HRH Prince El Hassan bin Talal

Memorial Tribute

to

Arthur Valerian Wellesley

8th Duke of Wellington

The Guards’ Chapel, Wellington Barracks

Tuesday 12th May 2015

Your Majesty, Dear Friends,

You may be wondering what I, an Arab Prince, am doing standing here in this magnificent and historic Guards Chapel, spiritual home to the seven Regiments of the Household Division and witness to so many great and dramatic events in British history.  I have wondered at it myself, but came to the conclusion that quite apart from the great and treasured friendship Sarvath and I had with Valerian and his beloved Diana, it is a testimony to the fact that they spent some of the most important times of their lives in our region.  I am truly honoured to have been invited to give this Tribute.

To use Valerian’s words, we both belong to: protected species.  We were born into families with a strong sense of service to the Crown and to the public good.  Born in Rome in 1915, Valerian will have grown up with a consciousness permeated by the aftermath of war and the precariousness of life.  He would have learnt that in his infancy millions were killed in the Great War, as they were, and have been since, by man against man, man against nature and man-made disasters. 

When Valerian left Eton he would have liked to have gone straight to Sandhurst, but his father insisted he went up to New College, Oxford.  Valerian was the most elegant and stylish of gentlemen who lived life to the full.  Not surprisingly, this got in the way of his studies and he was sent down for a year, but he finally focussed and got his degree, after which one society column bore the memorable and as time proved, not inaccurate headline: ‘This Young Man Will Cause a Flutter’.

In the spring of 1939 he joined The Blues, adeptly mixing his army training with partying at grand balls, or at nightclubs.  Finally, he set off for war in the summer of 1940, his destination the Middle East, joining the First Household Cavalry Regiment.

Valerian had a life-long love of all God’s creatures, especially horses and dogs, and was deeply saddened at the Army’s decision, having shipped the horses to the Middle East, that the Cavalry was actually unsuited to war in the desert.

It was, he said later, “One of the saddest days I can ever remember when in February 1941, I had to take fourteen old black horses of my troop into the Judaean hills and shoot them… Those fine old creatures who had taken part in all the great state occasions… ended their days on a desolate Palestinian hill…”.

Valerian not only cared for his horses as essential to his and his men’s survival, but cherished them as a humanising factor in that most dehumanising of situations – war.

A dashing young officer, Valerian displayed gallantry in every quarter whilst also finding time to court and marry Diana McConnel, the daughter of the General commanding in Jerusalem.  It was a marriage of souls and indeed Diana gave some insight into her remarkable qualities by bravely keeping to herself (as wartime required) secret intelligence of a bomb threat to their 1944 wedding.  She allowed Valerian to believe that the small army of outriders and police escorting them was attributable to the fact that he was marrying the General’s daughter.

Not long after their wedding, Valerian, now Captain, the Marquess of Douro, returned to Europe, embarking in Egypt, while Diana waited anxiously in Palestine for news.  When finally she heard he was going home to England, she got herself onto a ship which joined the same convoy.  Every evening they sent each other messages, in Morse code to the great amusement of all on board who could interpret them.  At last, back on English soil, they were finally reunited, and for the rest of the sixty-six years of their marriage, they were rarely apart.  Their son Charles was born in August 1945, followed by Richard, Jane, John and Christopher.

Though Valerian ceased to be a serving soldier in 1968, he was immensely proud of his subsequent honorary military roles, particularly being Deputy Colonel of his own regiment, The Blues and Royals, and serving later as the only non-Royal Colonel-in-Chief – of the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment – ‘The Dukes’.  

It was notable during his years of service in the Levant and Mesopotamia that Valerian met Colonel John Bagot Glubb, later known as Glubb Pasha, and his famous Arab Legion.   He described them as fierce warriors, with their long black ringlets, lean dark faces, khaki drill robes garlanded with belts of ammunition, and on their heads the red and check kaffiahs, who, in the victory parade of 1945, raised a cheer of the “Good Old Arab Legion”.  Valerian was always conscious of the fact that the Legion were successors of the Sherifian Hashemite Army who had fought alongside the allies in World War I.

Valerian had told me that it was in Iraq that the Household Cavalry exchanged guidons with the Arab Legion, a ceremony we later re-enacted in Jordan in the presence of my dear brother, King Hussein.   

Valerian’s principal reason for leaving the army was to devote more time to preserving his illustrious ancestor’s Estate of Stratfield Saye.  It was there that we spent many happy hours engaged in the noble art of conversation which is definitely not a martial art, discussing subjects ranging from politics to the preservation of universal cultural heritage and our duties in this world as servants of the Crown, of the people and custodians of the earth.

To the end, Valerian could be dogged about a cause which he thought raised questions of family honour or practical politics, and in support of his charities, many of which are represented here today.

To Valerian, the greatest honour of his life was when Her Majesty created him a Knight of the Garter.  His support and affection for the British Royal family and all that it stands for is well known.  He considered his role a duty and a joy, and demonstrated this through lifelong service to the Crown and in particular to Her Majesty for whom his admiration was unbounded.  It was fitting that the very last programme he watched on television was Her Majesty’s Christmas Day speech.

Some fourteen years ago, Diana and Valerian moved out of the big house, back to Park Corner where they had brought up their family.  There they continued for the next several years to be loving and attentive hosts to friends and family alike.  One of their greatest joys during this period was watching their family grow.

Valerian had always assumed he would be the first to go, so the death of Diana in 2010 was a terrible shock.  He faced his last four years stoically and gracefully, always defying the limitations of old age, supported and encouraged by Jane who was never far away. 

Valerian inspired love and loyalty in his household and friends.  Corporal Veitch, his devoted valet of 63 years, ensured that Valerian’s high standards were maintained till the end.

A succession of wonderful carers adored him, including Hannah, who has flown here especially from New Zealand.

 The 8th Duke, Valerian Wellington was a true officer and a gentleman.  A pluralist, he understood the ways of the world and of people, great and small.  Well educated, a well-rounded human being, Valerian relished life and lived it to the full, never relinquishing his enthusiasm for new discoveries. 

The goal on his horizon was the bicentenary of Waterloo, and his 100th birthday two weeks later, so it is particularly poignant that he failed by a few hours to reach 2015, and the possibility of presenting the bi-centennial banner of Waterloo on his 100th year to Her Majesty.

Arthur Valerian Wellesley was truly one of the last of his generation.  This full chapel is testament to the high regard in which he was held by all those whose lives he touched both here and further afield.  He is sorely missed by his family and his many friends. 

 

Out Beyond Ideas

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing

There is a field.

I’ll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,

The world is too full to talk about.

Ideas, language, even the phrase ‘the other’

Do not make any sense.

From The Essential Rumi

  --Jalal ed-Din Rumi (1207-1273)

 

For more information about the memorial service and details of those in attendence, visit: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-3078334/The-Queen-adds-splash-colour-Prince-Charles-Duchess-Cornwall-James-Blunt-join-society-guests-memorial-service-eighth-Duke-Wellington.html