Injured Duns firefighter David Melrose has said that being aboard Royal row barge Gloriana, which led the Diamond Jubilee Pageant on the Thames, was an experience he’ll never forget.
David, who sustained serious spinal injuries in 2010 when tackling a blaze at Eyemouth Golf Club, was one of a select group of non-rowers aboard the rowed barge in the pageant on June 3.
Among those invited aboard were men and women who have set a great example to others, and given a great deal in the service of their country; in the armed forces, the emergency services and in sport.
David said: “I wasn’t there as just David Melrose, I was there as David Melrose, injured firefighter representing Lothian and Borders Fire and Rescue service.
“It was an unbelievable day, completely mindblowing - you’re lucky if you get to experience anything like that.”
The 94-foot vessel Gloriana, representing Motability, the charity that provides adapted vehicles for disabled people, led the 1,000-strong flotilla.
The first Royal row barge to be built for more than a century, Gloriana was unique among the participating vessels because it was the only one specially commissioned for the event.
Lord Sterling, who organised Jubilee celebrations in 2002, was behind the project which created the barge.
He said the idea for a waterborne tribute to the Queen came from the Prince of Wales, and the vessel features wood from sweet chestnut trees grown on Prince Charles’s private estate.
“I became enamoured with the idea of building something timeless and got inspiration from Canaletto’s paintings that showed the great barges of the 18th Century and decided to build one,” Lord Sterling explained.
The gilded barge’s design originates from that of Viking craft, and most closely resembles the boat used by the Lord Mayor of London in the early 1800s.
He added: “No-one’s really built anything like this for 200 years and the way we’ve built it, it will last for 200 years if it’s looked after.”
Among the 18 rowers leading Gloriana in the pageant were Olympic gold medallists Sir Steve Redgrave and Sir Matthew Pinsent and British servicemen – Will Dixon, Rory Mackenzie and Neil Heritage – who all lost limbs in Iraq and Afghanistan.
During the pageant Gloriana carried ten flags, among them those representing the four home nations: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, as well as the flag of the City of London and the flag of Cornwall.
David, who is now paralysed from the waist down, was delighted to be aboard the vessel.
He said: “The Motability staff were tremendous, they were always checking up to see that we were ok.
“I was at the front of the barge with Lord Sterling - I’ve never met a nicer guy! All the VIPs were coming by and I got introduced to folk that you don’t normally get to meet, like Boris Johnson, John Major and members of the royal family.
“I was sitting there in the chair and Lord Sterling was introducing me to them all, saying ‘This is David’. They were probably thinking, ‘Who on earth is David?!’
“Steve Redgrave was leading the rowers - he was this close to me. We’d would never meet in any normal life.”
Gloriana was at the head of the pageant, just behind the Belfry boat.
David was accompanied in the coach area by Paralympic swimming champions Sascha and Nyree Kindred, Major Kate Philp who was wounded in Afghanistan, and former Police Royal Protection Officer Andrew Child.
Over a thousand boats mustered on the River Thames for one of the largest flotillas ever assembled on the river.
Rowed boats, working boats and pleasure vessels of all shapes and sizes were beautifully dressed with streamers and Union flags, their crews and passengers turned out in their finest rigs.
The armed forces, fire, police, rescue and other services were afloat and there was an exuberance of historic boats, wooden launches and steam vessels.
The flotilla was bolstered with passenger boats carrying up to 30,000 flag-waving members of the public placed centre stage (or rather mid-river) in the floating celebration of Her Majesty’s 60 year reign.
The spectacle was further enhanced with music barges and boats spouting geysers. There were also specially constructed elements such as a floating belfry, its chiming bells answered by those from riverbank churches.
And although the sun didn’t grace the pageant with it’s presence, David said the wet weather didn’t spoil the occasion.
“From start to finish it was brilliant, a once in a lifetime experience - definitely something to tell the grandkids!” he said.