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Splendour and precision from the British Army for the Japanese State Visit

Their Majesties The King and Queen greeted The Emperor and Empress of Japan today with a full Military Ceremonial Welcome at the start of their State Visit to the United Kingdom.

The three-day Japanese State Visit will be filled with the very best state ceremonial the United Kingdom can offer. Involved are over 1250 soldiers from the British Army’s Household Division, including 250 Army musicians, and more than 240 magnificent military working horses, all immaculately turned out in honour of our distinguished visitors.

Weeks of preparation have gone into the spectacular visit, which involves seven Army bands, an orchestra, and nine British Army Regiments.  

Just before midday on Tuesday 25 June, The King’s Life Guard of the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment turned out to line the Whitehall entrance to Horse Guards. Above them, flew the national flags of Japan, as a sign of honour and welcome to the esteemed visitors.

Meanwhile, a ceremonial Large Guard of Honour formed by the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards, the Welsh Guards’ Corps of Drums and the Band of the Welsh Guards proudly presented themselves before the spectacular Royal Pavilion on Horse Guards Parade.

They were joined on parade by The Mounted Band of the Household Cavalry with their magnificent Shire Drum Horses, leading four divisions of the dazzling Sovereign’s Escort of the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment: The Life Guards and The Blues and Royals, commanded by Field Officer of the Sovereign’s Escort, Lieutenant Colonel Mathew Woodward. 

The Drum Horses each carried a set of priceless solid silver kettle drums weighing over 60kg per pair. The Royal Horse Guards’ set of silver drums were presented by King George III on St Georges Day 1805. The Life Guards’ set were presented by King William IV in 1830.

Once all the troops were in position, Their Majesties The King and The Queen arrived on Horse Guards Parade, Royal Pavilion and received a Royal Salute from the Sovereign’s Escort and the Guard of Honour. The Bands played the National Anthem and the Royal Standard was cracked by the Flagman and flown beside the clocktower at the top of the Horse Guards building.

A medley of traditional music was then played by the Bands; the Welsh Guards in their scarlet and gold tunics and black bearskin caps, the Corps of Drums of the Welsh Guards with their distinctive fleur-de-lys facings on their scarlet tunics, and the mounted Band of the Household Cavalry dazzling in their State Dress. 

The Household Cavalry musicians’ State Dress uniform of Gold Coats and velvet jockey caps signifies them as members of the Royal Household. This uniform is only worn in the presence of Royalty and when they are in attendance with the Lord Mayor of London.

The Gold Coats are made from 9ct gold thread and deliberately meant to impress, as they were originally designed to be worn by the soldiers who accompanied King Charles II as he rode into London in 1660 to reclaim his throne and restore the Monarchy.

The official welcome began as the Horse Guards clock chimed midday and The Emperor and Empress, escorted by His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales, were driven through the Horse Guards arch onto the Parade Square.

The dazzling breastplates and silver swords of the Sovereign’s Escort mounted on their jet black horses were the first sights to greet the Emperor and Empress. The Life Guards are one of the oldest regiments in the British Army and began in 1659 at the court of the exiled King Charles II in Holland when several royalist gentlemen led by Lord Gerard of Brandon formed themselves into the King’s Life Guard. The Blues and Royals can trace their ancestry back to 1661.

Above them the Flagman raised the National Flag of Japan on the roof of Horse Guards.

As the Emperor and Empress alighted from their car, they were greeted by Their Majesties The King and Queen. The Sovereign’s Escort and the Guard of Honour performed a Royal Salute and the Bands played the National Anthem of Japan.

When the Emperor places his foot upon the first step of the Royal Pavilion at approximately 1210hrs, ceremonial Gun Salutes were fired across London.

The Green Park 41 Gun Salute fired by The King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery, could be clearly heard as the Imperial guests took their places in the Royal Pavilion.  It was fired using 13-Pounder Quick Fire Field Guns which all entered service in 1904 and were used operationally in the First World War. There are only 10 such Guns still in existence.

The King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery is a unique unit, recognised as the most diverse within the British Army, currently 60% female, 40% male, with nine different nationalities and 14 faiths (or Christian denominations) represented. About 40% of their service personnel arrive with little to no equestrian knowledge but within months become equine experts and qualified riders.

At exactly the same time as The King’s Troop were firing in Green Park, another 41 Gun Salute was fired at His Majesty’s Tower of London, delivered by the Honourable Artillery Company, commanded by Major Georgia Wade. The Honourable Artillery Company (HAC) is the Army Reserve Regiment based in the City of London and were the first troops of any western country to deploy to Japan to train alongside Japanese soldiers in 2018.

The Captain of the Guard of Honour, on Horse Guards, Major Edward Rhydian Emlyn-Williams, Welsh Guards, marched forward and presented his Guard of Honour to the Emperor of Japan: “The Guard of Honour from the 1st Battalion The Welsh Guards is formed up and awaiting your inspection. May I have your permission to accompany you, Sir, please?” 

The King invited the Emperor to inspect the Guard of Honour and accompanied the Emperor as he carried out the inspection.  

As they did so The Band of the Welsh Guards conducted by the Director of Music of the Band of the Scots Guards, Major Evin Frost, and the mounted Band of the Household Cavalry commanded on parade by their Director of Music, Major Craig Bywater, performed rousing military music and British folk songs.

After the inspection, The King, The Queen, The Prince of Wales and the Emperor and Empress left Horse Guards in a spectacular carriage procession, escorted to Buckingham Palace by hundreds of horses and riders of The Sovereign’s Escort, provided by the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment.  

The Horse Guards Parade Guard of Honour gave a Royal Salute as the Carriage Procession set off. The National Anthem of Japan was played, followed by the National Anthem of the United Kingdom.

All along the processional route from Horse Guards Parade to Buckingham Palace were troops from the London Central Garrison: Number 7 Company Coldstream Guards, Number 9 Company Irish Guards, F Company Scots Guards; and Nijmegen Company Grenadier Guards.

As the procession made its way up The Mall, music was played by the Band of the Coldstream Guards at Marlborough Road, while the Band of the Irish Guards performed at the Duke of York Steps with the Senior Drum Major of the Household Division, Gareth Chambers. 

As the Carriage Procession arrived at Buckingham Palace, a second Guard of Honour from the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards formed up in the Quadrangle, commanded by the Captain of the Guard, Major William Harris, Grenadier Guards, and with musical support from the Band of the Grenadier Guards, and conducted by their Director of Music, Captain Robert Smith.

The Guard of Honour provided a Royal Salute and the Band of the Grenadier Guards performed The National Anthem of Japan, followed by the National Anthem of the United Kingdom. With immaculate timing, the final bars of the National Anthem finished just as the wheels of The King and Queen’s carriage drew to a halt.

Dismounted troopers from The Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment lined the stairs of Buckingham Palace for the Emperor’s arrival.

Royal Signals soldiers from 251 (United Kingdom Operations) Signal Squadron, 10 Signal Regiment ensured the gun salutes during the state visit happened at the right time. They helped commanders on parade by giving them important information using a specialist radio system which in turn ensured the smooth timings of all those on parade. The Squadron helps with all ceremonial events and although may not always be visible to all the members of the public they provide an essential and technical element that is necessary for all those front and centre.

Major Paul Roberts Officer Commanding said: "I am proud of the Squadron's and Regiment's support to the event. My team's professionalism and dedication in delivering the gun salutes and providing essential support were exemplary. I'd like to thank them for their outstanding work in delivering ceremonial events.

In the evening during the State Banquet at Buckingham Palace, The Countess of Wessex’s String Orchestra, made up entirely by professional Army Musicians, will provide musical entertainment, and the Pipers of the Scots Guards led by Pipe Major John Mitchell, will play to signify the end of the Banquet.

On the evening of 26 June, The Honourable Artillery Company (HAC) will provide the Guard of Honour at The Guildhall where the Corporation of London will give a Banquet. The HAC will be accompanied by the HAC Band and the Corps of Drums of the Regiment. The State Trumpeters of the Band of the Household Cavalry will play fanfares during the Reception and Banquet, and The Countess of Wessex’s String Orchestra will provide musical entertainment throughout. 

The HAC is the City of London’s Army Reserve and specialises in intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. It has strong links to Japan, and their soldiers have recently been training operationally alongside Japanese armed forces in Japan.

Japan is one of the UK’s closest strategic partners and last year, troops from the UK’s 16 Air Assault Brigade and the 3rd Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Scotland worked with the Japanese 1st Airborne Brigade and the Japan Ground Self Defence Force on a major operational exercise in Japan, Exercise Vigilant Isles.

King Emperor Naruhito ascended to the Chrysanthemum Throne on May 1, 2019, marking the beginning of the Reiwa era in Japan. Born in Tokyo in 1960, he is the 126th monarch in Japan’s traditional order of succession. Before becoming emperor, Naruhito studied history at Gakushuin University and English at Merton College, Oxford. In 1993, he married Masako Owada, a diplomat, and together, they form a modern and dynamic pair, representing Japan on the global stage.

State Visits are considered the highest expression of friendly bilateral relations between two sovereign states.

For all the soldiers involved in the State Visit, it is a very important occasion and a huge honour to represent their country.