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  • Writer's pictureDanielle Harte

Changing the Guard - What is it all about?

Updated: Nov 16, 2020

Hi I'm Dani the Guide, a London Blue Badge Tourist Guide, available for Private Tours, Corporate Tours and Virtual Tours.

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Changing the Guard - What is it all about?

The Changing the Guard.

It is a symbolic ceremony that is over 360 years old, and is usually performed by the 7 regiments of the Household Devision in order to Guard the Royal Residences in London and Windsor.

When you think of the Ceremony you may think of Scarlet Tunics and Bearskin Hats - and you are right - they are part of the Household Division but, did you know The Queen can personally invite other British regiments and regiments from her Commonwealth to partake in the Guarding Duties.

The main 5 infantry regiments who are dressed in the ceremonial scarlet tunic and bearskin hats are The Grenadiers Guards, The Coldstream Guards, The Scots Guards, The Irish Guards and the Welsh Guards - all distinguishable by their different colour plumes in the sides of their hats and different spaces buttons on their tunics by order of seniority.

and there are two cavalry regiments involved in the guarding ceremony who wear either scarlet tunics: The Life Guards or blue tunics: The Blues and Royals and both have silver helmets with brass fittings each with different colours plumes too.

The reason for all these different colour plums in hats; is from 19th century military warfare whereby the Army Commander at the back of his army could see from a far which regiment was where and could order attack accordingly.

These 7 regiments are all active, serving British Army regiments and posted in military bases around the world when not home on ceremonial duties.

The ceremony itself takes place at Buckingham Palace - the official residence of her majesty Queen Elizabeth II, St James Palace, Horse Guards Parade, Tower of London and 40km away from the London residences at Windsor Castle - the Queen preferred and weekend residence unless needed in London for state affairs. And whether or not Her Majesty is in residence the Changing the Guard ceremony will take place - the soldiers are there to Guard the Royal Estate.

So what is the Changing the Guard Ceremony about?

It is when 2 regiments change over responsibilities at the royal residences.

But there is more action to see than just at Buckingham Palace whereby the regiments coming off duty and going on duty will exchange stares and responsibilities.

For example each Regiment has their own regimental band and what’s makes the ceremony extra special is the music that is accompanied when the soldiers march from place to place.

The on duty regiment is split between Buckingham Palace and St James Palace.

St Jame’s Palace is older than Buckingham Palace and therefore senior to it, and is where the Regimental Colours - their flag - will be kept there whilst they are on duty.

So in reality the first part of the ceremony involves the colours to come out after the soldiers uniforms are inspected and whilst the inspection is taking place and before the colours come out; a band tends to play to the soldiers but not necessarily military music.

The list of songs; includes Katie Perry's Firework, Frank Sinatra's New York New York, Game of Thrones Theme Tune, Star Wars theme Tune, Big Band Song Putting on the Ritz, and much much more.

...This half from St Jame’s Palace will march down The Mall (the red ceremonial road) and, if you are with the right guide who knows their timings like the back of their hand you can, depending on the day get a cross over picture where the Infantry pass the Cavalry as the Cavalry head to Horse Guards Parade where they perform a Guard Change; as they guard the official entrance to the crown estate at Horse Guards Parade….

But going back to the half that have passed the cavalry on The Mall will meet the other half at Buckingham Palace and will meet in the forecourt and await the new regimental guards to emerge from the Wellington Barracks where they too will have been inspected, their colours (flag) brought out and listened to the band play. And just like the old guards coming from St Jame’s Palace the new guard will be escorted by military band and music.

Once the old and new regiments meet at Buckingham Palace; they will change over the first relief guards and then its official the change of responsibility so new movement as the new guards will split half between Buckingham Palace and St James’s Palace and the Old Guards fully formed will return to the Wellington Barracks to come off duty.

Things to Note if wanting a guard change tour:

  • From October to March the ceremonial uniform consist of long grey jackets for winter.

  • In summer from March to October the ceremonial uniform consists of the scarlet red tunics.

  • Bearskin hats are worn all year round

Before Covid - 19 the schedule of the Guard Change:

  • Monday - Wednesday - Friday - Sunday - Buckingham Palace Ceremony

  • Tuesday - Thursday - Saturday - Windsor Castle Ceremony

  • Horse Guards Cavalry was Daily at 11am, Sunday at 10am

  • there is no official changing ceremony at the Tower of London (to find out about special ceremonies at the tower click here for the blog)

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