The Countess of Wessex's speech at the Sovereign's Parade, Royal Military Academy Sandhurst

Published 13 December 2019

As you climb each step think of the thousands of officers who have gone before you; those who fought and survived, those who fought and died in the many campaigns since Sandhurst began in 1801.

The Countess of Wessex

Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Your Excellencies, Commandant, distinguished guests, staff and officer cadets of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. This is the second time I have had the enormous honour and privilege of representing Her Majesty The Queen at this Her Sovereign's Parade, and may I begin by commending you all, especially those British and overseas cadets who will be passing out today after a busy and tough year of training and education to prepare you to be the officers you are about to become.

As you stand here today you may be experiencing a mixture of emotions. Nerves, excitement, exhilaration, pride, relief, and exhaustion. All of these feelings are justified. Nervous; because you want to get today's parade right. Excitement; because you are now looking to a future full of opportunities and challenges. Exhilaration; that all you have strived so hard for is culminating in today. Pride; that you have actually made it through the last 44 weeks of rigorous testing, as well as the pride that you feel being on parade in front of your families and those who have worked to get you to this point. Relief; that you have achieved the highest of standards and passed the most exacting of tests. And exhaustion... well everyone here appreciates what Sandhurst Cadets have to go through, and during the course rest and relaxation is not high on the agenda.

So for those of you who are passing out today, my heartfelt congratulations. It is at this point when everything you have been taught here at Sandhurst will start to make sense, and in a short time you will all join your new posts, when, from the moment you walk in the door, your new life really begins.

If I may, I would like to offer a few personal observations. The officers who have made the biggest impression on me are those who I believe are soldiers through and through. They are the ones who live for their men and women. They take a real and genuine interest in them and their families, and they put them first at all times. It doesn't matter where I have been in the world, I notice when an officer, be they a Lieutenant, a CO or a General, has the ability to make real connections with their sergeants, corporals or privates, they are a soldier for a soldier.

So I encourage you to treat all who you command with respect, humility, loyalty and kindness, because if you get these fundamentals right they will be repaid to you in spades. Always put the needs of the soldiers before your own, look after them and they will look after you... on occasions they may even make you look good! The last time I was here I suggested to the cadets that they need look no further than at the motto on the Sandhurst cap badge, which reads 'Serve to Lead'; I think that really says it all.

You will have been surrounded by many instructors and staff all of whom have been focused on supporting you through this course. Never forget what they have done for you; they will be watching you now; yes with a sense of relief that you have made it and that their task is complete (just think back to what you were like when you arrived), but more than anything they will be filled with pride, pride that is only matched by the many families and friends who are also witness to this wonderful parade and the moment that you take your place within our world class and respected armed forces.

I am sure you would like me to pay tribute to them all. So on your behalf I offer heartfelt thanks to everyone here at Sandhurst for the care and encouragement they have offered you.

To the families and friends... thank you for everything you have done for these impressive young men and women who stand before us today, and for the continued love I know you will show them in the future. Family is the backbone of our Army; it is the heart of everything we do and your support of them has not only allowed them to succeed today, but will help them to flourish and grow in the coming years.

Officer cadets, my hope is that each of you has a rewarding career, full of opportunities and challenges, which will sometimes stretch you to your limits. We continue to live in an ever changing, unpredictable world, however, your training here will stand you in good stead to meet whatever lies ahead and will help you navigate through good times and hard times, happy times and sad times - so remember to draw on the valuable lessons you have learned here.

In a few moments, you will get to do what you have been working towards these past months. You will march off the parade square and up the historic steps of Old College. As you climb each step think of the thousands of officers who have gone before you; those who fought and survived, those who fought and died in the many campaigns since Sandhurst began in 1801. Each of them will have served with distinction and courage. Spare them a thought as the great doors close behind you, and as you cheer each other in that symbolic moment that you become officers, you join them in one of the greatest careers a person can choose and a wonderful life of service and duty. 

Good luck and God bless you all.