Taking the Royal Salute from soldiers as they Troop their Colour is a duty usually reserved only for The Queen, Regimental Colonels and high-ranking military officers.
But for the final rehearsal of this year’s Queen’s Birthday Parade the British Army handed the significant honour to a very special six-year-old.
Alfie Bartlam was diagnosed with terminal cancer in April, but in front of the world-famous Grenadier Guards in the position usually taken up by the monarch, he stood strong and commanded the nation’s troops.
The youngster found himself in the most important seat at Horse Guards Parade after his uncle, Lorne Baring – formerly of The Scots Guards – had contacted the Army’s Household Division.
The veteran, who served from 1989 to 2007, said: “Alfie is mad keen on soldiers and loves everything to do with the Army.
“He likes to march, to salute and to pretend being a soldier with his friends.
“He has all the toy soldiers and militaria you might expect a keen six-year-old to have at home in his bedroom - I think he would love to be a soldier one day.”
On hearing Alfie’s story, the Brigade Major, Lieutenant Colonel Guy Stone, arranged the special privilege of sitting on the dais in the Queen’s place.
“Luckily I know many of the officers involved from my service so that’s how it all became possible, for which I’m really grateful,” added Mr Baring, a former company commander.
“I think the story about Alfie’s bravery touched many people.”
70 general anaesthetics in two years
Alfie was diagnosed with a cancerous tumour on his brain when he was four years old. He has been fighting the disease for two years and has undergone radiotherapy and surgery to remove the tumours which have spread to other parts of the body.
Mr Baring said: “He has had 70 general anaesthetics in two years, to give some context to the hardship he’s bravely been fighting.
“He has never complained once despite a punishing routine of radiotherapy and operations and now chemotherapy.”
“Just before Easter his parents were told that further treatment to cure the cancer is not possible and that he is terminally ill – Alfie has been given a few months to live.”
As the immaculate guardsmen, dressed in their Number Two Service Dress, perfected their drill during The Brigade Major’s Review, Alfie’s smile beamed across the parade square.
Today was absolutely amazing.
When the Massed Band of the Household Division sounded the Royal Salute a Grenadier Guards officer approached the dais at the famous location.
The sword-carrying officer bellowed: “Good Morning Alfie. Thank you for coming. Her Majesty’s Guards are ready to march off. May I have your permission to march off?”
Unfazed, the confident young man stood up and, with a huge smile, replied: “Yes please.”
The soldiers adorned with bearskin caps followed orders and marched back to Wellington Barracks, while the pristine horses of The King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery and The Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment were ridden back to their military stables.
The same troops will be on duty for The Queen’s Birthday Parade on 8 June.
Speaking after the unique experience, Alfie exclaimed: “Today was absolutely amazing.”
Mr Baring added: “He thought it was very funny that The Queen let him sit in her chair. He was even more surprised that everyone knew his name.
“He also told me that The King’s Troop’s artillery guns made a lot of noise and that he wants to come to Green Park to see them fire on the big day of The Queen’s Birthday Parade.”
On a sun-soaked day Alfie oversaw the parade alongside his mum Lucinda and other members of his family, hosted by the soldiers of London District Headquarters.
Mr Baring said: “We are incredibly thankful to all the soldiers on parade today for making someone so happy. The people behind the scenes who made it possible did something very special today and Alfie left Horse Guards Parade with a huge smile on his face.
“For our family it made a dream come true at a very difficult time.”
The former Captain added: “We wish all the soldiers the best of luck as they prepare for The Queen’s Birthday Parade – they looked amazing and we are very proud to have been allowed to make Alfie the stand-in Sovereign for just one hour!”