Throughout the pandemic, Guardsmen from the Household Division have continued to guard Windsor Castle, Buckingham Palace, St James’ Palace and the Tower of London, in addition to forming a COVID Support Force. To pay tribute to Her Majesty on the occasion of her Official Birthday.
Today the Windsor Castle Guard, provided by the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards, will turn out in the Quadrangle at Windsor Castle, accompanied by a reduced Massed Band of the Household Division. Ordinarily, Guardsmen would be shoulder-to-shoulder, enabling them to maintain ‘dressing’ or staying in line with one another, but in keeping with government COVID-19 guidelines on social distancing, each Guardsman is now tasked with standing 2.2m apart, measured by three turns of the pace stick.
The special ceremony for Her Majesty will be commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Henry Llewelyn-Usher and will last approximately 20 minutes. Music will include many stirring Welsh favourites and be conducted by Lieutenant Colonel Simon Haw. An event of this nature has not happened in Windsor for the Sovereign’s birthday since 1895, and on Saturday the Household Division will demonstrate new ceremonial drill moves that have been developed in order to deliver the ceremonial standards for which they are recognised around the world while conforming to strict social distancing guidelines. Immediately following the ceremony, the Windsor Castle Guard will return to the guardroom to resume their guard duty.
Soldiers were chosen due to the fact they are either living in the Windsor area, on duty at the Castle, or based in Barracks nearby, so limiting the amount of travel required.
Garrison Sergeant Major Warrant Officer Class 1 Andrew Stokes has masterminded the design of what will be a unique ceremony, and overseen the training, much of which initially incorporated virtual techniques. He said: “The Army teaches individuals many skills, but one of the greatest is teamwork, and this parade is a marvellous display of that: a collaboration of ideas and new thinking to celebrate the leadership of the Sovereign on her official birthday. With fewer people on parade there is no hiding place, there never is, and only the highest standard is acceptable, but more spacing between individuals means that there is also no room for errors, and so the soldier has to really concentrate on their own personal drill, reaction to orders, dressing and social distancing”.
Only four weeks ago I was involved with testing key workers for COVID-19 as part of the Welsh Guards’ contribution to the battle against the virus; now I am on parade performing in front of Her Majesty. This is a very proud day for me LCpl Chusa Siwale, Lone Drummer
Lance Corporal Chusa Siwale, aged 29, from Zambia, is fulfilling the role of Lone Drummer for the ceremony, playing a drum solo in front of Her Majesty. A soldier first, he is part of the Welsh Guards’ assault pioneer platoon and deployed to Afghanistan in 2018 as a Force Protection Commander where he was awarded the Exemplary Leadership Award from the Commanding Officer. He has since completed his Class 1 Drummers Course, finishing as top student on the course. Speaking about what it means to be the Lone Drummer on parade for the tribute, he said: “It is a huge privilege for me to be undertaking this key role in the parade at what is a very difficult time for the UK. Only four weeks ago I was involved with testing key workers for COVID-19 as part of the Welsh Guards’ contribution to the battle against the virus; now I am on parade performing in front of Her Majesty. This is a very proud day for me”.
Sergeant Christopher Rees, aged 32 from Maesteg, South Wales is the Drum Major of the Welsh Guards, responsible for members of the Corps of Drums within the Welsh Guards, who are also soldiers in the Battalion’s assault pioneer platoon, providing crucial support to the rifle companies on training exercises and operations. Playing a key role in the tribute, he said: “This Official Birthday tribute is particularly special, having not taken place at Windsor Castle in over 120 years. To be Drum Major for the occasion is a real privilege that I will remember throughout my military career”.
Major General Christopher Ghika commands the Household Division and is also currently the Joint Military Commander for London commanding all military support to the civil authorities in London in response to the Coronavirus pandemic. Among other tasks, this assistance has entailed logistical support to resilience partners to distribute key supplies and protective equipment, the provision of static and mobile testing centres and the construction of the NIGHTINGALE hospital at the ExCel Centre. He explained: “Trooping of the Colour has marked the official birthday of the Sovereign since 1748. The circumstances of the requirement to perform the Birthday Tribute at Windsor Castle this year are clouded in tragedy. The effects of Covid-19 have been devastating in terms of loss of life and the threatening of livelihoods of so many across the country. People have had to endure separation from loved ones, great uncertainty and the suspension of so much of what is special about our national life. This ceremony represents a unique opportunity - within the parameters that the current situation demands – to mark The Queen’s Official Birthday. The Welsh Guards and many of those on parade have recently been deployed within the United Kingdom as part of the nation’s response to the virus and so the context of the ceremony is particularly poignant.”
Sergeant Dan Evans, aged 38, from Bodmin, Cornwall, is a trumpet player in the Band of the Welsh Guards, performing in the ceremony. He said; “Playing for Her Majesty is always a privilege and something I count myself very lucky to be able to do as a musician in the British Army. My sister is a consultant anaesthetist at the Princess Alexander Hospital in Harlow and together with my brother in-law, set up a fund-raising campaign for the hospital staff that has raised over £60,000 so far. I would like to say a huge thank you to them and all the Country’s key workers for the work they are doing”.
Sergeant Rhys Rutledge, aged 34, from Colwyn-Bay, North Wales, is a platoon Sergeant in the Welsh Guards and a member of the Escort to the Colour (ceremonial flag) on parade. He said; “My role on parade is to escort and protect the Colour; the utmost privilege for a senior non-commissioned officer. I have deployed on overseas exercises as well as on operations to Afghanistan on several occasions, providing me with some incredible experiences within the British Army, but my role in this tribute will mark the pinnacle of my military career to-date”.
It is every Guards Officer’s dream to be selected to be the Ensign on parade and I feel hugely privileged to be part of this unique Official Birthday celebration Lt Richardson, Ensign to the Colour
Colour Sergeant Richard Lorimer, aged 38, from Ballymena, Northern Ireland, a flute player in the band of the Scots Guards said; “Playing in the band of the Scots Guards alongside my colleagues in the Household Division makes me extremely proud to be part of the British Army. We are soldiers as well as musicians, providing real depth to the British Army’s capability. We have been on standby to assist with military aid to the civil authorities throughout this difficult time, with our colleagues in the Welsh Guards who are on parade today involved in testing only a few weeks ago. On a personal note, my brother-in-law is an A&E Consultant who has been at the forefront of the response in Northern Ireland and my sister is about to return back to work in the NHS following maternity leave. To them and all who have supported the nation throughout this difficult time; thank you”.
Warrant Officer Class 1 Michael Parry, aged 39, from LLifaen, North Wales, the Regimental Sergeant Major of the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards, said; “Some of the soldiers involved in today’s Official Birthday tribute have been on overseas exercises, operational deployments, and most recently, involved with testing key workers and members of the public for COVID-19 across London. The British Army’s ability to move from an operational role as soldiers first, to our ceremonial duties, demonstrates the professionalism and our ability to adapt to any situation; which is why I think we are the best Army in the World. As the senior soldier in the Battalion, I am incredibly proud of all of the soldiers of the Welsh Guards involved in today’s Official Birthday tribute demonstrating their strength and ability to fulfil their duties in difficult times”.
Lieutenant William (Billy) Richardson, aged 25, from Deal in Kent, is a platoon commander in 1st Battalion Welsh Guards and has the honour of carrying the Battalion’s Colours on parade in his role as the Ensign to the Colour. His father, Oliver, served in the Welsh Guards during the 1980s and was aboard the RFA Sir Galahad when it was bombed during the Falklands War in 1982. He said; “I grew up in London and only a few years ago was running a pub in Islington with my brother. Since joining the Welsh Guards, I have deployed to the Falklands on a training exercise, as well as assisting with the recent COVID-19 testing. To go from that footing to demonstrating our ceremonial duties and capability is important for the soldiers of the Household Division. It is every Guards Officer’s dream to be selected to be the Ensign on parade and I feel hugely privileged to be part of this unique Official Birthday celebration”.
Lance Corporal Stephen Shepherd, saxophonist from the Band of the Welsh Guards who will be performing on Saturday, said: ‘It is a real honour to be involved with the birthday tribute to Her Majesty The Queen; to be able to perform for both Her and the general public in such a difficult period is a real pleasure”.