Memories of a special day with the Duke of Edinburgh

A Burton Lazars woman has been recalling a special day she spent with her late husband in the company of the Duke of Edinburgh at one of his last ever public engagements.

Tuesday, 13th April 2021, 10:53 am
The Duke of Edinburgh greets Dr Sandy Saunders at the unveiling ceremony for a new memorial to the iconic Guinea Pig Club at the National Memorial Arboretum in 2016, watched by Maggie Saunders (right) EMN-210904-170816001

Maggie Saunders has fond memories of that cold November day in 2016 when Prince Philip helped unveil a memorial to members of the Guinea Pig Club, 649 badly injured and burned Second World War servicemen who were treated by pioneering surgeon, Sir Archibald McIndoe.

Dr Sandy Saunders, who passed away just four months after that event aged 94, was a leading member of the club after suffering terrible burns in an aircraft crash in 1945.

He had organised an online fundraising campaign to help pay for the memorial at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire and the Duke of Edinburgh unveiled it with him.

The Duke of Edinburgh helps Dr Sandy Saunders unveil a new memorial to the iconic Guinea Pig Club at the National Memorial Arboretum EMN-210904-170803001

The Duke had been president of the club from 1961 and he had become firm friends with Sandy through attending meetings and dinners over decades.

Following Prince Philip’s death at the age of 99 on Friday, Maggie told the Melton Times: “It was a wonderful day when they unveiled that memorial together - we were very proud that he was there to do it.

“That was the last public thing he did for the Guinea Pig Club and one of his last publc engagements anyway because he soon retired from doing them.

“On that day he was on top form. He was full of fun. It was amazing really. When Sandy and I followed him back from the unveiling towards the buildings at the NMA we were almost running to keep up with him.

Chris Haggett, principal of Long Field Academy, Melton EMN-210413-104444001

“After he had the walk around the new buildings, Sandy hosted the tea and sat at the table with the Duke and they got on very well.

“They were chatting away like long lost friends and laughing. It was just a very happy experience.”

Sandy arranged for a brewery to bottle some of the Duke’s favourite pale ale with a special label on denoting the memorial and the Guinea Pig Club.

It ws delivered to Buckingham Palace and Prince Philip replied with a warm letter of thanks.

Maggie said she was ‘very sad’ to learn of the Duke’s death but believes the lockdown restrictions brought on by the pandemic had given him and The Queen precious time togther in his final year.

She added: “I think the pandemic has helped because they’ve been able to have quite a lot of time together without the usual public duties.

“Now she can have longer to get grips with bereavement because there aren’t all these public things going on.

“He’s also got the funeral he wanted, with no fuss.”

Generations of young people in the Melton area have benefited from taking Duke of Edinburgh Awards, which were founded by Prince Philip in 1956 to help personal development through team work and social interaction.

At the town’s Long Field Academy, alone, there are currently 65 students who have either completed their Bronze Award or who are still working through it.

Principal, Chris Haggett, has seen the boost these youngsters have had through taking the course, doing the required voluntary work and learning lots of new skills which will help them in later life.

He told the Melton Times this week: “It is an absolute pleasure to see the students develop over the six months and a greater achievement seeing the number of participants increase each year.

“The Award has been a great asset to Long Field and one which ours students always enjoy.”

Flags are being flown at half-mast on the Melton Borough Council offices on Parkside during this week of national mourning for the Duke.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, and to ensure the safety of our community, the council say there will be no allocated area for floral tributes to the Duke of Edinburgh from the public.

Residents are instead encouraged to display any tributes, such as a written message, flowers or a plant, within their own property boundary.

You are also invited to go online at www.leicestershire.gov.uk/book-of-condolence to sign a virtual book of Condolences through County Hall.

The funeral service for Prince Philip will be on Saturday, at Windsor, with a national one-minute silence to be observed at 3pm.