I arrived at St Pancras station at 2.06pm on the Saturday and made my way by tube to the hotel accommodation.
By the time I had checked in and sorted my uniform out it was time to convene in the hotel restaurant for a security brief and a rundown of the timetable of events for the following morning. It was a very detailed brief as security was very high (largely due to credible information that had been received over the past couple of days, which had pushed the security level even higher).
I received my ID badge and was allocated a place in Contingent Number 1, along with a group of police officers and prison officers. Contingent number 2 was made up of members from the British Red Cross, ambulance service, British Transport Police and military police.
A buffet supper followed and then I decided on an early night to be ready for a 5.00 am start the following morning.
A Shower followed by a ‘full english’ in the morning and I was in the foyer fully dressed in uniform by 6.30am!
All bags had to be placed in a line outside the hotel entrance and special police dogs checked them over whilst the four coaches were thoroughly searched before we were allowed to board them. Everyone was searched as we boarded the coach and then there was a very long 35 minute wait once we were all seated aboard.
The coaches finally set off and headed for the short journey to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
We had travelled along only a few streets when we came to a halt and there was a long discussion between our Contingent Leader and a group of police officers whose cars were blocking the road. It seemed that the security was that tight we might not even get to where we were needed!
A detour route was decided on and we finally arrived at our destination.
We disembarked and placed all our baggage in a room in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
Then the shouting began! It reminded me of days spent at the training school, as the drill sergeant bellowed at the top of his lungs for us to fall in, sort ourselves into height order and number from the right. He couldn’t hear us apparently and were not fast enough so we ended up numbering off about eight times each time getting louder and faster until he was satisfied.
Then we were split in to two squads and allocated a Drill Sergeant per squad. Ex-military volunteers were selected to demonstrate the various commands; attention, at ease, turn to right ,left about turn and by the left QUIIIIICK-MAAAAARCH etc.
This lasted for a couple of hours, marching around the quadrangle within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, until our Drill Sergeant was happy we were up to a good enough standard for the public to see us march out on to Whitehall.
We were to march up King Charles Street, turn left onto Whitehall and down to the Cenotaph, which was about 80 meters away. We would then form part of the static guard for the duration of the ceremony. We completed a couple of practice runs up to the archway on Whitehall and then we lined up to be inspected by Member of Parliament, Home Secretary, Theresa May.
She gave an address on World War I and followed it with a prayer. We were then brought to attention and marched past her out on to Whitehall and down to the Cenotaph.
I was fortunate to have had a very good position at the front, almost directly opposite the Cenotaph. Although I had to stand completely still throughout the ceremony, looking forward I could still see the ceremony and all the members of the royal family, politicians etc. laying their wreathes.
After the official laying of wreathes, the procession of Veterans commenced on their march past, paying their respects to their squadrons and fallen colleagues. Once the ceremony was over we were brought to attention and marched back into the quadrangle, where we were thanked and fell out.
There was an opportunity to nip through the small archway to Downing Street where we could get a quick photo outside Number 10.
I have to say that it was a very moving three hours and I felt very privileged to have been there.
Firefighter Training – Hinckley