Unveiling of the Bust of HRH Prince Philip
07 July 2013
Recently, the Colonel of the Regiment, Colonel W.J. Aitchison, made a very brief but highly significant barnstorming visit to London, England. The purpose of his trip was to launch the public unveiling of a sculpted bust of HRH Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh. The bust had been conceived as early as September 2012 as an ideal means of acknowledging and marking the 60th anniversary of HRH Prince Philip becoming the Colonel-in-Chief of The Royal Canadian Regiment. As Colonel Aitchison stated to the Duke of Edinburgh last October, "During your tenure as Colonel-in-Chief, you have touched the lives of hundreds, if not thousands of members of your Canadian Regiment and to every one you have left a story or a treasured memory. I believe it is vitally important to create a lasting token of your service that will stand as an icon to those who served with you and as a reminder to those who come after you have relinquished the appointment of Colonel-in-Chief."
To that end of commemorating Prince Philip's remarkable 60 year tenure as our Colonel-in-Chief, the renowned Canadian artist, Christian Cordell Corbet of Riverview, New Brunswick, was commissioned by The Royal Canadian Regiment to execute a heroically scaled bust of HRH Prince Philip. Realizing the great importance of this work of art to The Royal Canadian Regiment and in preparation for sculpting the portrait bust, Mr. Corbet conducted two life sittings and other meetings with HRH Prince Philip in order to best capture the character and countenance of the Duke. Also working from a wide range of photographs Christian Corbet did indeed produce a an epic sculpture worthy of both HRH Prince Philip and his senior Canadian regiment.
In a ceremony at Canada House in London, England on Wednesday 26 June 2013, the bust of Prince Philip was officially unveiled in a truly spectacular ceremony. Still recovering from recent surgery, HRH Prince Philip was sadly unable to attend the unveiling. However, in his place to participate in the unveiling came another member of the Royal Family, Field Marshal HRH Prince Edward, the Duke of Kent, KG, GCMG, GCVO, ADC(P). The Duke of Kent is a grandchild of King George V and a first cousin to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. He is a former serving British Army officer and is, very fittingly for this occasion, the Colonel-in-Chief of The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. Also in attendance at the ceremony was the Canadian High commissioner to the UK, Mr. Gordon Campbell. Please find below colonel Aitchison's very informative and amusing account of his whirlwind experiences in the UK leading up to the unveiling and the unveiling itself. Colonel Aitchison did not remain long in London, but in fact was already back in Canada and attending a function of the Ottawa Branch of The RCR Association on Friday 28 June. On this occasion he was accepting, on behalf of the Regimental Museum, a priceless collection of Korean War photographs generously given by Captain Ed Mastronardi, MC, CD. Also find attached pictures of the bust of HRH Prince Philip and the act of unveiling with from left to right: Christian Cardell Corbet, Colonel W.J. Aitchison, HRH the Duke of Kent, and Mr. Gordon Campbell.
From the Colonel of the Regiment, Colonel W.J. Aitchison, OMM, CD
Last week saw me travelling to London, England in company with the Regimental Major and CWO Stu Hartnell to unveil the portrait bust of the Colonel-in-Chief.
Regrettably, HRH The Prince Philip was unable to attend at the unveiling as he was at Windsor Palace recuperating from his recent surgery. We were very fortunate, however, to have HRH Prince Edward, The Duke of Kent, who had kindly agreed to attend the unveiling and to actually unveil the bust.
While the trip started well, we discovered on arrival at Canada House on Monday the 24th (somewhat jet-lagged, I might add) that the bust had not yet made its way to England despite the assurances received from Purolator at the time of shipment that it would be delivered not later than that day. In fact, several phone calls from the RM elicited the information that it was in Louisville, Kentucky with no guaranteed day or time of delivery to the Canadian High Commission in London. Although we were all rather tense at hearing this news, we reduced our tension with a couple of healing pints at a local and retired for the night.
The news on Tuesday was no more heartening, so the three of us huddled with the Army Advisor and his Assistant and the sculptor, Christian Corbet, along with HRH The Duke of Kent's equerry to develop alternative plans. I suggested that if we did not have the bust for the unveiling (set for 1030 on Wednesday) we could unveil the head of a Purolator executive, but that proposal failed on more critical review. We ended the day having rejected the idea of using a high-definition photographic print and having settled on digital imagery should the physical artefact not be available. There were some misgivings about having the Duke of Kent unveil an LG television on which the image was to be projected, but it was the best idea we had. Tensions remained quite high, as the best news we could extract from Purolator was that the bust "should" arrive in London (subject to clearance by UK Customs) by 0400 on Wednesday and "might" be available for delivery to Canada House by 1000 or so depending on it a. - arriving, b. - being placed on the first delivery truck of the day, c. - being identified as the first article to be delivered, and d. - traffic between Heathrow and Trafalgar Square. With none of the conditions subject to our control, we found ourselves very highly stressed on Tuesday and were forced to visit two pubs to maintain hope and objectivity.
Wednesday morning dawned with only marginally better prospects than the preceding evening. On arriving at Canada House at 0800, we learned that the bust had indeed arrived in the UK, that it had indeed been put on the first delivery van and that it was indeed scheduled to be the first item delivered. The imponderable remained the traffic between Heathrow and Trafalgar Square and our experience travelling that route by taxi two days previously did not lend us great confidence.
Prayer and good fortune saw us through. The bust arrived at 0945 - 15 minutes before the arrival of the Duke of Kent and well after the guests had appeared. To suggest that the few minutes available were hectic is egregious understatement. The bust had to be uncrated, the room in which it was to be unveiled had to be rearranged (LG TV removed, tables shifted, plinth repositioned) and we had to come up with £350 in additional charges applied for who-knew-what reason and for which no one was prepared. All the issues were managed with a combination of feverish unscrewing, toting and chivvying and the good grace of a junior High Commission staffer who produced her credit card and said "Charge it to this!" While the Regimental Bird may well be a chicken, we were more like waterfowl seeking to maintain composure on the surface while madly scrambling beneath same. It worked! All was in place on the arrival of HRH.
The ceremony opened with a welcome from the Canadian High Commissioner who spoke eloquently about The Regiment, the Colonel-in-Chief and the significance of the event. The Duke of Kent is a charming and articulate man who put the guests at ease and established the context of the unveiling and the importance of recognition of his cousin's 60 years as our Colonel-in-Chief. He was also kind enough to publicly announce the appointment of Christian Corbet as Sculptor to The Regiment and present Christian with a regimental necktie. He also cut a regimental cake that had been produced for the occasion through the good offices of the Army Advisor - a PPCLI officer!
The unveiling was a great success in all respects - despite the considerable anxiety that preceded it. The bust is nothing short of spectacular and reflects the great talent of the sculptor. The presence of the Duke of Kent was very much appreciated by the guests and certainly by us as the representatives of The Regiment. We were also honoured to have Brigadier David Patterson OBE, the Colonel of The Regiment of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers (RRF). I doubt that many members of The Regiment are aware that the Duke of Kent is also the Colonel-in-Chief of the RRF and Colonel of 1st Battalion, The Rifles. It is pure serendipity that we should have had him present to unveil and at the same time, through his presence, to underline our long-standing affiliations with the RRF and the "Glorious Glosters" (the Gloucestershire Regiment), the latter regiment being perpetuated by 1st Battalion, The Rifles.
Among those guests who were present were our two serving members of The Regiment in the UK, Majors Broughton and MacDonald and Capt Rob Boyd (Ret'd), who is currently working in London. Two very special guests were also present, those being a former Royal Canadian, Wayne Campbell, now a resident of the Royal Hospital Chelsea (one of the renowned "Chelsea Pensioners"). There was another gentleman who had served in The Regiment just post-Korea, then returned to the UK, whose name I disremember, but who is attending the reunion in Newfoundland in August. Perhaps one of the most interesting people at the event was the Chief of Security for the Canadian High Commission who appeared in lounge suit with Regimental necktie, having been a soldier in the 2nd Battalion before changing to the MP trade. It was certainly a case of "Once a Royal Canadian, Always a Royal Canadian!" Having met all the challenges placed before us, the RM, CWO Hartnell and I walked to Buckingham Palace where we met with Prince Philip's Private Secretary and were given a very brief tour of selected areas of the Palace by Squadron Leader Dale White, HRH Prince Philip's Equerry-in-Waiting. As timing would have it, we crossed the edge of the parade ground as the incoming and outgoing guards from the Welsh and Scots Guards were forming up for the daily ceremony - I distinctly heard several of my former Regimental Sergeants-Major groaning at our defiling this hallowed ground.
Our last evening in London was spent with Squadron Leader White who introduced us to a local beverage (Old Wallop) served, fittingly, in pewter tankards, from a copper flagon, in an underground pub some considerable number of years old. Following which we dined rather splendidly before wishing him farewell to return to our hotel and an early taxi to Heathrow.
The unveiling, despite the uncertainties and challenges, went very well indeed. The bust is a wonderful representation of the Colonel-in-Chief and will be a treasured piece of art for The Regiment. Mr Corbet's exceptional talent is immediately evident in viewing his work, and we as a Regiment are fortunate that he has agreed to become our Sculptor in Residence. The bust will be presented to The Regiment at the reunion in St John's and will "tour" the four battalion garrisons for a year before it is lodged for display at the Regimental Museum. It is a fitting tribute to Prince Philip and his 60 years of service to The RCR.
The Royal Canadian Regiment