The Army brings comfort and joy for Christmas in London

As the nation prepares for Christmas, the Army has some difficult decisions to make. Persistently engaged at home and overseas, frontline demands don’t ease, and duties must still be done. But who will step forward to cover while others go home for festive fun?

Horses Leaping

Our Military Working Horses have worked so hard this year with an unprecedented series of ceremonial events, from the Platinum Jubilee to the Queen’s funeral, the King’s Birthday and the South African State Visit. They really do deserve a festive break.

On Christmas Day

Public duties, combined with delivering festive entertainment for all, means the Army in London frequently has to postpone its Christmas holiday. Many of our soldiers will be working as usual throughout the festive standdown, even on Christmas Day and the New Year holiday. It will remain a busy time, as the soldiers need to care for the horses that remain on duty and ensure the highest standards of ceremonial turnout and security for the Royal Palaces.

In The Morning

The Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment will continue to mount the King’s Life Guard daily throughout Christmas and New Year. Trooper Bridges from The Blues and Royals is on duty this year. He explained:

“In Hyde Park Barracks the soldiers get up early as usual and muck out the horses, who have the day off. We tuck into mince pies and chocolates, and then the soldiers sort out the horses as quickly as possible before being dismissed for their family celebrations at midday.

“I’ll be with the 12 horses and riders on duty for the King’s Life Guard and we’re confined to our Horseguards’ Parade base on Guard until 11am on Boxing Day. 

“It’s very much business as usual. The troopers change into state uniforms before taking up their positions on Guard, with the mounted guards rotating in one-hour shifts.” Trooper Bridges, The Blues and Royals

“It’s very much business as usual. The troopers change into state uniforms before taking up their positions on Guard, with the mounted guards rotating in one-hour shifts. 

“Between shifts, the soldiers are served a Christmas meal. They try to give everyone on King’s Life Guard as good a time as possible in the circumstances.”

Home For Christmas

Thankfully, not all the soldiers and horses are needed to remain on duty. The Cavalry and The King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery will stand down as many soldiers to go home for Christmas as they can. Hundreds of horses are sent to enjoy a holiday running free in fields deep in the country for a month over Christmas.

In preparation, the horses’ shoes are removed, their coats are allowed to grow out and then they’re driven out of town for a bit of horse heaven. In the coming weeks, they’ll have the time of their lives, getting as muddy as possible, getting fat on grass, and relaxing away from their daily routines.

Officers Serving

Morale is high among the Guards this year. From Wellington Barracks to Windsor, all the soldiers will enjoy a special Christmas lunch in the run-up to the big day, served to them by the Officers. It’s a great way to thank everyone for their service and to have some fun.

Christmas Cheer

In Woolwich, there’s genuine excitement as Christmas nears. Every horse in The King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery has a stocking hung up in their stable filled with treats like salt licks and apples.

On Christmas Eve, the Gunners do their rounds, checking on every horse through the small hours. They are then given a special break on Christmas Day as the officers take over the duties of mucking out the horses and sorting out their feed. On Boxing Day the regiment goes on a hack through London to visit local Nursing homes with the horses and spread some Christmas cheer.

Christmas Music

For visitors to London, a trip to hear the famed Bands of the Household Division play popular Christmas tunes at Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace is a treat many look forward to.

What better way to get in the Christmas spirit before hitting the West End shops and ogling the Christmas lights that adorn almost every street in the capital?

The Household Cavalry Band are also delivering musical support to Public Duties over the Christmas period. They will be providing festive cheer at both St James’ Palace and Windsor Castle, alternating daily from 19 Dec 22 to 2 Jan 23.

Both the Band of the Irish Guards and the Band of the Household Cavalry will be performing on the forecourt of Buckingham Palace on 19, 21, 23 and 28 Dec and 2 Jan 22.

Whilst all bands always perform to the very highest standards on public duties, the Christmas period will likely see even greater efforts to musically twinkle, shine and sparkle, to entertain both the King’s Guard and members of the general public in the run-up to the big day!

For many musicians in the Bands of the Household Division, Christmas will certainly be slightly different this year.

The Band of the Welsh Guards were first to get in the Christmas spirit when they performed at Clarence House while the Queen Consort decorated the Christmas Tree with terminally ill children from the Helen & Douglas House and Roald Dahl's Marvellous Children's Charity.

On Christmas Day morning the Band of the Irish Guards has a Brass Quintet playing in The Guards Chapel. The musicians are looking forward to celebrating time together on Christmas Day and will meet before the service to wish each other a very Merry Christmas and enjoy some festive delights, a small festive drink and a mince pie or two. 

Guards Duty

This year, Nijmegen Company Grenadier Guards will form the King’s Guard at Buckingham Palace and St James’s Palace, manning the sentry boxes on Christmas Day.

The Guards are always watchful. The Tower of London, which now houses the Crown Jewels, has been permanently guarded since the 12th century. This year it’s F Company Scots Guards who will be mounting the Tower Guard and will also form the Windsor Castle Guard. They can then look forward to taking some well-deserved leave at Hogmanay when Number 12 Company Irish Guards take over! 

Although apart from their families, everyone makes a real effort to brighten the mood and make the festive period extra special.

Christmas Day Service

The Christmas Day service in The Chapel is always a hubbub of activity. Large numbers of people - the general public and military families who come from all over Westminster - fill the congregation, to hear the Band and The Guard’s Chapel Choir singing an exquisite array of carols and hymns. 

It’s a resounding start to Christmas Day for everyone.

The Band of the Irish Guards has had an exceptionally busy December. They played for the London Central Garrison Carol Service and the Household Division Carol Service earlier this month. These were special occasions, as many of the personnel in the garrison came together to celebrate Christmas and pray for all those comrades serving overseas this year. 

It’s a perfect time to reflect on what has been an extraordinary twelve months in which the Army has been at the forefront of news and activities that have been broadcast across the globe.

A Year To Remember

For all soldiers in London, this has been a year to remember. Millions joined the Household Division as they Trooped The Colour on the Platinum Jubilee weekend. 4.2 billion people tuned in to see those same troops honour Her Majesty one last time on her funeral procession.

Since then, the Army in London has supported the first State Visit to the UK since the COVID pandemic, the King’s birthday, and a series of high-profile defence diplomacy events with our global partners and allies.

World Service

Those same troops have deployed across the globe committed to operations to keep us and our overseas interests safe.

Whether it was the Welsh Guards training Ukrainian recruits in basic infantry skills to defend their homeland from Russian invasion, the Household Cavalry and Scots Guards supporting NATO operations in Estonia, or the Irish Guards maintaining security for the Falkland Islands, all our troops have been doing their best to protect the shared values of our global alliances.

Inkerman Company, 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards, has troops deployed on operations in the Kurdish Region of Iraq over Christmas.

As part of the multi-national coalition under Operation Inherent Resolve, the Regiment is supporting missions to ensure the lasting defeat of Daesh, to provide training and support to the Iraqi Security Forces and bring lasting stability to the Middle East region.

“Being on Operations over Christmas is bitter-sweet; whilst it’s sad not to be spending time with family and loved ones, it’s great to be out on operations, getting to perform the task we’ve been working towards over the last year.” Lance Corporal Harry Fripp, 26, from Poole

Lance Corporal Harry Fripp, 26, from Poole said: “Being on Operations over Christmas is bitter-sweet; whilst it’s sad not to be spending time with family and loved ones, it’s great to be out on operations, getting to perform the task we’ve been working towards over the last year.”

Especially for those separated from their families, Christmas is a time to remember and give thanks for simple things that mean a lot, like friendship, freedom, and hope for a better future.

Ready To Serve

The Army continues to fulfil its duties, regardless of the date on the calendar.

Soldiers are on standby 365 days of the year, 24/7, to support local authorities or the emergency services should the need arise, whether that be helping with floods or providing cover for strike action; dealing with legacy munition finds, or using their specialist skills to support the police in the event of suspect terrorist activity.

As everyone else is drifting back to work in January, those in the Army that have been on duty can finally settle down for some well-deserved leave.

They will head overseas on holiday or spend some quality time with family on a slightly delayed Christmas of their own in the New Year of 2023!