Guardsmen In A Row, Part I: On Parade

Men of the Foot Guards, who, together with the Household Cavalry, form the Household Division, the soldiers who traditionally guard The Royal Family.
Men of the Foot Guards, who, together with the Household Cavalry, form the Household Division, the soldiers who traditionally guard The Royal Family.

28 September 2016

Tim Koch, late on parade, reports on a spectacle that he witnessed last June:

Queen Elizabeth II has many titles. A small selection includes Head of the Commonwealth, Queen of Saint Kitts and Nevis, Defender of the Faith, Duke of Normandy, and (in Jamaican Patois) Missis Queen. However, not only is Her Majesty multi-titled, she also has two birthdays. She was born on 21 April 1926 but her official birthday is on a Saturday in June. Official celebrations to mark the birth of a Sovereign have often been held on a day other than the actual birthday, particularly when this has not been in the summer. The most notable of these occasions is the ceremony of ‘Trooping of the Colour’, also known as ‘The Queen’s Birthday Parade’.

Bandsmen of the Irish Guards arrive for the Trooping the Colour. They are distinguished from the Grenadier, Coldstream, Scots and Welsh Guards by the blue plumes in their bearskins. Also, on closer inspection, their buttons are arranged in fives and they have shamrocks on their collars. The distinctive saffron kilts of the pipers are also a clue.
Bandsmen of the Irish Guards arrive for the Trooping the Colour. They are distinguished from the Grenadier, Coldstream, Scots and Welsh Guards by the blue plumes in their bearskins. Also, on closer inspection, their buttons are arranged in fives and they have shamrocks on their collars. The distinctive saffron kilts of the pipers are also a clue.

The Household Division website summarises the day:

Over 1400 officers and men are on parade, together with two hundred horses; over four hundred musicians from ten bands and corps of drums march and play as one. Some 113 words of command are given by the Officer in Command of the Parade….. During the ceremony, The Queen is greeted by a Royal salute and carries out an inspection of the troops. After the massed bands have performed….. the escorted Regimental Colour (flag) is carried down the ranks. The Foot Guards and the Household Cavalry then march past Her Majesty…..

The custom of Trooping the Colour dates back to the 17th century when the battalion flag (‘The Colour’) was used as a rallying point in battle and was therefore ‘trooped’ in front of the soldiers to make sure that every man could recognise that of his own unit.

Reporting to the Senior Officers. Guards officers, particularly junior ones, are traditionally called ‘Ruperts’ by the ordinary Guardsmen, implying that their commanders are from some effete and aristocratic ‘officer class’. I could not possibly comment.
Reporting to the Senior Officers. Guards officers, particularly junior ones, are traditionally called ‘Ruperts’ by the ordinary Guardsmen, implying that their commanders are from some effete and aristocratic ‘officer class’. I could not possibly comment.

A former Guardsman wrote this about the Foot Guard’s distinctive headgear:

The standard bearskin cap made from the real hide of a Canadian bear stands 18 inches tall and weighs almost two pounds. The skin is wrapped around a cane frame that is attached to a rigid leather band upon which the cap rests in place on a Guardsman’s head. After three hours stood on parade, the bearskin feels like it weighs several kilos and is clamped around your head like a vice. The urge to take it off is overwhelming and requires an almost yogic level of concentration to resist.

The ordinary Guardsmen’s bearskins are made from the fur of the black bear. However, officers’ caps (Ruperts’ bearskins?) are taller and made from the pelt of the female brown bear (dyed black) as it is thicker and fuller. The skins are obtained from an annual cull done by Inuit people to manage bear populations, so no animals are killed as a result of the Guards use of their pelts.

Tickets for the seated stands around Horse Guards Parade are allocated by ballot. I failed to get a ticket to view the Trooping of the Colour on 11 June but I was given a place at one of the two full dress rehearsals, ‘The Colonel’s Review’, on 4 June. The Regimental Colonel of the Coldstream Guards, Lieutenant General Sir James Bucknall, took the salute on place of the Queen.

Officers move to their respective positions. The view among the ranks, that ‘officers can’t march’, is perhaps given a little credence here as one end of the line seems to be out of step with the other.
Officers move to their respective positions. The view among the ranks, that ‘officers can’t march’, is perhaps given a little credence here as one end of the line seems to be out of step with the other.
pic-5
The horses on parade were magnificent (and very patient) animals.
A panoramic view of the parade (click to enlarge). On the far left is the Guards Division War Memorial, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guards_Memorial in the centre are The Old Admiralty Buildings of 1726 http://britainexplorer.com/listing/old-admiralty-buildings/ and to the right is the Horse Guards building of 1753. For many years, the British Army was run from the latter and the Royal Navy from the former.
A panoramic view of the parade (click to enlarge). On the far left is the Guards Division War Memorial, in the centre are The Old Admiralty Buildings of 1726 and to the right is the Horse Guards building of 1753. For many years, the British Army was run from the latter and the Royal Navy from the former.
The carriages that will carry the Royal Party a week later arrive.
The carriages that will carry the Royal Party a week later arrive.
The Colours of the Coldstream Guards were paraded this year. The gentleman sitting next to me was bursting with pride as his 19-year-old grandson was the youngest member of the Escort to the Colour. It is amazing what teenagers can do if they can get out of bed.
The Colours of the Coldstream Guards were paraded this year. The gentleman sitting next to me was bursting with pride as his 19-year-old grandson was the youngest member of the Escort to the Colour. It is amazing what teenagers can do if they can get out of bed.
The Household Cavalry, comprising of the Life Guards (red tunics) and Blues and Royals (blue tunics) look on as the Colours pass.
The Household Cavalry, comprising of the Life Guards (red tunics) and Blues and Royals (blue tunics) look on as the Colours pass.

A wonderful two-minute time lapse video of the entire event in 2014 is on YouTube. A full version of the 2016 Birthday Parade proper is also worth watching.

The parade is over and the stretcher party was not required. The day was mild but, on a hot summer, standing and marching in the sun with a large portion of bear balanced on the head can result in fainting in the ranks, much to the delight of photographers. Ideally, a fainting Guardsman will collapse at attention.
The parade is over and the stretcher party was not required. The day was mild but, on a hot summer, standing and marching in the sun with a large portion of bear balanced on the head can result in fainting in the ranks, much to the delight of photographers. Ideally, a fainting Guardsman will collapse at attention.

HTBS types may be wondering where the tenuous rowing link is in all this splendid but not apparently aquatic stuff. As Part II will show, the link is actually a firm one and the Household Division has a fine rowing history and at one time its ranks simultaneously contained two scullers who had won Henley’s Diamond Sculls.

Part 2 will be published tomorrow.

One comment

  1. Sorry to be pedantic but the building in the background identified as the Old Admiralty Building is the Victorian extension. The back of the much smaller 1726 Admiralty can be seen to the right.

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