For the Honourable Artillery Company, the City of London’s Reserve Army Regiment, preparations for a gun salute start in the early hours.
After a quick breakfast and change into combats at 0630, soldiers head down to the gun park and drive the three L118 light guns onto the parade square for a clean and polish.
A quick session of foot drill led by the Regimental Sergeant Major warms the soldiers up, before they separate into their individual crews – or gun detachments – to start rehearsing for the Salute. Amongst the soldiers is Drummer Frank May, who was carrying out his first gun salute as a new member of the Regiment.
Speaking before leaving barracks, Drummer May said “slightly nervous, but confident. We have been trained well and so I am looking forward to it. I’m honoured to be part of it. It’s a sad occasion, obviously, but I hope we can do it justice and I feel like we can.”
As the Regiment’s gun battery, A (1st City of London) Battery, all soldiers are trained and qualified to operate the gun both in the field and for ceremonial duties. Each gun is operated by five soldiers, who have specific responsibilities, numbered one to five. The Number One is the most experienced soldier within each gun detachment and holds responsibility for the gun.
I’m honoured to be part of it. It’s a sad occasion, obviously, but I hope we can do it justice and I feel like we can. Drummer May, Honourable Artillery Company
All activity is balanced finely with the requirement to follow COVID-19 safety restrictions. Soldiers wear face coverings throughout the day, with social distancing enforced wherever possible. With hairdressers closed, several soldiers even bring in hair clippers for those who need a trim. After a final polish of the guns, the Battery change into “blues” for a final inspection by the Regimental Colonel, before moving down to the Tower of London.
There are historical records of gun salutes taking place throughout the country to mark significant national events as early as the 14th century. The traditional number of gun salutes is 21, fired at ten second intervals. For salutes carried out in a Royal setting, such as to mark to death of His Royal Highness, The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, saluting batteries fire 41 rounds at a slower pace of 1 round, at the start of each minute, for 40 minutes. Similar gun salutes were fired to mark the death of Queen Victoria in 1901 and Winston Churchill in 1965.
For the Honourable Artillery Company, carrying out gun salutes is a source of pride for the Regiment. Battery Sergeant Major, WO2 Darren Connor, said “the team always take a lot of pride in doing the gun salutes. It’s a Regimental tasking so as the Battery is part of the Regiment, we take pride in representing the Regiment”.