For the first time since March last year, today in the British capital, the public could enjoy the colourful “Changing of the Guard” near Queen Elizabeth II’s palace. She is on holiday at her country house in Scotland. It is one of the most extended periods that the ceremony has not taken place.
Tradition has to be there, and so there was the most quintessential British ceremony in the heart of London around 11 am this morning. As usual, a “new guard” of soldiers dressed in red vests and bearskin caps, accompanied by music, marches on the Mall to Buckingham Palace, where they officially take over the duties of the equally colourfully attired “old guard”. Such ceremonies occur in many countries, including Belgium, but none of them has the aura of those in London.
This morning was unique as it marked the first time since March last year that Londoners and tourists alike enjoyed the spectacle. To avoid crowds of people, the ceremony was cancelled all along. Also, today it was recommended to wear mouth masks and stay home for those who feel sick. (Read more below the photo).
Who was not there was Queen Elizabeth II herself because she is on holiday at her castle in Balmoral in Scotland. The Queen is never a guest at the spectacle, by the way. However, that happening at Buckingham Palace, the official residence of the Queen, is not unique. Similar ceremonies also occur at her palace in Windsor and at the Tower in London, but with a little less show.
The tradition goes back to the late 15th century when the English kings employed a regular corps of bodyguards. These had to be relieved, of course, and from that, the ceremony grew.
Today the honour fell to the Coldstream Guards, the oldest permanently existing English and now British army unit. Formed in 1650, the unit was curiously part of Oliver Cromwell’s republican army that overthrew the monarchy. However, the Coldstream Guards played an important role in restoring the kingship ten years later, which explains why they still exist.
It is always infantry units that take charge of the palace, but not always British ones. Soldiers from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and even Sri Lanka and Pakistan have also taken on that task. It is not just about the ceremony: the soldiers you see are indeed combat units and often have war experience.