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’.
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.
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.
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.