Sixty years! That’s how long the Queen has been celebrating her birthday by Trooping the Colour as Colonel in Chief to the Household Division. We all know about the pomp and ceremony – the flash of scarlet and gold and the immense pride of those who take part. But behind the calm, controlled exterior of the parade itself there it’s a frenzy of activity. That’s where the real work is done to make this day as memorable as possible.
Getting ready behind the scenes…
It’s a huge event. There are 1200 Guards from the Household Division taking part, 200 horses and 400 band members. About 400 of these men will be from the Welsh Guards, with 350 on parade and further 50 acting as ushers, markers and programme sellers on the day. So what really goes on behind the scenes?
To get a real insight into how it all works, we’ve been talking to the Commanding Officer of the Welsh Guards, Lieutenant Colonel Giles Harris. The Welsh Guards have been fully immersed in preparations for the big event as the lead regiment in carrying out the ceremonial duties this year.
Practice makes perfect on the Parade Square…
Training started for the Welsh Guards at the end of April, immediately after the Presentation of New Colours at Windsor Castle. So tell us, Lt Col Giles Harris:
Q: What sort of training did you do?
A: We have a mock up drill square at Pirbright (their training centre) which is the exact dimensions of the one at Horseguards in London. We’ve spent the best part of 6 weeks going through the parade over and over again, starting with getting the mechanics straight and now polishing the individual components. We have done four full run-throughs on Horseguards Parade and now two reviews with the stands full of people (The Major General’s review and then the Colonel’s Review).
Q :How does it make you feel being part of such a big event?
A: It feels nerve wracking but exciting at the same time. As the rehearsals go by and the big day gets closer the pressure rises but I feel lucky to have the chance to be in quite a small club of commanding officers who have commanded the Queens Birthday Parade. It’s a big responsibility too, because everyone else has done a huge amount of preparation.
Q: Did you know how to ride when you took on this role?
A: I have had to learn to ride in the last 9 months or so, snatching a lesson here or there every fortnight. Luckily my horse Winston, a grey, is an old hand and knows the parade very well having done it twice already and all the rehearsals too of course. The only problem is he sometimes does things before I ask him too, which can be a pain!’
Q: Who is your Ensign (the person who carries the Queen’s Colour)?
‘His name is Lt Ed Clarke. He has been with us for about a year now and is doing an excellent job.’
Funny fact – The average horse produces 50lbs of manure a day!
In central London, on just one day leading up to the Trooping the Colour, there could be 4.5 tons of it on the streets. That would be 63 tons of horse manure in the two weeks leading up to the event. No wonder they need a team of five road sweepers on the day organised by the management of the Royal Parks. And no wonder their roses look so fabulous!
Q: How much spit and polish is needed for the Ceremonial Dress?
A: It can take up to 12 hours of painstaking work for each person to get their uniforms ready for ceremonial duty, not including the boots. Each man & woman is responsible for his own military kit including
- The bearskin – known as the ‘skin’, gets a brush down and a good shake.
- The curb chain (chin strap) is comprised of lots of small brass links that are sown onto a leather strap. These need brasso to bring up the shine. It’s a fiddly job that can take hours to get right.
- A large steam press in the barracks presses each tunic.
- The white leather belt, known as a ‘buffer belt’ needs sanding down to make it perfectly smooth before whitening is applied.
- The boots are the trickiest of all to clean. It’s a long process that can take up to 11 hours. First each boot has to be burnt down with a flamethrower while a mixture of beeswax and black polish is worked into it. Once set more black polish is applied in layers then ‘bulled’ with a thoroughly washed duster that is dabbed in water and polish. If done correctly the first time the future bulling process becomes much quicker.
- The ‘tweeds’ (trousers) are pressed and braced so the bottom of the trousers sits exactly on the second lace of the boots.
- The rifles and bayonets are cleaned and made ready. Of course that would happen anyway regardless of whether they’re on parade as the rifles are used in earnest when on exercise and operations. They are personal to each man and have to be kept in a state of readiness.
Did you know – 1200 pots of polish have to be bought and provided to the men of the Household Division to pass muster on the day.
Now I know how much effort goes in behind the scenes, I’ll look more closely at the shine on all those boots. And I’ll keep my eye open for a grey horse known as Winston! We’d like to offer special thanks to Lt Col Giles Harris and to wish the Welsh Guards the very best of luck on the big day.
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