in the Royal Navy and is Commodore-in-Chief for Plymouth. He served in the Royal Navy where he took command of his own ship in 1976. Prince William holds the rank of Sub Lieutenant and is Commodore-in-Chief for Scotland and Submarines. The Prince undertook an attachment with the Royal Navy in 2008. The Duke of York holds the rank of Captain and is Commodore-in-Chief for the Fleet Air Arm. Prince Andrew served for over 20 years in the Royal Navy where he saw active service as part of the task force that sailed to the South Atlantic to regain the Falkland Islands in 1982. The Earl of Wessex is Commodore-in-Chief for the Royal Fleet Auxiliary. Prince Edward spent three years in the Royal Marines as a University Cadet. The Princess Royal holds the rank of Rear Admiral as Chief Commandant for Women in the Royal Navy. She has Special Relationships with HMS Talent and HMS Albion and is Commodore-in-Chief for Portsmouth. Prince Michael of Kent holds the rank of Honorary Rear Admiral Royal Naval Reserve and is Commodore-in-Chief of the Maritime Reserve.
As Princess Elizabeth, The Queen joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service in 1945, becoming the first female member of the Royal Family to be a full-time active member of the Armed Services. The Duke of Edinburgh holds the rank of Field Marshal in the British Army, Field Marshal in the Australian Military Forces and Field Marshal in the New Zealand Army. The Prince of Wales holds the rank of General in the British Army. The Duke of Kent holds the rank of Field Marshal in the British Army. The Duke of Kent graduated from Sandhurst in 1955 as a Second Lieutenant in the Royal Scots Greys. He then served with his regiment at home and overseas in a military career that spanned 21 years. Prince Michael of Kent holds the rank of Major (Retired). Prince Michael graduated from Sandhurst in 1961 and was commissioned into the 11th Hussars (Prince Albert’s Own) in 1963. His military career spanned 20 years and included a number of appointments on the Defence Intelligence Staff. Prince Harry is currently training to become a pilot with the Army Air Corps having been commissioned as an army officer in front of Her Majesty The Queen at Sandhurst in April 2006 and joined the Household Cavalry (Blues and Royals). In February 2008, the Prince returned home to the UK from Afghanistan after completing more than two months active service with the British Army. Prince William was commissioned as an army officer in front of Her Majesty The Queen at Sandhurst in December 2006 and joined the Household Cavalry (Blues and Royals) where he held the rank of Lieutenant.
The Queen has strong links with the Royal Air Force in the United Kingdom and with Commonwealth Air Forces. Her Majesty is supported by other Members of the Royal Family who hold honorary ranks in connection with Royal Air Force stations. Some members of the Royal family also hold pilot licences. The Duke of Edinburgh holds the rank of Marshal of the Royal Air Force in the United Kingdom, Marshal of the Royal Australian Air Force and Marshal of the Royal New Zealand Air Force. Prince Philip took RAF instruction in 1952, using Chipmunk and Harvard trainers, and subsequently a twin-engined Oxford. He made his first solo flight on 20th December 1952 and was presented with RAF wings on 4th May 1953. The Prince of Wales holds the rank of Air Chief Marshal in the Royal Air Force. In 1971 he spent six months at the Royal Air Force College at Cranwell learning to fly jet aircraft and obtaining his RAF wings. Prince William holds the rank of Flight Lieutenant in the Royal Air Force. In April 2008, the Prince received his RAF wings from his father The Prince of Wales at RAF Cranwell after completing an intensive 12 week flying course. In September 2008 it was announced that he will train to become a full-time pilot with the Royal Air Force’s Search and Rescue Force (SARF). The Duke of Gloucester holds the rank of Honorary Air Marshal in the Royal Air Force. The Duke of Kent holds the rank of Honorary Air Chief Marshal in the Royal Air Force.
Members of the British and Commonwealth Armed Forces can be awarded via the UK Honours system for exceptional gallantry, achievement or service. They are eligible for the military divisions of civilian honours as well as for decorations and medals for gallantry and distinguished service which are exclusive to the Armed Forces. Nominations for these awards are recommended to The Queen via the Ministry of Defence. Usually, a commanding officer will write a citation nominating an individual. This recommendation is then passed up the military chain of command for consideration. For the two highest awards: the Victoria Cross and the George Cross, recommendations are further endorsed by the VC Committee, comprising the Permanent-Under Secretary and Service Chiefs of Staff, and the George Cross Military Committee, which is a subcommittee of the Honours and Decorations Committee. Civilians are also eligible for some of the following awards:
The Victoria Cross – The first British medal to be created for bravery, the Victoria Cross ranks alongside the George Cross as the nation’s highest award for gallantry. It is awarded only in exceptional circumstances: “for most conspicuous bravery, or some daring or pre-eminent act of valour or self-sacrifice, or extreme devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy.”
The George Cross – Instituted in 1940 by The Queen’s father King George VI, the George Cross ranks with the Victoria Cross as the nation’s highest award for gallantry. It recognises actions of supreme gallantry in circumstances for which the Victoria Cross was not appropriate. It may be awarded to civilians, as well as members of the Armed Forces for acts of gallantry not in the presence of the enemy, including, for example, military explosive ordnance disposal personnel. It is awarded for “for acts of the greatest heroism or of the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme danger.”
The Distinguished Service Order – Instituted in 1886, it recognises outstanding leadership during active operations.
The Conspicuous Gallantry Cross – Since 1993 it has been awarded in recognition of an individual act or acts of conspicuous gallantry during active operations against the enemy.
The George Medal – Instituted in 1940 like the George Cross, the George Medal is awarded to civilians for acts of great bravery, but not so outstanding as to merit consideration for the George Cross. The GM can also be awarded to military personnel for acts of bravery not in the face of the enemy.
The Distinguished Service Cross, Military Cross and Distinguished Flying Cross recognise acts of bravery during combat operations respectively at sea, on land and in the air “for gallantry during active operations against the enemy.”
Air Force Cross – The Air Force Cross is awarded “for gallantry while flying but not on active operations against the enemy.”
The Queen’s Gallantry Medal – Can be awarded to civilians or military personnel “for exemplary acts of bravery.”
Mention in Despatches – The oldest form of recognition of gallantry within the UK Armed Forces. Reserved for gallantry during active operations. Recipients do not receive a medal or insignia at an Investiture, but instead their citation is published in the London Gazette.
The Queen’s Commendation for Bravery and Queen’s Commendation for Bravery in the Air – These awards mark specific acts of gallantry shown during non-active operations.
The Royal Red Cross – The Royal Red Cross is only awarded to members of the Nursing Services, and is given “for exceptional devotion and competency in the performance of actual nursing duties.”
Royal Red Cross 2nd Class – Again, only awarded to members of the Nursing Services for “special devotion and competency in the performance of actual nursing duties.”
Queen’s Commendation for Valuable Service – Recognises meritorious service during, or in support of, operations.
The Elizabeth Cross – Instituted in 2009, and granted to the next of kin of Armed Forces personnel killed on operations or as a result of terrorism in a mark of national recognition for their loss.
Military divisions of civilian orders: Members of the Armed Forces may be considered for the military divisions of The Order of the British Empire. Military officers may also be considered for the military divisions of The Order of the Bath. The Elizabeth Cross and Memorial Scroll will not just be granted to families who have lost loved ones in the recent operations in Iraq and Afghanistan; The Queen’s recognition will also be available to the families of those who died in conflicts dating back to 1948, including the Korean War, the Falklands conflict and operations in Northern Ireland. Eligible personnel to be remembered in this way are those who were serving with, or former members of the Regular and Reserve Armed Forces or The Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA). Please visit the Ministry of Defence website for more information about eligibility and how to apply for the award. Next of kin will receive the Elizabeth Cross – a sterling silver emblem in the shape of a cross over a wreath – plus a Memorial Scroll signed by The Queen which will bear the name of the person who died. The Elizabeth Cross is made of hallmarked silver and is in the form of a cross with a laurel wreath passing between the arms. The arms of the Cross bear floral symbols representing England (Rose) Scotland (Thistle), Ireland (Shamrock) and Wales (Daffodil). The centre of the cross bears the crowned Cypher of The Queen. The reverse of the cross, is engraved with the name of the Service person in whose memory it is granted. The Memorial Scroll is on parchment style paper, headed with the Royal Coat of Arms and the following words: “This Scroll Commemorates … who gave his/her life for Queen and Country on …” The scroll bears the signature of Her Majesty The Queen in the upper left corner.
In a broadcast made on 1 July 2009, The Queen announced the introduction of the Elizabeth Cross, saying,
‘This seems to me a right and proper way of showing our enduring debt to those who are killed while actively protecting what is most dear to us all’.