‘Operation Forth Bridge’: The secret plan for when Prince Philip dies

As Prince Philip’s hospital stay is prolonged for “several” more days, officials may be preparing to run Operation Forth Bridge.

Operation Forth Bridge is the secret code that sets out the protocol and procedures for what will happen when the 99-year-old Prince dies.

A statement from the palace indicated he was being treated for an infection, and was “comfortable and responding to treatment”.

Royals can rest assured that in the event of a death, there is a strict plan in place to manage every moment, from the funeral to the burial and beyond.

Prince Philip

Plans for Prince Philip’s funeral have been in place for years. Photo: Getty

Former palace press secretary Dickie Arbiter explained that the bridge reference holds significance, and that the royals were all very involved in the planning and rehearsal for their own funerals.

(Yes – the royals have all rehearsed their funeral protocols, with a run through of the Queen’s occurring at least once a year.)

“Bridges means the move from life to the hereinafter,” Arbiter told Yahoo UK. 

“The code ‘bridges’ has been around for decades … every royal knows the term and every royal signs off on his/her funeral arrangement.”

Forth Bridge references a UNSECO bridge in Edinburgh, as Prince Philip is the Duke of Edinburgh.

Forth Bridge is down

When the Duke of Edinburgh dies, one of the first people notified will be the Lord Chamberlain.

The Lord Chamberlain, who is the most senior officer of the royal household, will be instructed by the Queen about her specific demands regarding the death announcement.

The announcement will be made by Buckingham Palace and first dibs on the death declaration will go to the Press Association and the BBC.

Prince Philip’s funeral is likely to be much more private than previous royals. Photo: Getty 

 If Prince Philip dies during the day, the media will be notified soon after, however if he passes overnight, the announcement will be held until 8am the following morning.

When a senior royal, such as the Queen, her husband, or Prince Charles dies, England will instantly enter a period of national mourning that will likely last between 12 and 14 days.

During this period, all flags must be lowered to half-mast, and affairs of state will not be conducted.

All newsreaders, television presenters and personalities will wear black out of respect.

Being the Queen’s husband, the Duke of Edinburgh is entitled to a full state funeral, similar to Princess Diana in 1997, and the Queen Mother in 2002.

But the Duke is famously uncomfortable with fuss and attention, and has requested a more discreet, intimate funeral.

Rather than ‘lying in state’, where mourners can pay their respects at Westminster Abbey before the St George’s Chapel burial, the Prince has requested a private service.

Visitors passed through to pay respect to the Queen Mother in 2002. Photo: Getty 

Only friends, family and heads of state from other Commonwealth countries will be invited to the funeral, though given the current coronavirus pandemic it is unclear who will be actually able to attend.

The military-style funeral will be held at St George’s Chapel in Windsor, followed by a burial at Frogmore Gardens.

Royal codes

It’s not just Prince Philip that has a special royal code associated with his passing.

The Queen has her own plan known as Operation London Bridge, and will be communicated using the phrase “London Bridge is down”.

The plan has multiple variants depending on the nature and location of her death. For example, if she dies in Scotland the plan will shift to Operation Unicorn.

King George VI, the Queen’s father, used the death code Hyde Park Corner in 1952.

King George VI’s funeral on February 15, 1952. Photo: Getty

When the Queen Mother died in 2002, the procedure was known as Operation Tay Bridge and was rehearsed for the 22 years leading to her death.

The Queen Mother died at age 101. Photo: Getty 

In 1997, a version of Operation Tay Bridge was used to navigate the death of Princess Diana, who was unlikely to have a death plan in place due to her young age and unexpected death.

Princess Diana’s public funeral was watched by 2.5 billion people. Photo: Getty 

Operation Menai Bridge refers to the death plan for Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales (which is where the real-life Menai Bridge is located).

Former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s funeral, called Operation Hope Not, was planned from June 1959, six years before he died.

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