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Navy's historic call to action sounded at Duke of Edinburgh's funeral

Royal Marines Buglers sound Action Stations during the funeral ceremony
18 April 2021
Yesterday millions of people around the world heard four Royal Marines Buglers fill St George’s Chapel at Windsor with the haunting echo of the Royal Navy’s call to battle.

At the Duke of Edinburgh’s specific request the wartime call to Action Stations was performed during the funeral service by Sergeant Jamie Ritchie and his team of buglers, paying their final respects to the man who was their figurehead as the Corps’ Captain General for more than six decades.

As with the Last Post, the call is typically performed solo so the buglers practised throughout the week to ensure, in Sgt Ritchie's words, all four were "‘dialled in’ to each other right down to the millisecond".

Traditionally, the ten-second call was sounded by a bugler on larger British warships – such as cruisers, battleships and aircraft carriers – with Royal Marines detachments aboard when their ship sighted the enemy and prepared for battle.

You can see an excellent example of the call to ‘sound off action’ in the war film Battle of the River Plate; Boy Bugler Ronald Hill called the men of HMS Exeter to quarters. He was subsequently killed in action alongside fellow Bugler Ernest Squire.

Despite growing automation of the Navy and the conversion of Royal Marines into commandos, Action Stations continued to sound into the 1950s, played over a ship’s main broadcast system to alert shipmates. Today it has been replaced by the rather jarring, automated general alarm.

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