A Northamptonshire firefighter who was chosen to march in the funeral procession of Queen Elizabeth II has said the ‘humbling’ experience will mark the proudest moment of his career.
Craig Douglas, a Station Manager at Rushden and Raunds for Northamptonshire Fire and Rescue Service, was one of just 16 firefighters from the across the United Kingdom selected to take part in the state funeral of the Queen yesterday (September 19).
The 44-year-old, who is from Corby, was informed of his role in the state funeral by the Home Office within 24 hours of the death of Her Majesty and travelled down to London last Wednesday to take part in rehearsals before the historic occasion.
He said: “I think this will probably be the pinnacle of my whole career. I joined the Army when I was aged just 17 and now that I am a firefighter, I have served the crown for nearly three decades. It is incredibly humbling to have been selected to take part.”
Craig has known being involved in the funeral has been on the cards since 2019, when he responded to an invitation from Chief Fire Officer Darren Dovey looking for anyone who may be interested in representing Northamptonshire Fire and Rescue Service at future state funerals.
He was then invited down to a training day in London, where Craig says they were ‘foot drilled into the ground’ before making the final cut of 57 people who could potentially be called upon. In the end, just 16 firefighters out of that final shortlist were called to take part in Her Majesty’s Funeral, which was watched by an estimated four billion people across the world.
Craig marched a total of 3.2 miles during the procession, where he was flanked by members from other services as well as the band of the Royal Marines. The procession route saw him start at Wellington Barracks and head to Westminster Abbey, from where following the funeral the Queen was escorted to Wellington Arch.
This saw the procession head down Whitehall, Horse Guards Parade and The Mall, past Buckingham Palace, before ending at the Arch where the monarch was transported by car to her final burial place at St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle.
Speaking of the experience, Craig said: “It’s difficult to put into words how emotional it all was – you just know that you’re bursting with pride.
“We trained for a few days before but the only free time we got was on Sunday afternoon, and a few of us decided to go and see the flowers at Hyde Park, and that’s when the reality of what we were doing hit us.
“There was still a moment of surrealness on the morning when we were listening to the bagpipes practicing, but once we took those first steps in the procession it really hit home.
“At parts of the procession people were cheering us as we went past, and that was a real lump in the throat moment.
“Nothing can ever prepare you for a moment like that and the emotion you feel marching past those crowds. I don’t think anything in the world will ever match this experience.”
The funeral procession was particularly touching for Craig as he also has fond memories of meeting and speaking to the Queen himself back when he was on active duty in the Army.
He said: “I was inspected by the Queen twice, the first of which was after I returned from duty in Bosnia and on that occasion, I actually managed to speak to her.
“Back then I was quite a young lad and she asked me what I was going to do for my summer holidays, so I told her that me and a few of the lads were going on holiday to Ibiza. She told me that she hoped I would have a ‘jolly good time’ – so it was a great experience to be stood in front of her.”
After his stint in the army Craig opted for a change of career but was still intent on serving the crown and keeping members of the public safe. He joined Essex Fire and Rescue Service in 2003 before coming back to his home county when transferring to Northamptonshire Fire and Rescue Service in 2015.
Since then, he has been a Watch Commander at his hometown station in Corby, but recently moved to Rushden to take up the role of Station Manager. He has the same position at Raunds, where he oversees on-call firefighters outside his wholetime role.
Craig reflected on the Queen’s 70 years of service to her country by saying: “She was only welcoming a new Prime Minister two days before her death, so it was such a shock to see what happened so soon afterwards.
“The Queen saw a lot of change in the world over those 70 years and she changed a lot herself with what I think was quite a modern approach to the monarchy.
“We are never going to see a monarch like her ever again. She was such an inspirational woman and she said she would serve us for her entire life, and she absolutely did that.”