They're changing the guard at Buckingham Palace

Tim Thirst

It all began around 1996 I suppose. Members of the Stalham Brass Band, and others from the local community wanted to show their appreciation of Gerald Thirst and the hard work that he had put in to ensure that Stalham retained a 'town band'.
It was felt that he deserved to be in the Honours List, and so the letter winged it's way to the offices at No. 10 Downing Street.
There are many different types of Honours awarded in either the New Year's Honours or the Birthday Honours Lists. The more usual is the OBE., generally awarded to someone who has put an exceptional effort into their working life. It could be a train driver; forty years in the job and never a day off work. It could be a teacher, who has not only achieved a high standard of results in their school but has also spent their leisure time organising school trips.
The MBE is generally awarded for achievement outside the work place. The recipient could be as young as 20 or even as old as 100. Charity fund raising; helping the aged or infirm; making a difference to the life of the local community, all count.
Some Honours come in different guises, civilian and military. The contrast between the two can be quite wide. A civilian MBE can be the result of a number of years hard work, a military one can be for only a couple of years.

In Norfolk we may only have two or three MBE's awarded in an Honours List.


The Lord Chamberlain, The Right Honourable The Lord Luce, GCVO reads the citation

In November, Gerald received notification that he had been awarded the Guinness World Record for his 50 years as conductor, and 76 years as a player with the Stalham Band. He thought this was wonderful. He proudly showed his certificate off at the next band practice.

It never rains but it pours! The very next day a letter arrived from the Court of St. James. It asked if he would accept an Honour if  awarded one. This letter he couldn't show to the band. The reply winged it's way back. I am quite sure, that at that time, and knowing the computer wizardry that surrounds me in my work, that he thought it was a wind-up.

Nothing more is heard. A couple of days before New Year 2000, and the list of Honours is sent to the newspapers, radio, television, and the next thing is phone calls from the media wanting to do interviews. Then the announcement is in the papers. Gerald's phone hardly stopped ringing for about two days, and the Congratulation cards nearly filled a sack.


Her Majesty The Queen presents Yvonne Thirst with Gerald's MBE

After a while things quieten down, we all look forward to the trip to the Palace. No date has been set yet. Quietly I beaver away on making it an extra special day. Can we get a contingent of Stalham Band to London as well? Will the Guards' Band play a request, or even allow a guest conductor for one piece?

Then the world seems to come to an end.

It was just an ordinary Saturday. "Come and listen to this dad", I called, as I worked on assembling the band's first CD recording of Hymns. He listened, and then said " It takes a good band to play a hymn tune properly". "Oh" I said defensively "well...  there's a few  imperfect notes in there I admit." "No....." he said, "that's what I meant. That is a good band" 
 Encouraged, I worked on, for a couple more hours, and then it happened. Dad had suddenly collapsed. The rest is a nightmare that no one wants to happen. We tried everything, but there was no bringing him back.


Her Majesty The Queen chats with Tim Thirst

The summer was just a blur. Now its the morning of Tuesday October 31st 2000. 
I swing the car through the gates of Buckingham Palace. Japanese tourists click away at us with their cameras. Do they really think I'm Prince Charles? The Forecourt in front of the Queen Victoria Memorial has been cordoned off, and a few minutes beforehand, the security teams gave the car the once over for terrorist devices. Robert's not worried by this. He's already seen the Grenadier Guards parading in front of the Palace, that looks a fun job! There are about one hundred other families attending today's investiture. Which member of the Royal Family will carry out the investiture, is not announced in advance, but the sight of the Royal Standard flying means that The Queen is in residence today.
The cars in front are all directed one way, but our pass is different from all the rest. What would Dad have made of all this fuss?


Robert struggles while The Queen chats with Tricia Thirst

Everyone else has invitation cards. We don't, but they know who we are. The Officers on duty escort us into an elegant banqueting room. In the Ballroom next door, where the main investiture is to take place, the Orchestra of the Irish Guards are playing the march 'Salute to Handel'. Below on the Palace forecourt, the Grenadiers are changing the guard. This is what Robert's day is really about!
Lt. Col. Bob Cartwright, Secretary of the Central Chancery of the Orders of Knighthood, arrives with one of the Queen's Ladies in Waiting. The Lord Chamberlain is introduced to us, and everyone is quite informal, making for a relaxed atmosphere.  It's a quarter to eleven. We have been put through our paces. The orchestra are playing a waltz, 'Valse Appassionata'. The video cameras start filming.
The handles of the door rattle, the ushers swing them open, and the Queen enters. We bow. Robert decides it's time to kneel down and stay there! The Queen is amused.
The Lord Chamberlain reads the citation, the Queen moves forward and takes the Decoration from a velvet cushion held by Lt. Col. Cartwright, and then presents it to my mother. The Queen then chats for a few minutes about Gerald and his life. She says that she is particularly pleased to be present personally for this occasion. 


...and what exactly is a toot-toot young man?


Then it's my turn. We chat about which instruments I've played, how long I have played in the band, and the current activities. Tricia is next, still holding onto a struggling Robert, and then Robert decides it's his turn. "See toot-toot now!" he tells the Queen. The Queen laughs and I translate for her, explaining about his playing and conducting.

Now it's time for the Queen to attend the main investiture. We say our 'goodbyes' and the Queen moves through into the Ballroom, accompanied by two Gurkha Orderly Officers, a tradition begun in 1876 by Queen Victoria. We are left for a few moments to reflect, and then we have a look at the main investiture, followed by the photo call on the Palace steps.

The Grenadiers have changed the guard now and march out of the Palace gates, with the band playing. We sweep out behind them. Now the Japanese tourists are really convinced!

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