We were deeply saddened to learn about the passing of HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh on the morning of 9 April 2021. Our thoughts are with the Royal family.

Prince Philip served as Colonel-in-Chief of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers from 1969. Ahead of a commemorative edition of The Craftsman, due out later this year, we thought we would share an article written for the Duke's 90th birthday in 2011 by Mike Sibbons. This article explains how royal Colonel-in-Chiefs are appointed and we've accompanied it with some great photos from the REME Museum archive.

Appointment as Colonel-in-Chief

Traditionally, Colonels-in-Chief and royal honorary colonels are appointed to mark a national and specific occasion and it is customary for the sovereign to initiate appointments. However, members of the royal family take a very active interest in the affairs of regiments in which they hold an appointment and the Army Board has a duty to ensure that demands on their services, in this respect, are not excessive.

Prince Philip visits Vehicles and Weapons Branch REME, Friday 7 November 1986.The Colonel in Chief, accompanied by Col D R Axson, having a look at a Scammel Tank Transporter.

Following the untimely death of our first Colonel-in-Chief, HRH Princess Marina in 1968 (tenure 1963-68), the Representative Colonel Commandant of the Corps approached the Army Board with the hope that Her Majesty The Queen would take the investiture of the Prince of Wales as an occasion for the grant of royal titles or the appointment of royal colonels-in-chief to regiments and corps of the Army. The Army Board responded:

“Whilst your Corps is not high in the table of precedence for the grant of such an honour having had a Royal Colonel-in-Chief until very recently, I believe that the Army Board would be willing to consider an application for a Royal Colonel-in-Chief for REME on the basis of their size and importance to the Army.”

HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, Colonel-in-Chief, REME. Visit to Aircraft Technical Service Unit, REME; arrival at Middle Wallop, 19th November 1976. L to R: Brigadier P E Collins, Major General G V Hayward, HRH Prince Philip, Colonel FJ Morgan and Major Henry Hugh Smith.

In January 1969, the Representative Colonel Commandant REME again wrote to the Army Board:

“We are unanimous in our opinion that the Corps of Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers would be greatly honoured should Her Majesty The Queen be pleased to appoint His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh to succeed Her late Royal Highness Princess Marina as our Colonel-in-Chief. We are aware of the expressed interest in which His Royal Highness has shown in our Corps. His outstanding knowledge in those fields in which the Corps is active makes him a most suitable personage for the appointment which would be enthusiastically welcomed by all officers and soldiers of REME.”

On 2 June 1969, the Director of Personnel Services (Army) wrote to the Representative Colonel Commandant REME:

“I am writing to let you know in advance of the public announcement, which is to be made on the evening of 9 June 1969, that Her Majesty The Queen has been pleased to appoint HRH The Duke of Edinburgh to be Colonel-in-Chief of your Corps. The appointment will be announced by the Press Secretary at Buckingham Palace and will appear in the London Gazette in due course. I have written to the Private Secretary to HRH The Duke of Edinburgh to acquaint him of this appointment and to warn that you will be getting in touch shortly.”

The Director of Personnel Services (Army) further wrote that:

“There is no set protocol for this kind of event, but I would suggest that your course of action might be on the following lines: the presentation of your humble duty to HRH by letter as soon as practicable; an arrangement with the Private Secretary of a date on which you might wait upon HRH to present the state of your Corps.”

The appointment of Colonel-in-Chief to the Corps was published in the 27 June 1969 edition of the London Gazette.

The Representative Colonel Commandant and DEME(A) met with the Colonel-in-Chief on 24 Jun 1969 to present the state of the Corps and to formulate the rules of protocol to be followed in dealing with Corps’ matters. The Colonel-in-Chief immediately embraced his new role.

The appointment was promulgated to the Corps in the August 1969 edition of The Craftsman. This was followed by a biography of HRH in the September 1969 issue of The Craftsman. This article, regrettably, resulted in a mild rebuke from the Colonel-in-Chief because the article contained three errors - clearly showing his ‘eye for detail’!

Colonel-in-Chief's visit to REME Units during exercise 'Spearpoint 70'. Driving an FV 434 of Sergeant Ward's FRG 'B', 12 Armoured Workshop.

The Colonel-in-Chief’s Initial Visits to the Corps

The Colonel-in-Chief’s first visit to the Corps was made to Arborfield on 4 July 1969. He arrived in a Wessex helicopter, which he piloted himself and, after lunch at West Court, visited the REME Officers’ School and the School of Electronic Engineering (SEE). Whilst at SEE he was given a display of radar techniques including a demonstration of the Doppler effect. 

On 14 November 1969, HRH flew in from Buckingham Palace to conduct a reciprocal visit to the School of Electrical and Mechanical Engineering (SEME) at Bordon. He attended the Corps London cocktail party on 19 November 1969.

Prince Philip visits 35 Central Workshop REME, 3 April 1979. HRH talks to Corporals': Warner, Brierley, Olushola and Brown.

During the period 26-27 November 1970, HRH paid his initial visit to BAOR, in a ‘whirlwind’ tour that included travelling overnight in the Commander-in-Chief’s train. There he saw ten REME units and officers and soldiers from across the BAOR. Through his visit the Colonel-in-Chief impressed everyone by his informality and his evident interest in all the engineering aspects of what we do in the Corps - this was to be his style for future visits to the Corps.

Our Colonel-in-Chief’s many visits to units of the Corps over the past four decades have been a great support to our soldiers and their families, not least in times such as the Gulf War and operations in Afghanistan.

The Colonel-in-Chief gets hands on during a visit to Electronics Branch REME Malvern, 15 February 1985.

Prince Philip was Colonel-in-Chief for more than fifty years and the REME Museum's archive contains hundreds of photos and documents, charting his relationship with the Corps. It's one small part of an incredible legacy of service. We will share more in the coming weeks.