Telford soldier's key role as country says goodbye to Dame Vera Lynn
A Telford soldier has played an important role in the funeral of British icon and national treasure Dame Vera Lynn.
Warrant Officer Class One Garrison Sergeant Major Andrew ‘Vern’ Stokes is a senior member of the Household Division, which works closely with the royal family, and has been responsible for designing and implementing the ceremonial elements for today's events in Sussex.
Dame Vera, the forces sweetheart, died age 103 on June 18, and her funeral took place today in Brighton, close to her long-time family home in Ditchling, Sussex.
WATCH: Telford soldier plays tribute to Dame Vera
Crowds gathered in the picturesque village of Ditchling, where she lived happily for 60 years, to say goodbye to their “special local lady” before a flypast from a Spitfire and Hurricane.
The cortege bearing Dame Vera’s coffin, which was draped in a Union flag, arrived in the village centre as a bell tolled out and paused for several minutes awaiting the flypast.
Hundreds of people were gathered at the crossroads ahead of the procession, which was led by soldiers.
There was applause from the crowds as the two Second World War fighter planes flew over the little village in honour of the national treasure.
The cortege then made its way out of the village as it continued its route to the crematorium in Brighton, bid farewell by shouts of “hip hip hooray” from the crowd in her honour.
It was followed by a spontaneous rendition of We’ll Meet Again, one of the songs Dame Vera was well-known for.
The cortege was greeted in Brighton by a tri-service route-lining party outside the chapel, together with a military bearer party ready to receive the coffin.
A bugler from the Royal Marines was drafted in to provide a musical tribute inside the chapel, and the Ministry of Defence was represented by a senior officer who, along with the bugler and the small family group, were the only people to attend the funeral service.
A full memorial service will be held at a later date.
Sergeant Major Stokes has military responsibility for important state occasions such as Trooping of the Colour and was central to the running of the military ceremonial around the visit of French president Macron a few weeks ago in London.
Today he was co-ordinating the armed forces' guard at the funeral.
He said: “Dame Vera has played such a pivotal role in supporting our armed forces, providing hope to all in the most difficult times when morale was waning.
"Having served on several operational overseas deployments over my long career, it means so much to soldiers to be able to think of home, when home is so far away, and this is how I will remember Dame Vera’s contribution. I am honoured to be coordinating the support of our tri-service guard at her funeral, to provide a fitting tribute to a national treasure."
Dame Vera’s strong association with the famous White Cliffs of Dover was celebrated ahead of the funeral by the projection of a giant portrait of her onto the cliff face.
The image on the 350ft cliffs was visible to ships passing through the Channel, as well as passing planes – and on land it could be seen from the main road and the back gardens of local residents.
Virginia Lewis-Jones, Dame Vera’s daughter, said: “We want to thank everyone for their tremendous support over the past few weeks.
“My mother always appreciated receiving messages from all over the world, and Ditchling was always particularly special to her, that is why we know she would be touched that so many people want to pay their respects in the village tomorrow.”
Garrison Sergeant Major Stokes enlisted into the Coldstream Guards at 16 as a Junior Leader in 1988 from Telford
His first Platoon Commander was the current Chief of the General Staff for the Army.
He has conducted numerous operational tours in Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan and instructed at the School of Infantry and Sandhurst.
He was the Regimental Sergeant Major of 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards in 2010 and the Academy Sergeant Major at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in 2012.
He has set up numerous initiatives linking the Army in London with youth engagement organisations, charities, colleges and associations.
In 2015 he was appointed the Garrison Sergeant Major Headquarters London District and has been at the heart of the nation’s major events ever since.
He is engaged to be married to Sue and between them they have three grown up children.
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