After The Band Had Played

Cheers! Following the Combined Cavalry Old Comrades Association Parade and Memorial Service that Tim Koch reported on yesterday, a former member of the Blues and Royals and two Chelsea Pensioners enjoy a post-parade drink in the Non-Commissioned Officers’ and Warrant Officers’ Mess of the nearby Hyde Park Barracks.

18 May 2019

By Tim Koch

Tim Koch is confined to barracks for again writing about ‘Nothing To Do With Rowing’.

Following my attendance at the Combined Cavalry Old Comrades Association Parade and Memorial Service in London’s Hyde Park on 12 May, my host, John Walker, Chairman of the Oxford and District Royal Dragoon Guards Association, took me for a drink in the NCOs’ and WOs’ Mess of Hyde Park Barracks.

Hyde Park Barracks, located at the southern edge of the park.

Hyde Park Barracks (sometimes known as Knightsbridge Barracks) is home to the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment. The Household Cavalry consists of two regiments, armoured reconnaissance and mounted ceremonial, with both units manned equally by soldiers from the Life Guards and the Blues & Royals. They provide mounted ceremonial troops for all state occasions. The barracks houses 500 soldiers, 120 families and 250 horses. The site has been in such use since 1795, but the present, rather brutalist structure was completed in 1970. The ornate portico pictured above is all that remains of the barracks that stood between 1880 and 1967.

The mess had wonderful pieces of silverware and other pieces of regimental memorabilia on display. I would have like to have seen what treasures the Officers’ Mess held.
Space had clearly run out to display all the souvenirs that the Household Cavalry had collected over the years.
After several drinks in quick succession, John took me to visit the stables.
A young trooper with one of his charges. A former commander of the Household Division recently wrote: ‘For the horse and his upkeep there is no short cut, so you have 21st-century men, the iPad generation, doing exactly what was done in the 17th century when the Household Cavalry was formed’.

Most horses used by the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment are ‘Irish Draft Cross’, all measure above sixteen hands (i.e. above five-foot four inches from the ground to top of the shoulders), are gelded to make them better-behaved and easier to control, and are ‘Cavalry Black’ in colour. The horses must be capable of carrying a rider with heavy ceremonial kit for long periods so the smaller modern sport horse is rejected in favour of a robust, more old-fashioned type, with feet ‘as big as pizzas’ and ‘a leg in each corner’. However, good temperament is as important as strength.

It was charming to observe the young soldiers with their horses. Typically, on recruitment, the troopers are ordinary urban youths with absolutely no experience of anything equine, but the army soon makes them into good horsemen with an obvious affection for their mounts, talking like proud parents about the different personalities of their charges.

The horses are often named after battles or significant places, and each year the new horses’ names begin with a particular letter.
There are few blacksmiths shops left in central London, but the barracks has one of them. The regiment gets through 12,000 horseshoes a year. They are changed every four to six weeks due to the wear from riding on London’s roads.
The memorial at the stables entrance to the Household Cavalry horses killed in the Hyde Park bombings of 1982.

My visit ended on a sad note, as I came across the little memorial to the horses killed in the Hyde Park bombings 37 years ago. On 20 July 1982, Irish terrorists exploded 11 kg of gelignite packed with 14 kg of nails in Hyde Park as members of the Blues and Royals were passing on their way to the Changing of the Guard at Horse Guards Parade. Four men and seven horses died. One wounded survivor suffered post-traumatic stress disorder and committed suicide in 2012. There is a memorial to the men at the spot where the bomb was detonated and the Household Cavalry still salute it every time they pass. A famous photograph of the dead horses, innocents in the political and military conflict, shocked the world, perhaps more so than if a picture of the slain men had been published.

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