A long-standing volunteer with the Ambulance Service ran into an old boss when he visited Buckingham Palace the other day for a special reception after receiving a British Empire Medal (BEM) in the New Year’s Honours.
Eglinton man Maurice Simpson, until lately a Voluntary Car Services Driver with the NIAS, received the BEM for services to the community in Londonderry.
In March Maurice visited Hillsborough Castle with his wife Maud for his formal investiture when the Lord-Lieutenant for the county, Mr Denis Desmond, conferred the honour on behalf of Elizabeth II of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Maurice and his wife Maud recently had the pleasure of meeting the monarch in person when they were guests at a garden party in Buckingham Palace for recent honours recipients.
Prince Charles was also there but it was Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, that the Eglinton man most enjoyed chatting with, having known him from a previous life. Prior to joining the Ambulance Service in 1990 and later volunteering with its car service following his retirement, Maurice, spent a lifetime with The Queen’s Royal Irish Hussars, the famous cavalry regiment, of which Philip happens to be Colonel-in-Chief.
“I got a chance to talk to the Duke of Edinburgh. I was glad I did get a couple of words with him. He was our Colonel-in-Chief in the Queen’s Royal Irish, so I got taking to him.
“He asked me who I was and where I was from and I said, ‘Sir, I’ve met you on numerous occasions’, because when we were in Germany, every St. Patrick’s Day, we all got our ‘Shamrock’.
“There was a big parade with the Irish regiment and every St. Patrick’s Day, with him being Colonel-in-Chief, he pinned it on us.”
Maurice served for over twenty years with ‘The Crossbelts’. Between 1967 and 1989 he was stationed variously in Malaysia, Germany and England, and loved it.
“I did my test when I was 17 years old in a 56 ton Centurion tank. It was a good life. I enjoyed it.”
He says the regiment was full of Irishmen and, indeed, Derrymen.
“Cavalry’s a different thing. I joined in 1967. We were 99 per cent Irish. Thirty-two counties I’m talking about now.
“I reckon I could name you twenty out of Derry who were in it.”
One of these was the late Fred Cappendale from Top of the Hill who received the Pingat Jasa Malaysia (PJM) - an honour inaugurated by the Malaysian Government in 2005 - for his bravery during an ambush by communist guerrillas when he was escorting money and explosives to a tin mine during the Malayan Emergency in 1948.
“Do you believe it when I joined he was our Sergeant Major? When I joined as a wee recruit at 17. Fred was a good man. This town’s full of Irish hussars. Whatever part of the town you’re from.”
Maurice himself was also decorated for his cavalry service and proudly wears his medals for long service, good conduct, general service, and service in Malaya, still.
It’s a different sort of cavalry service that’s earned him his latest honour, however.
“I joined the Ambulance Service in 1990. I’ve 25 years done. Not as an ambulance driver but I did the Ambulance Service and I came out and went into the Ambulance Car Service and got this for Ambulance Service work in Derry. I was going out the door to go to my niece’s wedding in Glasgow when a letter arrives in from the Prime Minister Theresa May. ‘You have been nominated for the BEM.’ You had to say yes or no. And if you say yes, you have to answer all these questions. You weren’t allowed to tell a being!”