The 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards have performed the first Changing of the Windsor Castle Guard since the start of the pandemic in March 2020. In their bright scarlet tunics and iconic bearskins, the Guardsmen have returned in full force to their historic positions in the Castle.
Fundamentally we are operational, professional soldiers but part of who we are (as the Guards) is The Queen’s Guard so we are always looking forward to it, always getting ready for it and always prepared to do it. Second Lieutenant Henry Turnbull, Mounting Guard Commander, 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards
Since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020, the Guards of the Household Division stopped all ceremonial activities to avoid mass gatherings to help stop the spread of Covid 19. Guardsmen can still have been seen in their positions on sentry duty, watchful and ready, but no ceremony or music of any kind has taken place as they change over, this is known as an ‘Administrative Guard Mount’.
Over a year later, as a sign of the return to normality, the 1st Battalion of the Grenadier Guards have had the honour of reinstating the full ceremony for the Changing of the Windsor Castle Guard.
The Changing of the Guard at Windsor Castle
Since 1660, Guardsmen of the Household Division have had the privilege of guarding the Sovereign of the United Kingdom, with occasional respites for operational reasons where the privilege is extended to other regiments of the British Army. During the pandemic, even without their usual ceremonies, the Guardsmen have been busy conducting operational training to maintain their soldiering skills to the highest standard. In addition, the soldiers have supported the government fight the pandemic by manning testing sites and vaccine centres across the country. Grenadier Guardsmen have also taken part in The Queen’s Birthday Parade as well as playing a key role in the Funeral of HRH The Duke of Edinburgh.
It’s been quite nerve wracking as it’s my first Changing of the Guard, or any ceremonial duty, so there’s been quite a few butterflies, but I am really proud to lead the Old Guard and to lead the Guards back onto Ceremonial duty. Second Lieutenant Thomas Hodson, Dismounting Guard Commander, 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards
For many of the young Guardsmen on parade this will be their first opportunity to take part in this historic tradition. For some it is the very reason they joined the Guards and the Army after they have seen the Bearskins on parade in their youth, this applies to both of the Guard Commander’s on this first Changing of the Guard for 15 months, but for all it is a great honour.
Second Lieutenant Thomas Hodson said “It’s been quite nerve wracking as it’s my first Changing of the Guard, or any ceremonial duty, so there’s been quite a few butterflies, but I am really proud to lead the Old Guard and to lead the Guards back onto Ceremonial duty.”
Changing the Guard, also known as ‘Guard Mounting’, always begins with the current Windsor Castle Guard, or Old Guard, forming up outside the Guard Room. The New Guard, in this instance led by the Grenadier Guards Corps of Drums, will march out of Victoria Barracks to arrive at the Castle around 1100am ready to start the 45-minute ceremony.
During the ceremony and to a background of music played by the Corps of Drums, the New Guard come to a halt before the current Windsor Castle Guard and call a ‘Present Arms’ before the Captains of the Guards handover, with a symbolic touch of their left hands, the Castle Keys. From that time onwards the New Guard are responsible for the security of the Windsor Castle until they are relieved. Sentries are then posted to relieve those from the Old Guard who have stayed in their posts during the handover. Once complete, the Old Guard marches back to Victoria Barracks in quick time.
Set in the stunning county of Berkshire and amongst the historic buildings of Windsor, Windsor Castle is the oldest, and largest, occupied Castle in the world. For over 1000 years the Castle has been home to British Kings and Queens, with almost 400 of those years under the watchful protection of the Guards from the Household Division. A fitting, historic, location for the first ceremonial return of the Changing of the Guard.
Drummer Daniel Mendez of the Grenadier Guards’ Corps of Drums sums it all up, he said “It’s really special to get back into Ceremonial Duties, it feels like a ray of hope and a return to normal to get back into it.”