Royal medal recipient: 'Memories of serving the Queen never leave you'

Michael White with his Royal Victorian Medal, which he received in 1959

Michael White with his Royal Victorian Medal, which he received in 1959 - Credit: Will Durrant

An 87-year-old man from Letchworth has shared his memories of serving Queen Elizabeth II during her first decade on the throne.

Michael White joined the RAF in 1951 and remembers the accession of the Queen to the throne the following year.

He played the horn at the first Remembrance Sunday parade of her reign, before joining the Queen on a tour of Nigeria in 1956.

Mr White - a recipient of the Royal Victorian Medal - shared his memories following the death of Queen Elizabeth II at the age of 96 yesterday (Thursday, September 9).

Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace in 2012 - with her son, now King Charles III, and grandson, the Duke of Cambridge

Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace in 2012 - with her son, now King Charles III, and grandson, the Duke of Cambridge - Credit: Stefan Wermuth/PA

A gun salute at the Tower of London on Friday, September 9, to mark the death of Queen Elizabeth II

A gun salute at the Tower of London on Friday, September 9, to mark the death of Queen Elizabeth II - Credit: James Manning/PA

Michael said: "In 1951, I joined the Royal Air Force as an apprentice at the age of 16.

"I played the trumpet in RAF marching bands and I played the horn at the cenotaph in the first year of Her Majesty the Queen's reign.

"Playing at a ceremony like that - not long after the Second World War and the first one during the Sovereign's reign - is something which never leaves you.

"I have strong memories working very near the Queen, which almost happened by chance.

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"I met my future wife in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, but my first posting was in Ipswich, so I decided I needed to find a different one.

"I thought RAF Benson - not far from Wallingford in Oxfordshire - was in hitchhiking distance of Aylesbury. That's where I joined the Queen's Flight as an instrument fitter."

The Queen's Flight is the official air transport of the monarch and the royal family. Until 1995, the unit was based at RAF Benson before it moved to RAF Northolt, near Ruislip.

"One strong memory was joining Queen Elizabeth II on a tour of Nigeria in 1956," Michael said.

"We left Benson on a particularly snowy day in February. Her Majesty travelled on a British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) flight, but we provided the Queen with transport to travel around the country.

"It took us a long while to get there - but we left in wintry snow and arrived in blistering heat, temperatures above 100F and creepy-crawlies like you wouldn't believe.

"In those days, they only took one instrument fitter, so I was the only one on the tour. Looking back, I must have felt the nerves but I remember the excitement of working with Queen Elizabeth.

"I remember it being an enjoyable tour for her and the crew."

After a stint at Benson, Michael was presented the Royal Victorian Medal in 1959 for personal services to Queen Elizabeth II.

The Queen Mother made the presentation, but the RVM is considered a gift directly from the monarch.

"The Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 - I was posted to Lincolnshire at the time, and that is a very poignant memory of mine from Her Majesty's reign," Michael said.

"I saw them wheeling out the missiles, fuelling them up, and starting a countdown - just one man from either the UK and US specialist forces ready to push a button to activate them.

"I don't remember being scared at the time, but looking back, it is a terrifying prospect that we got so close to using those missiles."

The Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 was a confrontation between the US and its allies and the Soviet Union. The ultimate result was a pact between John F Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev to remove nuclear weapons from Cuba, Italy and Turkey - a moment of de-escalation in the Cold War.

After leaving the RAF in his 30s, Michael became a computer engineer, first in Ipswich and then as a manager in Stevenage.

"In those days, computers wouldn't have fit into a church," Michael added.

"I've stayed in the area ever since."

He said: "Of course, I'm proud to have served Queen Elizabeth II in quite a direct way. I have fond memories of seeing her on her tours.

"She lived as full a life as anyone could have wished for, but of course, this is a sad moment. I must admit, I did shed a few tears."

Michael now visits Garden House Hospice on a regular basis, and staff in Letchworth described him as a "long-time friend" of the charity.

Today - Friday, September 9 - he attended a Compassionate Neighbours event at the Ernest Gardiner Centre, Letchworth, where a minute silence was held in honour of the Queen at 12 noon.

Jeanette Farrow is the Compassionate Neighbours Project Manager.

Garden House Hospice Compassionate Neighbours volunteers, including Jeanette (second from right), in Letchworth

Garden House Hospice Compassionate Neighbours volunteers, including Jeanette (second from right), in Letchworth - Credit: Will Durrant

Jeanette said: "After the awful news, it is important that people who live alone - or who are feeling lonely - can come here.

"Today, they are reflecting on the death of the Queen - talking about their memories and feelings together, instead of being alone at home, watching TV coverage which is quite upsetting for a lot of people.

"The fact that we can open this space for people to come and chat is really important when we are reflecting on feelings of loss - the Queen and also people in our visitors' own lives."

The Compassionate Neighbours webpage is online (https://www.ghhospicecare.org.uk/supporting-you/compassionate-neighbours), with details also available by phone on 01462 679540.