“The church was completely quiet, devoid of all noise” – Two St John volunteers remember the Queen’s funeral

NHS Cadets Youth Co-Chair and NHS Youth Advisor Nakkita Charag and Val Dempsey, a St John Australia volunteer and senior Australian of the year, talk about their pride in attending the late Queen’s funeral.

Representatives from the Order of St John were invited to attend the funeral service of Queen Elizabeth II at Westminster Abbey. Amongst the mourners in the church were Nakkita Charag from Newcastle and Val Dempsey from Australia. Both, Nakkita and Val, have volunteered for St John for many years, and they were delighted to have been chosen to participate in the Queen’s funeral procession.

As one of the youngest members of the Order, Nakkita was asked to attend as a thank you for her outstanding contributions as a volunteer with St John Ambulance.

“When I was invited, I was amazed that, out of 250,000 people worldwide, they chose me – a working class girl from Newcastle-upon-Tyne.”

Nakkita Charag

“I was the first of the Order of St John to enter the Abbey, so I knew everyone was following me and watching me, which was very daunting. The whole world was watching. I just had to keep thinking – left, right, left, right, and putting the right steps forward. All I was thinking was I had my parade shoes on and I didn’t want to slip on the marble floor in the Abbey.”

Senior Australian of the Year Val Dempsey was one of ten Australians representing Australia at the funeral. She attended the service at the Abbey alongside Australia’s Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, Governor-General David Hurley and 2022 Australian of the Year Dylan Alcott: “How completely honoured I was to be in England to represent not only all Australians, but my fellow Australian St John family.”

Val Dempsey had spoken with the Queen herself via a Zoom call in May this year at the home of Australia’s governor-general.

“The day was completely surreal,” Val says, “up until Her Majesty was carried into the magnificent Abbey.” Nakkita remembers the same moment: “When Her Majesty’s coffin went past with her crown on the top, that was a surreal moment. I felt so proud I got to represent the Order of St John and be there at the funeral.”

During the rehearsal and the procession, Nakkita met actress Sandra Oh, who is an Officer of the Order of Canada. A lucky highlight for Nakkita, who said the “Killing Eve” star recognised her from the rehearsal and wished her luck.

Nakkita and Sandra Oh

Nakkita continues: “Everyone was proud to be there. It was a privilege to be part of the procession and the events that occurred on the day. I saw all of the Royal Family, I was in close proximity to them all.

The service was fitting for the Queen. I think rather than it being moving it felt like a celebration of her life and a massive comfort to the Royal Family that they could lay her to rest.”

Nakkita Charag

Val will always remember the special atmosphere in Westminster Abbey:

“The church was completely quiet, devoid of all noise, except the hushed sounds of gasped breath as Her Majesty passed by. For me, it truly was that moment where I felt completely present and so humbled to be there.”

Val Dempsey

“The opportunity given to me to go to London and be present at such a moment in history will remain in my heart forever.”

“To my family and my St John family in Australia and across the world, I know you will join me in remembering in absolute respect and honour our magnificent Queen Elizabeth II as we now stay together and salute a new monarch, His Majesty King Charles III, long may he reign.”