What is a Military Funeral?
A military funeral is a funeral or memorial service for someone who has served in the British Armed Forces. This includes those who have served in the Army, Royal Navy, Royal Marines or the Royal Air Force. Military funerals are most common for those who died in active service, but veterans and heads of state may also have military honours funerals.
At Dignity Funerals, we have a long tradition of honouring those who have served in the armed forces and put their lives on the line. We can arrange a fitting funeral that honours tradition, meets formal requirements and commemorates the fallen.
What happens at a Military Funeral?
Just as with any other type of funeral, a service funeral can be arranged to reflect the wishes of the deceased’s family. It does not have to be overtly militaristic in nature, but will often involve a military bearer party and firing party. Many military funerals are led by ceremonial traditions such as the dressing of the coffin, the procession, the role of the bearers and the Last Post and Reveille.
The UK Ministry of Defense’s position is to offer as little or as much assistance with funeral planning as the family chooses. They also aim to offer maximum flexibility over the style and content of the funeral to reflect the families’ wishes, whilst maintaining the traditions and ethos of the armed forces.
If the family opt for a military funeral, the Funeral Director will primarily liaise with the Visiting Officer (VO) to ensure that the funeral follows protocols. The coffin will usually be carried by serving members of the armed forces and draped in a Union Flag. Military personnel at the funeral will often “Reverse arms” - a marching movement in which the weapon is held reversed/pointing backwards as a mark of respect or mourning. When resting on reversed arms the weapon points towards the ground and eyes are lowered. The service would usually end with The Post being played, followed by The Rouse, either by a Forces bugler or pre-recorded.
A full dress rehearsal will usually take place the day before the actual funeral. It is likely that the coffin will be dressed and the Funeral Director will allow time for the armed forces to dress the coffin at the chapel of rest. The VO will arrange for a flag from the officer’s unit to drape over the coffin for the funeral. They may also provide the deceased’s cap, medals, belt and a poppy wreath, to be placed on the coffin. All of these items will be removed from the coffin at the end of the ceremony and returned to a senior officer.
The provisions of a Military Funeral with Military Honours is subject to the conditions laid down in the Queen’s Regulations. These guidelines cover many of the procedural and handling guidelines associated with a military funeral, acting as a guide for military personnel.
Repatriation: What happens if the death in service occurs abroad?
If someone dies while in active military service overseas, the British Armed Forces will arrange and pay for the repatriation of the body using Royal Air Force planes. Repatritions take place through RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire. The Joint Casualty and Compassionate Cell (JCCC) is the lead organisation for MOD in managing and coordinating practical requirements following the death of a Service Person. They will make arrangements to repatriate the body of the deceased.
Repatriation ceremonies are a military event, but it is possible for up to seven relatives to attend. Families are permitted to witness the aircraft land, for the body to be collected by the military bearer party and placed into a hearse provided by the contracted funeral director.
The body will then be taken to the chapel of rest at RAF Brize Norton repatriation centre, where the family can spend some time with their loved one before they are transferred into the care of the coroner. Families can then arrange to use a funeral director of their own choice.
Help with paying for a Military Funeral
Anyone who dies in military service is entitled to a military funeral - also known as a Service Funeral) at public expense. The next of kin, or executor, will receive a £1,000 funeral expenses grant from the JCCC to help meet any non-admissible funeral expenses and to help with costs to attend any memorial/remembrance service or unit homecoming parade. If the family would rather organise a private funeral, the Ministry of Defense will provide an additional grant towards the cost.
In cases where soldiers or other military personnel die while not in active duty, the cost of their funeral and the arranging of military rites is the responsibility of the family. The Royal British Legion is able to offer advice and help on contacting organisations that may be able to offer financial aid to eligible parties to cover funeral costs.
Naval Officers: Burial at sea
The option of having a burial at sea is open to everyone, but is a more common choice for people who have served in the Royal Navy. A burial at sea differs from a traditional burial, with additional paperwork and considerations about the type of coffin used. Your funeral director will be able to talk you through all of the things that need to be considered when planning this type of burial.
MOD Headstones and memorials
Where the burial is carried out at public expense, MOD headstones can be provided. These follow a set design, in accordance with the War Graves Commission specification for all war graves. The graves are maintained at public expense.
In addition, the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire is a national centre of Remembrance and home to hundreds of memorials dedicated to the Armed Forces.
Talk to us about arranging a military funeral
Your local Dignity Funeral Director will help arrange a fitting military funeral for your loved one.