24th May 2023

DCHS reservist’s role in Coronation celebrations

Earlier this month, DCHS speech and language therapist and army reservist Private Alice Bell enjoyed the privilege of marching in the King’s Coronation procession.

Alice, a reservist dog handler with the 101 Military Working Dog (MWD) Squadron, was among the 7,000 armed forces personnel who escorted King Charles III from Westminster Abbey to Buckingham Palace.

Private Alice Bell Here, Alice shares her experience of preparing for and taking part in this historic event.

“Training for the reservists began with up to four days of rifle drill training over the Easter weekend, which was new to the majority of the group. The main part of training for the whole detachment was then based from Pirbright training camp from Wednesday 26 April. The marching contingents learnt a new drill movement designed especially for the Coronation, forming from 12 ranks wide to six ranks wide to be able to march through the gates into Buckingham Palace Garden.

“Whilst at Pirbright, the group were both surprised and pleased to learn the drill instructors were happy with efforts all round. It was even commented that the drill was “not bad for Vets!”, despite the majority of the group being dog handlers. Several training days were spent at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, rehearsing with the rest of the army marching troops. Between rehearsals the group spent ample time polishing shoes, taking number one uniforms to the emergency tailors (having realised the girls’ trousers had been altered far too short!).

“Sunday 29 April was spent at RAF Odiham where full-scale rehearsals with the entire military procession of around 7,000 personnel took place. The airfield was set up to simulate the streets of London, including the obstacles troops were required to navigate when in London.

“The overnight dress rehearsal involved taking the train into London Waterloo, an unusual sight for the public, with troops carrying rifles and bayonets. The incredible sight of Big Ben at sunset was well worth (mostly!) marching the entirety of Westminster Bridge and Parliament Square, holding rifles in the left slope. After two hours spent at Wellington Barracks underground car park while the army congregated, the procession group marched past Buckingham Palace and down the Mall towards Whitehall. Members of the Royal Army Veterinary Corps (RAVC) were stood at ease on Whitehall from 1.30am until 3am. We know this was the amount of time because some members’ watches recorded they were sleeping for this amount of time, whilst stood at ease! Then the moment we were all waiting for arrived: “by the centre, quick march”, when the band immediately behind the RAVC sprang into action and marched us up the Mall towards Buckingham Palace.

“There were a mixture of nerves and excitement on the day of the Coronation on May 6. The troops’ alarms went off at 2am ready for breakfast and getting suited and booted into our sparkling shoes and crisp number ones. The whole day of the Coronation felt a privilege and an honour. We were well prepared having carried out many rehearsals, but this did not stop members feeling pride and excitement throughout. I will never forget fighting back the tears as we marched around the corner of Admiralty Arch onto the Mall. Whether this was due to emotion or the pain I was feeling having marched for two weeks, I do not know! Hairs stood on end at the incredible volume of the three cheers and collaboration of the forces coming together as one, to celebrate our new Monarch in Buckingham Palace Garden.

“I would be lying to say the entire two weeks weren’t tough. It was a challenge for many; mentally, emotionally and physically. However, the whole experience was a privilege to be a part of. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have formed a part of such an historic event and the memories and feelings generated will not be forgotten.”