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Changing of the Guards: UK and France celebrate Entente Cordiale

The UK and France have today celebrated 120 years of close cooperation with special ceremonies in both nations’ capital cities.

8 April, 2024 is the 120th anniversary of a diplomatic agreement, the Entente Cordiale, signed between Britain and France.  

To celebrate over a century of fruitful alliance, and the ongoing close military, diplomatic and cultural ties between the two nations, history-making events were held today in London and Paris.

The 8th April anniversary is the focal point of a year-long programme of joint UK-French military activity affirming Defence ties between the two nations.

Never before seen in London

Members of the Garde Républicaine, part of the Gendarmerie Nationale, arrived in London last week to rehearse for a never before seen ceremony in London. They were accorded the unique honour of participating in the historic Changing of the Guard ceremony on Monday 8 April, an honour only previously afforded to the British Armed Forces and Commonwealth countries.

This morning, just after 10.30am, the French Garde Républicaine marched alongside soldiers of the British Army’s Household Division.

The 1st and 2nd Infantry regiments of the Garde Républicaine were marched to Buckingham Palace by the Band of the Grenadier Guards where they met F Company Scots Guards, the King’s Guard.

As part of the ceremony both captains of the guard, UK and French, shook hands – a gesture used in the changing of the guards ceremony to mark the handover of duties from the old guard to the new guard. Today, in this unique ceremony, that gesture symbolized the continued alliance and shared sense of duty between the two nations.

Dignitaries from both sides of the Channel were privileged to hear The Band of the Grenadier Guards play both nations’ national anthems.

The French contingent of Gendarmerie and The King’s Guard were then inspected by Their Royal Highnesses, The Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh, General Sir Patrick Sanders, British Army Chief of the General Staff, General Pierre Schill, French Chief of the Army Staff, and the French Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Hélène Duchêne.

Harmony between nations

During the inspection of the troops, the Band of the Grenadier Guards played a special piece of music: L’Entente Cordiale composed by a former Director of Music for the Band of the Scots Guards. 

The French contingent then marched off the forecourt, returning to Wellington Barracks with the Band of the Grenadier Guards, leaving F Company Scots Guards to continue their duties as The King’s Guard. 

Major Jamie Drummond-Moray, Officer Commanding F Company Scots Guards, said:

“It is an enormous privilege for us to host the French here in London and to play such a significant part in a ceremony that has never happened before with a non-Commonwealth country.

"It really is a monumental occasion and more so given that it is marking 120 years of the strong relationship between the UK with France.

"I think it’s a great honour for all our soldiers, and a fantastic day for everyone in France and the UK.”  

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Major Guillaume Dewilde, Captain of the French Guard, said taking part was a great honour:

“Simply shaking hands with my British counterpart means so much."

When asked about the food his troops had been served while staying in the UK barracks, Major Dewilde said:

"Everything we say about British food is BS, because it is really good." They especially enjoyed the full English breakfasts!

Whilst all taking part were acutely aware of the significance of the ceremonial activity, it has also been a time to make friends, with members of the Gendarmerie mixing easily with their counterparts in F Company.

Soldiers took time during breaks between rehearsals to try on each other’s kepi and bearskin. As well as being intrigued by the cosmetic differences, both units were quick to acknowledge each other’s skill and professionalism on the parade ground.

The Brigade Major of the Household Division, Lieutenant Colonel James Shaw, designed the ceremony at Buckingham Palace and oversaw the training of both nations taking part. He summed up the general feeling:

“I’ve really enjoyed working with the French - I have found them very professional, impressive, very smart, and good fun.

"I’m hugely proud to be taking part in this parade. 120 years of Entente Cordiale is a significant anniversary and so, to be here, representing both our nations, is a very special moment for all of us.”

Whilst the British Army played host to 32 members of the Garde Républicaine on the Buckingham Palace forecourt, 16 soldiers from Number 7 Company Coldstream Guards today joined troops from the Garde Républicaine, outside the Élysée Palace in Paris, the official residence of the French President. This was the first ever instance of soldiers of a foreign state guarding the Presidential Residence. 

This ceremony was no less prestigious than its London counterpart, attended by President Macron, General Christian Rodriguez, Général d'armée, Directeur Général de la Gendarmerie Nationale, General Christophe Abad and Major General James Bowder, General Officer Commanding, London District, who inspected the troops.

An historic moment for both our countries

Major Zacharias Faja, Company Commander, Number 7 Company, Coldstream Guards said:

“The partnership between France and the UK has only deepened in the last 120 years and today our militaries operate shoulder-to-shoulder around the world in our collective mission for international peace, security and resilience.

"It’s an honour for my soldiers to be taking part in today’s ceremony in what is an historic moment for both our countries.”

The British Army values the long term defence commitment with France. We train together, fight together, and serve together, benefiting hugely from our mutual professionalism and standards.

Troops from the Scots Guards were last year deployed alongside French personnel in Estonia, on a NATO operation to provide a security presence and deterrent on the eastern flank of the Alliance.

The Coldstream Guards are affiliated to the Deuxieme Garde Republique and were visited last year by the Commanding Officer. 

Coldstream Guardsmen have deployed on Jungle Warfare Instructors Courses with the French Foreign Legion (Troisieme Regimente Entranger d’Infanterie (3REI)) in French Guyana over the last few years.

Anyone witnessing today’s events could be in no doubt about the commitment on both sides of the Channel to the longstanding military and security partnership between the two nations.

This partnership had its roots in the signing of the Entente Cordiale on 8 April 1904 and has continued to grow and flourish with the Lancaster House Treaties in 2010, which paved the way for joint military exercises and sharing use of military facilities.

The partnership will continue to define and evolve an Entente de la Durabilité based on friendship and shared values, fit to meet the challenges of the 21st century.