Statue of Her Majesty The Queen unveiled at Sandhurst

In a year that the country lost its longest-serving monarch, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.  I thought I would share with the Regiment my last and most interesting project which delivered a life size statue of HM in the grounds of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst (RMAS).

During a walk around the grounds of RMAS in October 2018, with the then Commander Brigadier Bill Wright.  Much discussion took place mainly surrounding Project Heritage and how the history could be improved across the entire Academy.  As the new in post Staff Quartermaster (SQM), this project fell to me and my new never-ending list of infrastructure issues that needed addressing.  During the discussion, a classic senior officer throw away comment was made and that’s how it all started; “wouldn’t it be a great idea to commemorate HM in her Platinum Jubilee year with a statue”, my response was “yes, sir great idea leave it with me.”  There were times during the project when I wish my response had been more robust.

So back to the office, pen and whiteboard to think through a concept that could be presented as a viable option to allow the project to be taken forward.  After a month of consultations with various historians and RMAS experts the following was proposed:

The statue was to be modeled on HM at the Troop in 1984. Why you ask:

  • RMAS dress, traditions, and customs are based on those of the Grenadier Guards (GREN GDS). This historic link can be directly attributed to the longest serving Academy Sergeant Major, WO1 John Lord MBE GREN GDS.  When RMAS amalgamated with Woolwich post World War 2.  WO1 John Lord MBE used the traditions of his parent Battalion to provide a common policy across the Academy.  There are many examples of these traditions still in existence today with the best example being the Academy Sergeant Major (AcSM) wearing a GREN GDS forge hat when in dress uniform.
  • Burmese (1962-1990) a black Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) mare, was presented to HM in 1969. Burmese become HM favourite mare. HM rode Burmese for 18 consecutive years from 1969 to 1986.  1984 was the last time HM rode Burmese dressed in GREN GDS uniform.
  • Therefore 1984 was chosen as the statue captures the traditions of RMAS through the GREN GDS uniform and HM favourite mare.

The sign off meeting took place in December 2018 which agreed the concept and to financially underwrite the project with non-public funds.  This was key to allow me to go and engage with the recommended sculptors who specialised in equestrian and life size statues.  Four sculptors were invited to the Commandants Parade in December 2018 to immerse themselves in Academy and be briefed on the project scope.  A date was set in April 2019 for each of the sculptors to present their vision, costings, plinth design and delivery timelines.  A project evaluation team was formed, and the presentations began.  Of interest 3 of the 4 sculptors presented a very similar proposal, with the 4th proposal completely missing the brief.  This helped the down select process and after much deliberation, Caroline Nunneley was chosen. Only after the final selection did the Academy find out that Caroline was also a Lady in Waiting to the Princess Royal, this would become a real asset as the project progressed.

The delivery project team was formed and regular visits to a windy barn in the Cotswolds where the life size clay model started to take shape.  When I enlisted in 1983, I never expected that I would have to understand the process required to deliver a life size statue of HM.  The picture below shows the first stage which is made from clay layered onto a chicken wire frame.

Stage 2 can only be started once the clay statue is complete and set.  This includes all the detail, medals, insignia, facial expression and so on. During this stage is it important to ensure everything is correct as there is no going back.  Many experts where enlisted to view the clay version, too many to acknowledge but to give you a flavour a wide range of retired London District Officers, members of HM household and equine experts.  Once agreement was reached, Caroline could then with the foundry cover the entire statue in a pink latex solution.  This process forms a mould which then allows the foundry to start stage 3.  This stage sees the mould be used to form a hard mould to allow the bronze cast to be poured in sections, hind leg left, hind leg right and so on.  Stage 3 and 4 combined are the most complicated.  As the bronze must set before moving to stage 4, which sees the foundry welding all the parts of the statue together, under the watchful eye of the sculptor. Stage 5 sees the sculptor really earn her fee as Caroline now has to now bring the statue to life by smoothing out all the joins and polishing all the insignia.  Concurrently, Yorkshire stone was chosen to clad the plinth and even the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) was ahead of the planning to deliver the ground works and foundations to take the 10-ton statue and plinth.  The total timeline had to be extended due to Covid but by the end of 2021, the project was coming together with a target date to unveil in December 2022 at the Sovereign’s Parade.

So, as I entered 2022 and my final year of service expecting a clear and gentle run to retirement the bombshell dropped.  Due to several external issues out of RMAS control a decision was taken to move the unveiling forward to Friday 27 May the week prior to the country wide Platinum Jubilee celebrations. After a call with Caroline in early January, she confirmed that the statue and plinth would be ready – phew.  Although DIO had been leaning in, could they now deliver the grounds works on time noting the infrastructure contract was also due to change from Amey to Vinci on 1 April 2002 (this isn’t an April fool).  Thankfully, DIO delivered.  The only outstanding issue was who was going to unveil the statue.  As I mentioned earlier, having Lady in Waiting now became a real asset as Caroline was able to use her contacts in the various Royal Households to determine availability which allowed a formal application to be staffed.  The Earl of Wessex Prince Edward KG GCVO accepted along with HH Sheik Nassar bin Hamad Al Khalifa representing Bahrain.  To further complicate matters it was decided to host the bi-annual Former Commandants visit to RMAS on the same day.  A tough audience who all have an opinion, so everything had to be better than perfect.

As the 27th rapidly approached, 3 weeks prior would see a scaffolding based hording erected around the plinth to keep HM under wraps until the last safe moment.  The moment of truth arrived on the 12th May as the statue was transported from the foundry to RMAS for installation onto the plinth along with the commemorative plaques.  All went without a hitch meaning the Academy was now set for the unveiling with just rehearsals to be completed.  Over to the Academy Sergeant Major as the ceremonial aspects of the unveiling where well out of my area of expertise.

After 3.5 years of my life planning, preparing, and managing this project the unveiling day and culmination had finally arrived. The Academy was set to receive the VVIPs and Former Commandants.  The unveiling was preceded by a lunch in the Indian Army Memorial Room delivered by Aramark followed by an update to all Former Commandants on the way forward for the Academy.  H Hour was fast approaching, Sheik Nasser and The Earl of Wessex both arrived on time.  Now for the short walk from Old College steps to the unveiling location in the centre of the grounds.  The picture below captures the shroud falling away as rehearsed, this was the single biggest risk to the day.  A great turn out from across the Academy with many family members, school children and civil servants attending the event.  The Earl spent longer that planned, speaking to the families which was appreciated by all in attendance.  And no sooner had the VVIPs arrived, the event was over, and the Academy returned to normal but with HM sitting proudly on Burmese in the middle of RMAS for all to see.  Not knowing how significant this statue would become in just a few months.


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