Shropshire's hero of the Queen's funeral comes home for Rotary club dinner
The soldier in charge of the Queen's funeral spoke about having the eyes of the world watching him at a Rotary club dinner in Shopshire.
More than 50 people turned out to hear Garrison Sergeant Major Andrew "Vern" Stokes of the Coldstream Guards address a meeting of Ironbridge Rotary Club.
WO1 Stokes won the hearts of the nation when he made a solitary walk along The Mall for a final inspection ahead of a 4,000-strong military parade during the Queen's funeral.
A gentle ripple of applause broke out as he reached the end of The Mall, and WO1 Stokes told guests that he felt a weight lifted from his shoulders as he reached the end of the line.
"He said by the time he had got to the end of The Mall, that was the moment he knew that everything was all right," said Rotarian Rachel Waterson.
He also showed members the Bafta award he received for his part in the Festival of Remembrance on BBC television.
WO1 Stokes, who was accompanied by his fiancée Sue Amer, told members about his remarkable career, growing up in Madeley and attending the Blessed Robert Johnson Catholic College, where a teacher encouraged him to pursue a career in the army.
He also organised the ceremonial activities in the Duke of Edinburgh's funeral last year, and played a leading role in the summer's Platinum Jubilee celebrations.
"We heard about how close he is to the Royal Family, how he advises them on all aspects of ceremonial activities," said Rachel.
"We were amazed at how far-reaching his expertise is, he is used within the Government for all matters ceremonial."
Although he now spends much of his time in the capital, 50-year-old WO1 Stokes said he still had a home in Coalbrookdale, which he still considered home.
"He told how he could look out of his London flat and see not only Hyde Park, but also the Coalbrookdale gates of Hyde Park," said Rachel.
"He is a truly humble chap, very nice, and Vern showed all the characteristics in his job that Rotarians strive for, those of service above self."
The dinner was also attended by guests from Wellington and Telford Central Rotary Clubs.