When the tragic news of The Queen’s Death broke on 8 September 2022, Gurkha soldiers from 94 Squadron Queen’s Own Gurkha Logistic Regiment (QOGLR), had just passed their test to become the next Queen’s Guards. None of them would realise that ambition. Instead, they will now go down in history as the first non-Foot Guards Regiment at Buckingham Palace for more than 70 years, to guard The King.
The men and women who normally drive six tonne MAN Support Vehicles and manage warehouse stores in Hullavington, had spent weeks preparing to take up their duties as Guards to the Sovereign at the Royal Palaces in London and at Windsor Castle.
Ceremonial experts from the Irish Guards had used a specialist training package to teach the complex drill manoeuvres and tasks required for the ancient duty.
It is the first time that troops from 94 Supply Squadron Queens Own Gurkha Logistic Regiment, 9 Regiment The Royal Logistic Corps, have been given the prestigious honour of performing ceremonial Public Duties in London.
Major Rory Irvine, 33, from Cricklade, is the Officer Commanding 94 Squadron QOGLR, which is part of Wiltshire based 9 Regiment Royal Logistic Corps (9 RLC).
It means a great deal to pass the test to carry out this duty. My father’s grandfather was in the Scots Guards during the First World War and was in the King’s Guard for George V. So, to be able to come here as the Captain of the new King’s Guard for King Charles III is a huge honour Major Rory Irvine, Officer Commanding 94 Squadron QOGLR
He said: “It means a great deal to pass the test to carry out this duty. My father’s grandfather was in the Scots Guards during the First World War and was in the King’s Guard for George V. So, to be able to come here as the Captain of the new King’s Guard for King Charles III is a huge honour”.
It’s a huge responsibility and a genuine challenge for the soldiers as Rory explained: “Drill and marching are not a part of our normal role in the slightest.”
Light Drill vs Heavy Drill
As if that wasn’t challenge enough, when Gurkhas join the Army they are taught a swift moving ‘Light Drill’ which is performed at 140 paces per minute. Ceremonial duties at Buckingham Palace are carried out in what is known as ‘Heavy Drill’, which is performed by the Foot Guards at a customary 120 paces per minute. Another change from the norm is the Khukuri inspection, in which the soldiers ground arms, and withdraw their Khukuri for inspection by the inspecting officer. This will be conducted in every inspection as part of the Changing the Guard ceremony by 94 Squadron.
During their rigorous inspection by the ceremonial guardians of the Household Division, the Gurkhas were immaculate in their distinctive black uniforms, highland brogues, Kilmarnock pillbox hats and Khukuris.
The Queen's funeral
Rory explained that his soldiers were among those who supported the funeral for HM The Queen: “We were on street lining duty for the funeral procession from Westminster Abbey to Wellington Arch.
We covered the area from MOD Main Building on Whitehall to the bottom of Horseguards Parade. To be involved in the state funeral of Her Majesty The Queen was a huge honour, and the Squadron felt hugely privileged to have a part to play”.
On Sunday 25 September, they marched out of Wellington Barracks West Gate for the first time, looking even more impressive, to assume their responsibilities as the King’s Guard at Buckingham Palace and St James's Palace.
Their sober black uniforms making a striking contrast to the familiar scarlet tunics and bearskin caps of the Coldstream Guards, from whom they took over their first duty.
“The hardest thing for the Squadron to learn during their preparations was the move we have to make during the ceremony from Light Drill to Heavy Drill” said Rory. “As a completely different form of drill, with different movements and different words of command, it took quite a lot of preparation to get to the point where we were comfortable with both. All the more difficult because we switch between the two in the middle of the parade. We needed to be so familiar with both, so that we could flick a switch between the two in our minds. It took a lot of hard work, but we got there!”
The unique convergence of Black and Red uniforms in front of Buckingham Palace served as a momentous reminder of the long-standing relationship forged between Britain and Nepal.
Top of their list of aspirations
The Wiltshire based logistics experts may possess an impressive and diverse range of capabilities but proving they could reach the high standards required to perform upcoming public duties for the Royal family is top of their list of aspirations.
Finding themselves representing their cap badge, the Army and their home nation of Nepal, in front of the most iconic and prestigious buildings in Britain, while serving a new King, is an experience these soldiers will treasure all their lives.
One of them, Private Tukraj Gurung, said he’s dreamed of one day guarding The Sovereign since being a boy growing up in Nepal. He said: “I thought at that time that if I get chance to get into the British Army I will definitely volunteer to do this. I am super excited. From this experience, I will be going back home to Chippenham with lots of unerasable memories and as a proud soldier.”
First to volunteer
Sergeant Raj Gurung’s father served in the British Army with 6 Royal Gurkha Rifles and had the privilege many years ago of being a member of the Queen’s Guard, so Raj was first to volunteer for the same duty when the opportunity arose.
He said: “My family are extremely proud, especially my father who did the public duty previously during his service. My father, along with my wife, Kusum Thapa Gurung, will be coming to see me on duty at the Palace…it’s a chance of a lifetime”.
It’s a proud start for the men and women of 94 Squadron, 9 Regiment Royal Logistic Corps whose unstinting diligence, discipline and training have paid off.
When to see them
You can see them on duty at Buckingham Palace, St James’s Palace, The Tower of London and at Windsor Castle during the next two months, accompanied by British Army Band Tidworth who will provide musical support to the Gurkhas on every ceremonial Guard change.
Their final Guard duty will be on 14 November 2022.
A year ago, a number of the Gurkhas on guard at the Royal Palaces were involved in an entirely different role: they were part of the withdrawal and evacuation from Afghanistan, known as Operation Pitting. 94 Squadron have never conducted The King’s Guard as part of State Ceremonial Public Duties before and feel honoured to do so.
An exciting future
In mid-November they will return to their primary role of providing logistical support to military forces on overseas operations as part of the British Army Theatre Enabling Group.
Their title remains unchanged following the change of monarch, they will remain The Queen’s Own Gurkha Logistic Regiment.