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Trooping the Colour

The 2013 ceremony, which hasn't changed much over the last 200 years. The two-rank formation
of soldiers shown here is a tribute to Wellington's successful tactics at the Battle of Waterloo.

Today is the second Saturday in June, which in Great Britain means it's time for Trooping the Colour. It's a centuries-old tradition full of pomp and pageantry that officially honors not only the sovereign's birthday but also the infantry regiments of the British Army.  

"Colours" are another name for the brightly-colored battalion flags associated with the Five Foot Guard regiments (the Scots, Irish, Welsh, Grenadier and Coldstream guards). These flags not only showcase the individual spirit of each regiment and but also commemorate its fallen soldiers.

In times past, there was a very practical reason to publicly display the “colours” like this – so that the soldiers would be able to recognize the flags of their comrades in the heat of battle.

Every year one of the Foot Guard regiments is chosen to display its flag, and this year the 1st Battalion of the Irish Guards get to troop their colour through the ranks of the assembled regiments. The honorary Colonel of the Irish Guards is Prince William.
Kate and Prince William, who is in his Irish Guards uniform,
 enjoying their post-wedding  Buckingham Palace "balcony moment." 

Royal watchers will also be eager to glimpse the new Duke and Duchess of Sussex, back from their honeymoon and sure to be in attendance to honor the Queen. During this event, Harry and Meghan will also get their "balcony moment," appearing together as husband and wife on the balcony of Buckingham Palace. It's a royal wedding tradition they missed out on because their wedding ceremony took place outside of London at Windsor Castle.  

King Charles II

The tradition of Trooping the Colour traces its origins back to the reign of Charles II in the 17th century. It was originally known as “Lodging the Colours,” but it’s always been an occasion to publicly celebrate the king or queen's birthday, no matter what month or day the reigning monarch was actually born. (Queen Elizabeth was born on April 21.) It’s also been an annual event since the mid-18th century, with a few notable exceptions.

One exception was during the nine years of the Regency, from 1811 to 1820, when the King’s birthday parade was suspended due to King George III’s seclusion and illness. And the military parades were halted again during World War I and World War II.

King George III, sick and unkempt in his final years

There have also been a few colorful incidents, too, during this yearly celebration, especially in the 20th century. For example, in 1970 a guardsman rather spectacularly fainted while the Queen was reviewing the troops.

The Queen and her horse appear nonplussed by the fallen soldier, who, though unconscious,
has kept admirable form rather than collapsing into a crumpled heap

And in 1981, a fame-hungry and delusional teenager fired six blank shots, point-blank range, at the Queen as she rode by with her procession from Buckingham Palace, on her way down the Mall to the Horse Guards Parade grounds.

Queen Elizabeth won a lot of praise that day as she kept her composure and her startled horse firmly under control. The young man was wrestled to the ground, charged with treason and served a five-year prison sentence. When he got out of jail at age 20, he changed his name and made a new life for himself. I think he got off easy, considering how convicted traitors have been treated in the past.

Princess Elizabeth filling in for her father
in 1951 (King George VI was too ill to attend
 the parade and he died the following year.)

The Queen herself has attended every parade since her coronation in 1953, with yet another exception, when a National Rail strike caused the cancellation of the 1955 parade.

Though she’ll be in a carriage this year and not on horseback as in years past, the Queen will still review and inspect the foot and horse guard troops that comprise her household Division and also the King's Troop, Royal Horse Artillery, all of which will give her a royal salute as she goes by (except perhaps the horses). 

Hundreds of musicians including the Band of the Household Cavalry (on horseback) and a Corps of Drums, will perform. And just in case there isn’t enough clamor from the bands, gun salutes, and artillery cannonade, the parade will also have the roar of the Red Arrows, the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team, performing a patriotic “Fly Past” over Buckingham Palace.  

The Red Arrows in a spectacular and deafening tribute

It looks like a rousing good time. I just hope the Queen also gets a birthday cake as well, delicious and big enough to hold all 92 of her well-earned candles!

Images and photos courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


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