In 1924, a memorial was unveiled in London’s Hyde Park to commemorate cavalrymen from Britain and its Empire killed in the 1914 – 1918 War. It was then known as the Cavalry of the Empire Memorial. Ninety-nine years later, on Sunday 14 May, military representatives of two parts of that former Empire, India and Australia, are pictured at the monument prior to the annual march past by the Combined Cavalry Old Comrades Association.
18 May 2023
By Tim Koch
One of Tim Koch’s “Nothing to do with rowing but something to do with tradition” posts.
When I reported on my first visit to Cavalry Sunday six years ago, I noted:
Remembrance and memorial parades of past and serving military stir many emotions among those taking part and among the old soldiers and perpetual civilians looking on. On the one hand, they are a show of the “glamorous” side of soldiering: bands, marching, comradeship and 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.”
(Cavalry Sunday is) a memorial parade that is as poignant as any in its remembering of those killed in conflicts past – but which has some unique aspects to its ceremonial. The Combined Cavalry Old Comrades Association Parade and Memorial Service is held on a Sunday in May every year when former and serving members of British cavalry regiments of all ranks march past the Cavalry Memorial in Hyde Park and then hold a service conducted from the bandstand, also attended by family and friends.
Many of those parading carry furled umbrellas (sword substitutes perhaps) and wear regimental ties and bowler hats, the stereotypical British headgear that is rarely seen nowadays but was common when the event began in 1924. Officially, the dress is simply lounge suits with medals and decorations.
Officials and invited military representatives from New Zealand, Canada, India, South Africa, Pakistan and Australia await the start of the march past.
Perhaps the Canadian representative (left) is admiring the splendidly adorned hat of his Australian colleague (right). Slouch hats worn by members of Australia’s Armoured Corps are adorned with Emu plumes.
Representatives from South Africa (left) and New Zealand (right). The Māori kōwhaiwhai design on the New Zealander’s waist sash is part of its army’s attempt to integrate Māori knowledge and culture.
The “sponsoring” or organising regiment of this year’s parade was the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards (Carabiniers and Greys). They were formed in 1971 through the amalgamation of the 3rd Carabiniers (Prince of Wales’s Dragoon Guards) and The Royal Scots Greys (2nd Dragoons). Its regimental ancestors date back to 1685 and 1681 respectively, making it the British Army’s oldest line cavalry regiment. Here serving members of the regiment engage with a former member, Royal Hospital Chelsea “In-Pensioner” Mick Skerratt.
The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, unique amongst British Cavalry, wear a bearskin cap with full dress. The regiment’s other special piece of headgear is the dress cap with the yellow zigzag band (as shown above). The eagle cap badge is 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.
Standing for a long period on a warm day in leather gauntlets, wool uniform and a large piece of Canadian bear balanced on his head proved too much for this young trooper in the Lance Guard who, with great composure, gently sank into a semi-kneeling position.
Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, Deputy Colonel-in-Chief of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, arrives to take the salute. The 87-year-old Duke is a grandchild of George V. His active military career ran from 1955 to 1976 and he now holds the rank of Field Marshall. On the Duke’s right is Lieutenant-General Sir William Rollo, President of the Old Comrades, and on his left is the Association’s Vice-Patron, General Sir Richard Shirreff.
The Association’s banner leads the parade attended by up to 2,000 serving and former cavalrymen and women, their families and other visitors.
The order of precedence in the parade 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 plus four yeomanry regiments of the Army Reserve. 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 reserve cavalry that originated with the volunteer units that sprang up with the fear of invasion by Napoleon. A yeoman was a person of respectable standing, one social rank below a gentleman, and the yeomanry was initially a rural force that provided their own horses and that was recruited mainly from landholders and tenant farmers.
The Life Guards, the senior regiment of the British Army, passes the Cavalry Memorial and the saluting base where the Duke of Kent was taking the salute. At this point, civilian hats are removed and the command “eyes right” is given. Once passed the saluting base it is “eyes front” and hats are replaced.
The Blues and Royals. Together with the Life Guards, they form the Household Cavalry.
1st, The Queen’s Dragoon Guards, “The Welsh Cavalry.”
The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards’ banner is topped with a representation of the French Imperial Eagle captured at Waterloo in 1815.
The Royal Dragoon Guards. Its antecedents are typical of many current regiments. The RDG carries the history of four regiments raised between 1685 and 1689: the 4th Royal Irish Dragoon Guards, the 5th Dragoon Guards, the 7th Dragoon Guards and the 6th Inniskilling Dragoons.
The Royal Dragoon Guards replace their hats after passing the saluting base.
The Queen’s Royal Hussars (The Queen’s Own and Royal Irish).
The Queen’s Royal Hussars are the only regiment to sing their regimental quick march as they pass 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 Elizabeths’ Own), “The Death or Glory Boys.” I know which I would choose.
The King’s Royal Hussars. The gentlemen leading with the banner and the wreath wear two things unique to the regiment, crimson trousers and a brown beret.
The Light Dragoons, “England’s Northern Cavalry.”
The Royal Yeomanry, the senior light cavalry regiment in the British Army Reserve.
The Royal Wessex Yeomanry supports the Regular Armoured Regiments of the British Army by providing Challenger 2 main battle tank crews.
The Queen’s Own Yeomanry, a light cavalry Reserve regiment that trains and serves alongside its Regular Army counterparts, The Light Dragoons.
The Scottish and North Irish Yeomanry and The Middlesex Yeomanry bring up the rear of the parade, followed by representatives of Combined Cadet Forces affiliated to cavalry regiments.
The Duke of Kent lays the first wreath at the memorial, this on behalf of the Old Comrades. Wreaths from the individual regiments and from the Commonwealth representatives followed.
Since its origins as a First World War cavalry memorial, the inscription on the statue’s plinth has been altered to read, “Erected by the Cavalry of the Empire in memory of comrades who gave their lives in the War 1914-1919 also in the War 1939-1945 and on active service thereafter.” Reputedly, the first British soldier to kill a German in 1914 was a cavalryman using a sword and the dragon slain by St George in the memorial has, incongruously, a Germanic moustache.
The Memorial Service was conducted from the Hyde Park bandstand by the Chaplain-General, Reverend Michael Parker.
State Trumpeters from the Band of the Household Cavalry sport the new CRIII Royal Cypher topped with the King’s Crown. Not everything had been updated, the trumpet banners still bear the late Queen’s arms. However, the King’s Royal Hussars banner on the right will never have its crown changed as its badge is the insignia of the Royal House of Prussia awarded in 1798.
Facing the bandstand service, the distinctive No 1 Dress uniform of the King’s Royal Hussars.
Chelsea Pensioner Skerratt reads part of Laurence Binyon’s “For the Fallen” (1914) which includes the famous lines, “They shall not grow old as we that are left grow old…” This was movingly followed by the “Last Post” and a bagpipe Lament, “The Flowers of the Forest.”
“Old Soldiers never die, they simply fade away…”
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