Lending Tone

Some members of the Household Cavalry, the Life Guards in red and the Blues and Royals in blue, beside the Cavalry Memorial in London’s Hyde Park.

22 May 2017

Tim Koch produces another ‘nothing to do with rowing’ post on the grounds that those who are interested in rowing history tend to like military history as well.

Remembrance and memorial parades of past and serving military stir many emotions, both among those taking part and among those perpetual civilians looking on. On the one hand, they are a show of the ‘glamorous’ side of soldiering: the bands, the comradeship and the medals. On the other, their purpose is to remember people who died, usually in their youth, and never yet in a ‘war to end all wars’.

On Sunday, 14 May, I attended ‘Cavalry Sunday’, a memorial parade that is as poignant as any in its remembering of those killed in conflicts past – but which has a unique aspect to its ceremonial. The Combined Cavalry Old Comrades Association Parade and Memorial Service is held on a Sunday in May every year when former members of British cavalry regiments march past the Cavalry Memorial in Hyde Park and then hold a short service, also attended by family and friends. Many of those parading carry furled umbrellas held in a particular way (sword substitutes perhaps), and wear bowler hats (U.S.: derbys), the stereotypical British headgear that is rarely seen nowadays. Officially, the dress is simply lounge suits with medals and decorations.

Some former members of The Royal Lancers (Queen Elizabeth’s Own).

The traditional self-image of cavalry regiments in the British Army was encapsulated a long time ago by a Victorian witticism: What is the role of the cavalry on the battlefield? Answer: To lend tone to what otherwise would be a mere vulgar brawl. The regimental names of the ‘Donkey Wallopers’ (as they are known to the other branches of the army), such as Lancers, Hussars and Dragoons, certainly conjure a romantic image, even if their horses have long been replaced by tanks and armoured vehicles for active service (though strangely, even in 2015, the British Army had more horses, 485, then Challenger 2 Main Battle Tanks, 227). Historically, this ‘tone’ has largely been generated by the fact that cavalry officers were disproportionately former public (U.S.: prep) schoolboys from wealthy and/or aristocratic backgrounds, and some officers would have family connections to a particular regiment going back generations. There were also ‘circles within circles’, most cavalry regiments may have been grand, but some were grander than others. The Household Cavalry, part of the Queen’s official bodyguard, was notable in this respect.

Although I am writing in the past tense, perhaps I should not, there are those who hold that attempts in the last few years to democratise officer recruitment in the cavalry have only been partly successful. While I am not really qualified to comment, I can see that relying too much on the traditional ‘officer class’ to produce the best leaders of men and women is not a sensible idea – but I think it is also important not to lose each units’ very individual esprit de corps during the process of reform, as this is one of the great strengths of the British Army regimental system. Ultimately, I cannot imagine that the two are mutually exclusive.

Two former members of The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards (Carabiniers and Greys) with the banner that the regiment’s veterans will march behind on the memorial parade. It is topped with a representation of the French Imperial Eagle that the Royal Scots Greys captured at Waterloo in 1815.
Another former member of The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards. The eagle cap badge is always worn with a black backing in mourning for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, who was Colonel-in-Chief of the Royal Scots Greys at the time of his execution.
Two ‘Chelsea Pensioners’, residents at the Royal Hospital Chelsea, a retirement and nursing home for former members of the British Army located in Chelsea, London, which was established by Charles II in 1682.
As the parade was of past members of cavalry regiments, there were few women on parade, an interesting contrast to the large number of women currently serving in the Royal Horse Artillery, as shown in my recent post on the Queen’s Birthday Salute.
When the Cavalry Memorial was unveiled in 1924, it was known as the Cavalry of the Empire Memorial. The British Empire may have gone, but representatives of cavalry units from New Zealand (left), Australia (right) and also Canada, Fiji, India, Pakistan, and South Africa still attend.
Keeping an eye on everything (including me) was the Parade Regimental Corporal Major, WO2 Sentance of the Life Guards. He is the Household Cavalry’s equivalent of a Regimental Sergeant Major, possibly part of that group of non-commissioned officers and warrant officers who let the commissioned officers think that they run things
The Cavalry Memorial, partly cast from guns captured by the cavalry in the First World War. It shows England’s patron saint, St George, depicted as a mounted knight in armour with his horse standing over a slain dragon – which, incongruously, has an upturned Germanic moustache, as worn by the Kaiser. Embarrassingly, at the outbreak of war in 1914, the German Emperor was Honorary Colonel-in-Chief of the 1st Royal Dragoons, and Emperor Franz Josef of Austria had the same position with the King’s Dragoon Guards.
The order of precedence is jealously guarded. The oldest regiments date from the army formed following the Restoration of King Charles II in 1661. Today, there are nine regular cavalry regiments in the British Army. With the exception of the Life Guards, they are the products of the many amalgamations of historic regiments that have taken place since 1922. The Yeomanry are reservists, descended from volunteer cavalry regiments.
The Parade Commander, Major General Sir Simon Cooper, leads serving members of the Household Cavalry at the head of the parade.

The Life Guards

The senior regiment of the British Army passing the Cavalry Memorial and Field Marshal Baron Guthrie of Craigiebank (who took the salute). At this point, hats are removed and the command ‘eyes right’ is given.
Hats are replaced after passing the saluting base.

The Blues and Royals (Royal Horse Guards and 1st Dragoons)

The gentleman in the second row, second in, is the only person on parade that I saw wearing Second World War medals.

In 2007, Prince William and Prince Harry marched as members of the Blues and Royals.

1st The Queen’s Dragoon Guards

The Queen’s Dragoon Guards is the Cavalry Regiment of Wales and the Border Counties.

The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards (Carabiniers and Greys)

The RSDG is the senior Scottish regiment.

The Queen’s Royal Hussars (The Queen’s Own and Royal Irish)

The Queen’s Royal Hussars were the only unit to sing their Regimental Quick March as they passed the saluting base:

I’m a soldier in the Queen’s Army,
I’m a galloping Queen’s Hussar,
I’ve sailed the ocean wide and blue,
I’m a chap who knows a thing or two,
Been in many a tight corner,
Shown the enemy who we are,
I can ride a horse, Go on a spree,
Or sing a comic song,
And that denotes a Queen’s Hussar.

The Royal Lancers (Queen Elizabeth’s Own)

The Royal Lancers’ ‘Death or Glory’ badge or ‘motto’ is an uncharacteristically fierce piece of British Army heraldry. Its origins are with the 17th Lancers who were one of the regiments that led the Charge of the Light Brigade in 1854.

The King’s Royal Hussars

On mess nights, the officers drink from a silver chamber pot captured in 1813. It had belonged to King Joseph Bonaparte and had been a gift from his brother, the Emperor Napoleon.

The Royal Yeomanry

The Royal Wessex Yeomanry

I like the woman’s discreet and dignified hat, it fits in well with the bowlers.

Marching off

Umbrellas are carried on parade in this distinctive way.

The Service of Remembrance

The Service of Remembrance was held at the Hyde Park Bandstand and was also attended by friends and family.

Most British men have never served in the military and, for some, occasions such as Cavalry Sunday add to the feeling noted by Dr Johnson that ‘Every man thinks meanly of himself for not having been a soldier…’ This even applies to those of us who are fairly certain that they would not have enjoyed the military experience, and who are mindful of the fact that there has been only two years since 1945 (1968 and 2016) without the death of a British serviceman on operations.

My apologies to those units that were on parade but not pictured.


  1. Brilliant article, Tim!

    G. R. Buckhorn, former member of the Scanian Dragoon Regiment, Swedish Army

    • HTBS Editor, Göran Buckhorn’s mention of his national service in a Swedish cavalry regiment with its origins going back to 1676 prompts me to reproduce the full Dr Johnson quote:

      ”Every man thinks meanly of himself for not having been a soldier, or not having been at sea….. No, Sir; were Socrates and Charles the Twelfth of Sweden both present in any company, and Socrates to say, ‘Follow me, and hear a lecture on philosophy;’ and Charles, laying his hand on his sword, to say, ‘Follow me, and dethrone the Czar;’ a man would be ashamed to follow Socrates. Sir, the impression is universal; yet it is strange”.

      Göran did not dethrone the Czar during his service but he did deter any Norwegian thoughts of invading Sweden – and probably also read Socrates at the same time.

  2. While the good Tim K. is right about me not helping King Charles the Twelfth [Karl XII] to dethrone the Czar (a Dr Johnson quote that I know very well), I and my fellow mates in our platoon were taught to recognise any shape and size of tanks of the Red Army and Soviet military airplanes – this at a time when Sweden officially was a neutral country between the western and eastern political blocks. However, the Swedish Army had a more practical approach to the reality we were living under during the Cold War.

    And, yes, I read a lot during my military service as the regiment actually had a wonderful little library. I did not read Socrates, though, but I did read Dr Johnson! Regarding any threats from our neighbour Norway, there were none. But we were very happy to beat them both in football and ice hockey.

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