After weeks of rehearsal and preparation, the dual role soldiers of the Army’s Household Division delivered a magnificent spectacle for The King, the Nation, and the World in London yesterday: the first King’s Birthday Parade in more than 70 years.
It was also the first Birthday Parade that the Sovereign has ridden on since 1986.
The traditional parade of Trooping The Colour for The Sovereign’s birthday has been the highlight of the Summer season for centuries. It is steeped in echoes of the Nation’s history.
Yesterday was a significant milestone, and an opportunity for the Household Division, who are The King’s trusted guardians, to wish His Majesty a happy birthday but also to illustrate to the Nation all that is important about combat soldiering: discipline, detail, teamwork, commitment and endurance.
During the parade, the King’s Colour (Regimental flag) was “Trooped” in front of the Colonel in Chief, The King, and all of the Royal Colonels, some of whom are new in the role this year.
The Queen in Her role as Colonel Grenadier Guards and The Princess of Wales in Her role as Colonel Irish Guards joined The King’s inspection of His troops in a carriage, while the other Regimental Colonels rode alongside.
The honour to Troop their Colour on the Birthday Parade fell this year to the Welsh Guards. The King was Regimental Colonel of the Welsh Guards for 48 years before He handed responsibility to his son, Prince William, in December 2022. His Majesty previously held the title of Prince of Wales for 65 years.
Though immaculate in red tunics and bearskin caps on parade for the Colonel’s Review, it’s important to realise that for the past three years the Welsh Guards has been among the most heavily committed of British Army Infantry Units on Operations. Tasked across the globe in support of NATO operations in the Middle East, at the forefront of Counter Poaching and nation stabilisation in Africa, and one of the lead regiments in the COVID Support Force supporting the government’s efforts to counter the pandemic across the whole of the UK, The Welsh Guards most recently were part of the multinational force that designed and implemented the UK training package for Ukrainian recruits to gain the infantry skills they need to defend their homeland. After intense jungle training exercises in Belize and Jamaica this year, they returned to ceremonial duties in time to play a leading role in the Coronation of Their Majesties The King and Queen earlier this month, before commencing training for the Birthday Parade.
Despite the reassuring continuity of what is now the World’s most famous parade, today’s was a parade of firsts in so many ways:
- This was the first time the Welsh Guards have trooped their Colour on Horse Guards Parade since their centennial year in 2015, and the first time that a Welsh Guards Officer “flourished the Colour” on a King’s Birthday Parade since 1949. This year that immense honour fell to Second Lieutenant Freddie Hopkisson.
- This year’s parade was the first time that His Majesty The King took the Salute as Colonel in Chief of all seven regiments of the Household Division and the first time that all five regiments of foot guards have been on parade for the official birthday for more than 30 years. The last time this happened was in 1989. It also happened on the Late Queen’s Coronation year of 1953, so how pertinent that it also occurred on this Coronation year 2023!
- A serving British King has not inspected the line at the Birthday Parade since 1950. This is the first King’s Birthday parade for 70 years, and the first for many years that included a second march past and rank past at Buckingham Palace to mark the end of the Parade.
- It is the first time that a female Drum Horse has ridden on a Sovereign’s Birthday Parade. Stable name: Willa Rose, “Juno” is a Welsh Shire Mare and now The Life Guards’ drum horse. She had her pass off (graduation) parade today at The King’s Birthday Parade marking the completion of a record two year’s training (it normally takes four years to train a drum horse). She now bears the rank of Major and her classical mythological name Juno, which was given to her by Her Majesty The Queen in Clarence House just three days’ ago.
- It was the first time in history that a female musician in the Household Division Massed Bands, Major Lauren Petritz-Watts, first female Director of the Band of the Welsh Guards, had their music performed on a Sovereign’s Birthday Parade.
- It was the first time that the London Guards, a reserve battalion that was formed last year to support the Foot Guards operationally, took part in the Birthday Parade as street liners, with the Colonel of their Battalion, The Duke of Edinburgh, riding as part of the Royal Procession for the first time.
- It was the first time that the new Colonel of the Grenadier Guards (Her Majesty The Queen), Colonel of the Irish Guards (HRH The Princess of Wales) took part in the inspection of the line in Their new regimental roles.
- This year’s parade was broadcast globally; with special live commentary for the visually impaired on the BBC red button; and BBC i-player offering different versions of the parade, one with live signing for the deaf; a programme with full commentary, and another with no commentary for purists.
- A record 250,000 people applied for tickets on Horse Guards Parade in the public ballot.
As well as the 8,000 ticketed spectators on Horse Guards Parade, many thousands more were lining The Mall, and in St James’s Park and The Green Park, with millions watching globally on TV and online.
As well as the five regiments of Foot Guards, on parade were the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment made up of The Life Guards and The Blues and Royals, who together provided the Sovereign’s Escort from Buckingham Palace to Horse Guards, and then back to the Palace after the parade; and The King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery.
The Welsh Guards Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel John Livesey, said:
“My aspiration is to set the standard from the outset by which future King’s Birthday parades are judged.”
As the Welsh Guards fresh from Trooping their Colour took over responsibility as the new King’s Guards at Buckingham Palace for the next 24 hours, The King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery fired a 41 round King’s official Birthday Gun Salute after the parade in The Green Park.
On the other side of London at the same time, the Honourable Artillery Company fired a 62 round Gun Salute from the Tower of London.
At 1pm a tri-service flypast took place down The Mall and over Buckingham Palace where members of the Royal family appeared on the Balcony to watch, to the delight of the crowds who had filled The Mall and gathered at the railings below.
It was an especially proud day for Garrison Sergeant Major WO2 Andrew Stokes – the man responsible for ensuring the parade met the exacting standards of the Household Division – as he found out this morning that he had been awarded the OBE in The King’s Birthday Honours List.
Major General Christopher Ghika who commanded all the troops on parade, said:
“It was a privilege for all involved to conduct the first Trooping of the Colour with a new Sovereign on parade for the first time in 70 years. And while this parade is a year of unique firsts, what doesn’t ever change is the standards, the demonstration of excellence, the pride in turnout, the loyalty to the Sovereign – those are the constants that remain through the centuries.”
The annual event of Trooping of the Colour has now marked the official birthday of the British Sovereign for more than 260 years.
The Band of The Coldstream Guards march down the Mall. Photographer: Sgt Donald C Todd – Copyright: UK MOD © Crown copyright 2023 MOD News Licences