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Gun carriage in military, state funerals

During the commentary of the state funeral of President Emeritus Guido de Marco on PBS, the gun carriage bearing the coffin was referred to as being identical to those currently at the Saluting Battery on the lower tire of the Upper Barracca Gardens.

I have to believe that this was a slip of the pen which confused the AFM’s own 25lb saluting guns with those of the Saluting Battery. The present guns at the Battery are all 24lb ML smoothbore naval guns on garrison skeleton carriages, too heavy and inappropriate for such ceremonies. However, until about the outbreak of the Abyssinian Crisis in 1935, the guns at the Saluting Battery were quick firing guns of World War One vintage, until they were removed shortly afterwards.

The use of the gun-carriage as an improvised hearse has an obvious origin in the time of war. Gun carriages with a special platform for accepting the casket have long been used at funerals of soldiers and officers who fell on the battlefield and were carried ceremoniously to their final resting place on gun carriages instead of a hearse. The gun may be with or without limber, having a frame or structure prepared for the purpose upon which the coffin is placed and is drawn by hand, horse or vehicle. The most popular guns for this purpose are the 18 and 25 pounder because they have excellent stability and a reasonable height for the casket bearing platforms.

Queen’s Regulations for the mid-19th century allowed the use of a gun carriage to carry a casket as the practice adds a military touch and saves the bearer party from tiring over extended distances.

Pallbearers march on either side of the gun carriage in the funeral procession. Black arm bands represent a further mark of respect for the departed. When the coffin is then lifted from the gun-carriage by the bearers it is carried feet foremost. Military funerals in Malta using the gun carriage were very common during the presence of the British military on the island especially during the late 19th century until well after the Second World War.

Neither is the use of a gun carriage as a hearse restricted to military funerals but also to state funerals. State funerals are normally reserved for the death of the reigning monarch or head of state, but can be granted by the monarch or head of state to others. Since the death of Queen Victoria, the gun carriage entered as part of the standard ceremony during state funeral processions on the death of a British monarch, a close member of the British royal family or, in some cases, a highly regarded statesman or woman. These are probably the most powerful and moving ceremonies of state which take place in Britain and elsewhere. The same tradition was adopted by the Armed Forces of Malta and has since been used in a number of state funerals including that most recent, of the late President Emeritus.

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