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The Changing Of The Guard

25/07/2004, By David McIntosh

Reader Rating: 2.9 from 22755 votes

When you mention the Changing of the Guard to most people they immediately think of the spectacular ceremony that takes place in front of Buckingham Palace featuring those splendid crimson coated soldiers known world wide for their precision and matchless military bearing. And they would be right, up to a point.

For while the Guard Mounting - that’s the official name - in front of Buckingham is conducted when the New Guard takes over from the Old Guard, there is also another changing of the guard ceremony that takes place not far away, this one involving mounted guardsman. It’s the Guard Mounting that takes place at the entrance to Whitehall, better known as the Changing of the Horse Guard. And it is every bit as spectacular and enjoyable as the changing of the foot guards down the Mall at Buckingham Palace.

Like the Foot Guards, the Horse Guards are serving soldiers in the British Army, in the case of the Horse Guards, since they are cavalrymen, as members of one of the two armored regiments of the Household Division, unlike the Foot Guards, who are infantrymen. There’s a pretty good chance that the troopers you’re watching one morning at Horse Guards Parade, when away from London are spending their time in a tank or an infantry fighting vehicle honing their skills as armored cavalrymen.

There are seven regiments in the Household Division, five infantry and two cavalry or mounted regiments - The Life Guards and The Blues and Royals, which make up the Household Mounted Cavalry.

The Life Guards were originally formed in 1660 when Charles II was restored to the English throne. It was comprised of Cavalier gentlemen who had gone into exile in Flanders with the King during Oliver Cromwell’s Protectorate.

The Blues and Royals are the result of the amalgamation of two famous regiments in 1969. At the time the merger of the Royal Horse Guards (The Blues) and the Royal Dragoons (The Royals) was not the happiest of “marriages” but the regiment has survived to make its own name among the many famous regiments of the British Army. The Blues were one of Oliver Cromwell’s cavalry regiments, first raised in 1650 and becoming part of the regular army in 1661 as The Royal Regiment of Horse. The Royals were formed by Charles II in 1661 as part of the garrison at Tangier, which at the time was a British possession.

You can tell the regiments apart by the color of their tunics; the Life Guards wear red tunics and their steel helmets are topped with a white plume. The Blues and Royals wear Oxford blue tunics and their helmets feature a red plume. Troopers of both regiments wear white buckskin breeches and a cuirass or armor breastplate (now the only soldiers in the British Army to do so) and mid-thigh black boots polished to a mirror like finish. Troopers of both regiments are mounted on large black horses and present a truly impressive appearance.

The Guard Mounting for the Horse Guards takes place at what is called Horse Guards Parade weekday mornings at 11 o’clock and on Sundays at 10 in the morning. The Old Guard will form up, mounted on those beautiful black steeds, on the north side of Horse Guards Parade while the New Guard, also mounted, forms up on the south side. When the New Guard arrives trumpeters of both the Old and New Guards will sound the Royal Salute.

Both Guards will carry standards or flag. When both Guards have formed up, the Corporal Major, who is the senior non-commissioned officer along with the first sentries to be posted will leave for the Guard Room. The sentries of the Old Guard, now having been relieved, rejoin the rest of the Old guard on the north side of Horse Guards Parade. When the Old Guard leaves the trumpeters again play the Royal Salute. (To be continued next month)

David McIntosh

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