Queens Messenger LTC Kimmins
John Kimmins had an army career that started in Sandhurst, where he joined a Cavalry regiment. On retirement at 55, he became a Queen’s Messenger. For those who know little more than that, there are such individuals as Queens’ messengers. It seems like an easy job: flying Club class everywhere (although in the early days, this was always first class!), earning good salaries, meeting influential people, and having minimal responsibilities. But they cover millions of miles a year. In that much air time, there is much that can go wrong.
The office of the monarch’s messenger is, in fact, very ancient, going back to 1199 when King John appointed an individual to deliver secret documents; the first King’s Messenger identified by name was John Norman, appointed by Richard III in 1485. Methods of transportation have changed over the centuries, mainly since the eighteenth when the horse was supplanted by the carriage system. The last time a horse was known to have been used was in 1949. In search of authentic stories, Jon Kimmins visited the King’s Messenger involved. Queens Messenger LTC Kimmins
The country was Nepal and then covered diplomatically from Delhi. But at that time, there was no suitable road or airstrip. So the King’s Messenger went by train with a secretary to the frontier. At the border, two horses, grooms, and Sherpas were waiting. The King’s Messenger changed into diplomatic “whites”, donned a sola toupee, set out on his horse, and ceremoniously entered Kathmandu.
The reference to trains caused John to reflect that in the last century, progress went backward for the traveler to near destinations in continental Europe. When the Silver Arrow to Paris was in operation, he could leave Victoria at 9.15 p.m., dine, sleep comfortably in his suite and arrive at the Gare du Nord at 9.15 a.m., the entire train having been transported on a ferry while he slept. Today’s business traveler leaves Waterloo by Eurostar at 6.20 a.m. to arrive in Paris by 9.40 to achieve the same full day and then suffers a journey back in the evening arriving at 9 or 10 p.m. Queen’s Messenger LTC Kimmins.
An amusing railway incident involved an Italian Count delivering a message to London from Mussolini, who started with a British KM. After some conversation, the Italian excused himself to visit a lady in another part of the train, leaving his message in charge of the King’s Messenger. Unfortunately, the train split partway through the journey, taking the Count and his inamoratas. The King’s Messenger delivered the message to the Italian Embassy in London, with the seal unbroken in the best tradition of diplomacy. No more was heard of the Count.
There were many more anecdotes involving, for example, Tiananmen Square and a perilous journey involving hired tricycle vans, a flying boat to Switzerland via Portugal (who were neutral) in WW2, landing in Munich, Germany because of bad weather, and so on. Queens Messenger LTC Kimmins
But why continue to send live people around the world in an age of electronic computing and computer-generated coding systems? Well, anything sent over the ether can be captured – and diplomatic sources are fiercely monitored. No code is any good after three months. Signals can be trapped and stretched so that code breakers can operate in real time. There is no substitute for a trusted, resourceful (and courageous) servant. Queens Messenger LTC Kimmins
There were many questions. For example: how is Queen’s Messenger recruited? Anyone between the ages of 40 and 50 can apply. The great majority (currently 13 out of 16) are ex-service. This is not surprising for several reasons because service careers usually terminate well before those of civilians, and service wives have become tolerant of long periods of separation.
A question about passports led John to draw attention to a small display of Diplomatic and Queen’s Messenger passports, which he had brought with him and attracted much attention afterward. Was there a badge/medal of office (shown below), and indeed the specific tie worn by the speaker indicating the greyhound logo does not give undue notice in these days of tight security? Queens Messenger LTC Kimmins