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Bury St Edmunds-based former guard on Royal Yacht Britannia recalls memories of travels with the Royal Family





A former Royal Marine Commando has recounted his time as a guard on board the Royal Yacht Britannia from 1964 until his retirement from service in 1967.

Alec Speechley, who lives in Bury St Edmunds, was stationed in North Africa when he was told he had a new assignment.

The 83-year-old said: “I was called to the sergeant major’s office and he said ‘pack your gear, you’re going back to the UK. You’re going to join the Royal Family’.

Alec Speechley, of Bury St Edmunds, has spoken of his fond memories on board the Royal Yacht Britannia. Picture: Tamika Green
Alec Speechley, of Bury St Edmunds, has spoken of his fond memories on board the Royal Yacht Britannia. Picture: Tamika Green

“I flew back to the UK and I was told to report to the Royal Yacht, which was in Portsmouth at the time. I found out that four of us were to do around the clock security for the Royal Family.

“Our job was to keep watch of the royal apartments, making sure no one got in.”

The first trip that Mr Speechley was to embark on with the Royal Family was to Iceland with the Duke of Edinburgh and famous conservationist Sir Peter Scott.

“I didn’t enjoy that because I was seasick,” he said. “It was my first time at sea really. I was standing outside Prince Philip’s bedroom in the middle of the night with my head in a bucket.”

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip pictured in Bury St Edmunds in 2009. Pictured: Mecha Morton
Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip pictured in Bury St Edmunds in 2009. Pictured: Mecha Morton

During his time with the royals, he travelled all around the world including to the West Indies, New Zealand, Mexico and America.

One memory he recalled with great fondness was when he was travelling across the Atlantic with the Royal Family. The royals wanted to play a game on deck which involved a net and quoits. Mr Speechley and a few staff went out to help prepare the games.

“I was balancing on the taffrail trying to put the net on the hook and every time I got near the hook someone pulled it,” he said.

“That happened about three times. In the end I turned around and said ‘who’s the idi... oh Your Majesty’.

“She was there laughing her head off. When I got down I heard her say ‘off with his head.’”

The Queen visiting Bury St Edmunds on Maundy Thursday in 2009. Pictured: Mecha Morton
The Queen visiting Bury St Edmunds on Maundy Thursday in 2009. Pictured: Mecha Morton

He added that during his time on board the yacht, the Queen was always hard at work, busy from 7 or 8 in the morning until 11 at night.

He remembers King Charles and Princess Anne as teenagers and up to mischief every now and then. He also met the Queen Mother on occasions.

"She used to come on board and we weren't allowed to call her Ma'am, we had to call her mum," he said.

"She was our mum for the whole crew.

"They were just normal people, but you respected them."

Another highlight for Mr Speechley during his time as a royal yachtsman, was when he met a famous musician looking a little worse for wear.

In 1964 or 1965, on one of his evenings off whilst in the West Indies, he went ashore and met some locals at a bar. He was invited to a 'jump up' and on the way home helped support a man who was a bit unsteady on his feet. He found out it was Bob Marley and Mr Speechley, and the group he was with, left the reggae singer in the care of the police.

"I'd been hanging out with him all night and didn't know," he said. "He wasn't known in England then, he was only known in the West Indies."

After he retired from service, Mr Speechley went back into construction. Originally from Loughton in Essex, he moved to Bury around 1972. He has resided in the town for 50 years and lives in Starre Road with his wife.

Two years ago at a reception for ex yachtsmen in Buckingham Palace, Mr Speechley met King Charles. After telling the new monarch that he lived in Bury, King Charles had replied 'oh, that's a lovely place'.