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Whanganui Aviator returns to London for Queen's Funeral

The last time Leading Aircraftman Laurelie Giles was in London, she was celebrating the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. This month, she returned to honour Her Majesty The Late Queen Elizabeth II’s passing by marching in the funeral procession in London.

21 September, 2022

LAC Giles, 22, was one of 24 New Zealand Defence Force sailors, soldiers and aviators alongside Australian and Canadian personnel in the Commonwealth contingent, which was virtually at the front of the procession marching from Westminster Abbey to Wellington Arch on Monday morning.

The contingent travelled from Pirbright Army Camp in Surrey early in the morning to Wellington Barracks, near St James’s Park, for the procession.

They got underway mid-morning.

“When we started marching, you could hear the choir from Westminster Abbey. We were not sure what to expect and it’s at the moment you think: I’m really doing this. For the Queen.

“Once we got on the Mall, there was a sea of flags lining the street, the Golden Angel at the end (the Queen Victoria memorial)… we were tired, but when we got on the Mall you got a second burst of energy. You could feel this empathy coming from the crowd. They knew why we were there, to support the Queen, and what she has done in her lifetime.”

The NZDF contingent arrived in the United Kingdom the previous Monday and had spent the week rehearsing at Pirbright. In the early hours of Thursday morning (UK time) they were part of a full dress rehearsal with UK Armed Forces on the Mall in London.

A highlight of the week was the Prince and Princess of Wales’ visit to Pirbright on Friday, to thank the Commonwealth contingents for coming this far. The New Zealand contingent returned the thanks by performing the Defence Force haka.

Leading Aircraftman Giles, from Whanganui, joined the Royal New Zealand Air Force in 2019 after finishing at Longburn Adventist College in Palmerston North. She is a fuel technician at RNZAF Base Ohakea.

She joined the Air Force because of a love of aircraft. “I just wanted to be around them, and working with them, and Air Force was all of that for me.”

She had put her name forward to be part of the contingent for Operation Platinum, the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. When she returned to New Zealand she was told she had stood out and her name was suggested for the future contingent for Operation London Bridge, the response to the death of Her Majesty The Late Queen Elizabeth II.

“The week before we left, I got a call and was told, you need to get yourself to Wellington.”

She said this was far bigger than the Platinum Jubilee event.

“Last time, the closest I got to the Queen was when she came out on her balcony. This is certainly more sombre. We’re here to honour the Queen, the only monarch we’ve known in our lifetimes. When I told my family I was going, they were amazed.”

The contingent was bussed during the night to Wellington Barracks, near St James’s Park, for the procession in the morning. There were a few nerves, she said. “But when you get out there, it comes together.”