“What would Winston Churchill do?” Meeting of the British military chiefs with Queen Elizabeth
During an audience with the former Chief of Defense Staff, Queen Elizabeth II demonstrated a keen sense of military affairs and speculated on what Winston Churchill would have done in particularly difficult situations.
As Commander-in-Chief of the British Armed Forces, she also proved an excellent listener, “although I occasionally clashed with my political bosses,” said General Lord David Richards.
The Queen has always been “particularly concerned” for the well-being of military families, especially when she felt they were not being treated as well as they deserved.
He said they often talk about their shared love of military history, referring to Churchill, the famous wartime Prime Minister who was the first of 15 to serve the Queen.
“Getting to know her well gave me more opportunities to talk about history and to speculate about how someone like Winston Churchill would react to the situation we’re talking about,” he said.
“It was an amazing moment to speak to someone who knew these great statesmen of the past. That was a huge privilege.”
The British Chief of Defense Staff (CDS) typically had at least two and up to four formal half-hour audiences with the monarch each year, during which she was briefed on both operational and political matters.
Similar to the weekly audiences Queen Elizabeth had with her prime ministers, the talks were private, although the monarch was free to use the information as she saw fit.
During Lord Richard’s time as CDS from 2010 to 2013, Britain was heavily involved in the war in Afghanistan at a time when major defense cuts were being introduced.
“Essentially it was an opportunity to update them on everything affecting our armed forces, from the state of morale to operational issues,” Gen. Richards said The National.
“In my case, it coincided with the conflicts in Afghanistan, Libya and Syria along with the 2012 Olympics.
“Anything related to the armed forces could and was discussed. She was particularly interested in issues of morality and worried about anything that might undermine her.”
Gen Richards had to brief the sovereign on the 2010 Defense and Security Strategic Review, which included cutting aircraft carriers, Harrier jump jets and Nimrod maritime reconnaissance aircraft.
“We discussed the impact of the cuts, she raised concerns and I would need to explain what the plan was,” he said.
With dozens of British soldiers dying or seriously injured in Afghanistan, the Queen was also worried about the impact on her close relatives.
“She wanted to be sure that the families were being looked after properly,” he said. “They were her armed forces and the men and women within them whom she valued as individuals and as a collective.
“There was a very special relationship between them and her as Commander-in-Chief. She was really worried about her.”
She also wanted assurances that she could have confidence in the military hierarchy, he added, and that senior officials would deal with any issues and work with political leaders to resolve problems.
It’s also reassuring, he said, that when he’s had trouble with politicians — “as every CDS invariably will” — the mere fact of attending a royal audience “reminded me that my ultimate loyalty and obligation is to her.” he said.
“She asked very intelligent and well-informed questions, and I consistently gave honest answers, confident that they would remain completely private,” General Richards said.
“I wasn’t sure how she would use the information I gave her, it was part of building an understanding of how the country works as a whole, often during difficult times.”
Meetings were held principally in the Audience Chamber at Buckingham Palace and occasionally at Windsor Castle, but once formalities or principal business were settled Queen Elizabeth sometimes exhibited a keen sense of humor, something Gen Richards witnessed when he visited his Royal Horse Artillery Regiment at the year 1993
He remembered the visit, he said The National his efforts to bring in the troops went horribly wrong.
“I introduced her to a soldier and because I had to learn many names, I misunderstood him. “That’s not my name, sir,” said the gunner.
“The Queen turned to me and said, ‘Now you’ve been told, Col Richards.’ She recalled the incident many years later with much amusement.”
Gen Richards will be among nine former military personnel who have held the same high-level post who have been invited to next Monday’s funeral as a mark of respect for their position.
Updated September 14, 2022 at 6:00 am