TWO soldiers from Newtownards were on duty for the Lying in State of Queen Elizabeth in London. Lieutenant Colonel Simon Nichols, of the Irish Guards, and Captain John Donaldson, were on duty for the whole period of the Lying in State in Westminster Hall. Captain Donaldson, a Yeoman of the King’s Bodyguard, also accompanied the Queen’s coffin from Westminster Hall to Westminster Abbey, while Lt Col. Nichols had a marshalling role during the State funeral on Monday.
Captain Donaldson had been in Northern Ireland when he received a call to report for duty, shortly after it was announced the Queen had died. After 38 years’ service in the Army, the former Movilla High pupil said the funeral and the period of mourning preceding it ‘is probably the most historic event I’ll ever see or take part in – it’s just monumental’.
Lt Col Nichols described the experience for himself and Captain Donaldson as ‘surreal and humbling’. He added: “We both have been involved in large scale state ceremonial and public duties such as The Queen’s Birthday Parade (Trooping the Colour) and State Opening of Parliament etc, but nothing could compare to this historic event.”
He added: “I commanded vigil six and nine, which saw me in charge of the Guards Officers, who stood guard [vigil] over Her Majesty’s coffin and I was accompanied on several occasions by John in his capacity as a Gentlemen Bodyguard of The Queen. “I was also a Parade Marshal in London which saw me responsible for Army Group 4 [Brigade of Guards] as we accompanied the coffin from Westminster Abbey to the Wellington Arch at Hyde Park Corner.”
Lt Col. Nichols, who retires from the Army next month, trained both Prince William, now the Prince of Wales, and his brother, Harry, the Duke of Sussex, during their time at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst.
The Newtownards man, who also attended Movilla High School and who until a few months ago was commander at the headquarters of the British Army Training and Support Unit (BATSBUB) in Belize, met up with the then-Duke and Duchess of Cambridge during their tour of the Caribbean earlier this year. Lt Col Nichols leaves the regular army in October, after 38 years’ service, and to mark the occasion, he was presented with a personal gift by the Duke, who is Regimental Colonel of the Irish Guards. He described being ‘humbled’ by the public’s reaction to the death of the Queen, and the efforts which had been made to view the Queen lying in state.