- Contributed by
- DOUGLAS ROTHERY
- People in story:
- Douglas Rothery
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 21 March 2004
Chapter IV - Royal Encounters
In between the 24hr guard duties, other training continued, be it P.T. Weapon training, Education, First aid and of course Ordinary drill and Fatigues etc., every moment of the day was accounted for.
It wasn't many days after my Bank Guard that I noted with pride and panic, my name down on Daily Details for Buckingham Palace Guard. I was conversant with the procedural drill on arrival at the Palace, the changing, the double sentry drill on the pavement outside the railings of the palace whenever their Majesties were in residence etc., but wasn't so sure of the forming up on the square of my particular guard. I knew that I would have to 'Bloody Well Soon Find Out', so I discreetly watched the next Guard mount from a safe distance, (not allowed to stand and stare). But it didn't give me much confidence, because as soon as the order by the Sergeant Major was given,
'GET Ooooooon Parade'!
all that I could see was a mass of scarlet tunics and Bearskins criss- crossing in quick time trying to get to their respective Guards, St James Palace Guard being the senior followed by the Buckingham Palace Guard then the Waiting Guard, which parades in abeyance to replace those deemed as not suitably turned out by the inspecting officers. I rather despondently crept away not looking forward to my initiation and can only hope I don't have to learn by my mistakes.
On the day of my inauguration the Drummer blew the call to warn those who were for guard duty, finishing with a call called "TAPS the words of such known universally throughout the Brigade as "Youve Got A Face Like A Chickens Arse" thus reminding you that you have 20minutes before parade.
One of my chums gave me the once over before I gingerly make my way down the stone stairway trying not to crack the highly polished uppers of my boots, rifle in one hand, kit bag containing cleaning materials etc. suitably labelled for Buck House in the other for it to be taken their by transport. In all of this time, the band has been playing some known and some unknown airs, of which I am in no mood to appreciate. The officers of respective Guards, are patrolling up and down, also the Sergeant Major. Briefly all goes quiet, the next moment pandemonium when the Sergeant Major coming to a halt, bellowed out.
'GET Ooooooon Parade'!
This is it!
My heart misses a beat as I become part of this mass stampede in quick time, also trying to figure out where my guard marker is whilst at the same time trying to protect the precious hours of spit and polish on my size 11's from some other clumsy clots. These problems intermingled with orders being shouted from about half a dozen different W/Officers, I eventually make it.-Phew!- Now steady down.
After the formalities of the dressings, the roll call etc, comes the fixing of bayonets. The right marker marches forward the regulatory paces to give the signals for the fix, another panic sets in 'Thinks' Did I replace the bayonet into its scabbard after giving it its final polish! Its too late to check now. The next moment the order was given (FIX )- Yees"-"Thank Goodness," so far so good. Now for the inspection by the Guard Officer and"his entourage, Company Sergeant Major, Sergeant and Corporal, whatever fault one of them misses the other will pick up, whilst the band plays some lilting music which helps to drown the expletives being afforded to some unfortunate.
We march out to the usual tune on leaving barracks then to a stirring march to which we rightly and so proudly swagger along to, our hearts swelling with pride in the knowledge that we are the envy of the world. Somewhere along the route the guard W/Officer gave the command 'Escort to the colour' and being already briefed on what to do, I double out to the RH side of the road as part of that escort. whereupon on nearing Buckingham Palace we are recalled back into the ranks
.My first Stag [Guard Mount] was outside the front gates of the palace and I felt very proud and privileged yet at the same time extremely apprehensive after a warning from a experienced old sweat not to allow any of the public to stand by your side for photograph sessions as this could find its way not only for publication but also Regimental scrutiny looking for lack of poise or posture etc; also to be alert for the authoritive Regimental spy within passing taxi's, so with this in mind, no sooner had a damsel or anyone else posed themselves by my side for a photo, I would start patrolling [Spoil Sport].
On returning to barracks the next day someone called out that the official photographer was downstairs, so being still in guard uniform I took advantage of this opportunity which I believe cost me 2/6d (12&1/2p) including frame, which my parents were to proudly display.
Back to the varied training, where within a few days I had my first St James Palace Guard, which was fascinating , because the ceremony of the Changing of the Guard is in the courtyard within the palace overlooked by the balcony from which all historical proclamations are made. My patrolling on one of the sentry posts was under an archway, where, over the many years, the tip of the sentries bayonet had cut deep grooves into the stone roof. I bet that could tell a few stories!
My father being an ex soldier of the 4th Queens Own Hussars, gave me the following advice as I was leaving home to join up.
'Never volunteer for anything'.
But when volunteers were requested with the promise of a day off duty if we took part in an experimental inoculation, well, that was too good to miss! Three days later I was allowed out of bed! Never again, the shaking, aching and vomiting, we never found out what it was for but rumour had it that it was an anti malaria experiment. My advice is:
'Never volunteer for anything'.
Went out with the three musketeers, (whom I have already introduced), they
being older serving soldiers were in possession of civilian clothes passes. These could be applied for once you had served 12 months in the battalion, I still had 9months to go, this would then entail buying a suit (I am afraid that my 50/- (2 Pound 50p) one wouldn't pass the required standard on all counts). It must be smart and of a specified design and colour then inspected and approved by the Adjutant, anyway, I wasn't financially embellished at this short period of service to be able spread my limited retainer to cater for such extravagance. After wandering around Hyde Park and Speakers Corner, we decided to quench our thirst in a nearby Public house. The three six footers plus in their civilian clothes and wearing the traditional trilby hats (head gear must be worn), were the first to enter amid a buzz of verbal activity, which immediately ceased until I in uniform went over to join them. It was noticeable that, had there been any nefarious deals taking place, my presence must have assured them that we were not the 'BILL' but just the 'BILL BROWNS.'
I learnt it was common practice on returning to Barracks to bring back a fruit pie for the Guard Commander, this would be discreetly placed near the Tattoo report whilst being marked in, in the hope that this sweetener would be acceptable, especially if you were not quite within the second of the three essential conditions, namely (1) clean (2) sober and (3) properly dressed in uniform- alternately civilian clothes.
Professional jealousy would surface mostly between the Senior Warrant Officers of either Coldstream or Grenadiers regarding Regimental history, if the opportunity should arise. Such came the opportunity, when both battalions happened to be drilling at the same time on their respective halves of the square. R.S.M. Brittian of the Coldstream, (reputed at that time to have the loudest voice in the British army) bellowed out to his men (not as a compliment I may add) that they were drilling like a squad of Grenadiers. This was responded to with equal uncomplimentary fervour from R.S.M. Sheather of the Grenadiers. Apart from this light-hearted bantering, it never showed itself in any other way.
Other than our usual drill or musketry training, a few hours each week were spent on Stretcher Bearing (SB) courses, and the order of dress for this parade was Khaki Service dress and not Canvas Fatigue. On this particular occasion we were informed in the usual manner, i.e. Daily Details, that S.B's would parade at a certain time. After forming up on parade, the unfortunate Sergeant reprimanded us for not being in Canvas Fatigue. It was explained to him that Service dress was the usual uniform for Stretcher Bearers, whereas he had interpreted the S.B. as 'Spud Bashing' [ Potatoe Peeling] a well known term by all, especially the miscreants. (I might add that he wasn't allowed to live that down very easily among his fellow compatriots for quite some time)!
Guard duties were on average two per week, so I was now pretty conversant with the procedures, also the many different sentries orders for each of the various guard posts around the Palaces. One such order, among the many, at the front of Buckingham Palace was to keep prostitutes away from the railings, a task the Police on the gates, knowing the ones that come to ploy their trade, would soon sort out, also the onlookers obstructing your beat whereby a sharp tap on the ankles from a size 11 was the same interpretation in any language!
I was now entitled to a well earned rest, which was granted in the form of 10 days furlough where on arrival home after the customary greetings, the next question invariably would be, 'When do you go back'? This was the last thing you wish to be reminded of.
When it was time to return, I fortunately met another Grenadier Guardsman from my battalion at the railway station, who, although from a different Company we knew each other by sight. He spoke in an educated Oxford accent, smartly dressed in civilian clothes, bowler hat, brigade tie and carried a neatly rolled umbrella. On entering the carriage he rang the service bell and ordered a couple of whiskies which helped to dispel the gloom of departure. He then told me that he had already received 7 days C.B. for impersonating an officer. Apparently he, in his mode of dress, on returning one evening to Barracks was saluted by the sentry believing him to be an officer, and he in response acknowledged it by raising his hat (the normal response from an officer). This didn't go unnoticed by the Sergeant of the Guard, who didn't approve, neither did the Commanding officer. When we were nearing the barrack gate on return, he put the umbrella down his trouser leg and walked into the guardroom with a limp claiming that he had hurt himself whilst on leave, his explanation was accepted. Eventually he was to take up a commission in another Regiment and was subsequently killed in action. (Never volunteer etc. etc.)
Each Friday you could guarantee to having two boiled eggs for tea a ritual carried forward from my Depot days and no doubt from many years before. On this particular Friday, the eggs were unduly hard and black on being shelled, this therefore didn't satisfy most of the recipients who began to vent their anger by letting fly with eggs 'Properly Fired'. Before I had time to take cover the door suddenly opened and the Picquet officer plus escort marched in, thus restoring order. The men on being asked in the usual manner, ' Eeney Compleents'? several dared to respond. The Officer with the Master cook now in attendance seemed to agree there was reason to complain whereby no disciplinary action took place. Hereafter eggs were to be boiled on the day of consumption - only joking!. It was also the custom of having Prunes and Custard for Sunday's luncheon Sweet thus ensuring Regimental regularity!.
Now classed as an old soldier on double sentry duties, meant that I would be responsible for giving my sentry partner the regulatory signals for saluting and patrolling when called for on Palace guards etc. On one such occasion outside Buckingham Palace, at approx. 5am, therefore very light traffic and few pedestrians and no Police on the gates, along came a troop of 'Westminster Cowboys', these were Westminster refuse collectors, so called because they wore wide brimmed hats with the side brim turned up. They were no doubt reporting for work and as they drew level on their horse drawn carts, I signalled to my partner, with the regulatory three taps on the pavement with the butt of my rifle and we gave them the 'Present Arms', you should have seen their faces as they looked about in anticipation of seeing a member of the Royal family entering, you had to be very careful though, you never knew who might be watching.
Most complaints came from old retired officers who would walk past in civilian clothes for the sole purpose of getting a salute, so any civilian wearing a dark suit, bowler hat and carrying a neatly rolled umbrella, you took no chances and would salute giving them the benefit of the doubt. On another occasion a Troop of Household Cavalry were passing by on their way to Horse Guards Parade and I naturally Presented arms, they in response gave the customary eyes right and sounded the Royal salute on the trumpet, I was waiting for the officer to give the eyes front, he in turn was waiting for me to come down from the Present, eventually, as they got further and further away, I thought I had better do something, even if it meant waving goodbye, so I came down from the Present and he then gave eyes front, plus no doubt a few other chosen words, he being in the right. I was expecting to hear a complaint about this on returning to the Guardroom but it was not reported, misdemeanours committed on public duties warranted double punishment.
Later in the week one of my postings was at the rear of the Palace and before doing so the W/O of the guard, stated, 'He didn't want reports of 18ft guardsmen patrolling along by the perimeter wall'. Apparently this phenomenon was reported by a civilian in the street outside about a previous guard, where it was surmised a Guardsman had placed his Bearskin onto his bayonet on the end of his rifle and paraded it along the top of the wall.
For posterity I had better relate a rather amusing incident of Royal character whilst I was on that sentry. My post was near the stone steps leading down to the lawn. I heard children laughing and chasing each other, whence one of them a young girl of about 7 or 8yrs of age ran down the steps onto the gravel path of my beat. On recognising her to be Princess Margaret I Presented arms, she ran back up the steps to her sister giggling, no doubt bemused by the reception, repeated the performance.
whereupon I again Presented arms. I assumed she was about to do it again when I heard a male voice, whom I imagined was a member of the staff , usher them inside.
I heard of a not so Royal incident which occurred on Buck; Guard by a Guardsman Cosbab from our No2 Coy. Apparently during a very humid night, he had left his post and was discovered by the night patrol cooling off his feet in the water of the Victoria Memorial opposite, knowing him and his previous antics, I quite believe it. Although very likeable he was a proper Jekyll & Hyde character with a unpredictable devil may care attitude.
The lining of the street was part of our itinerary, which took place for the reception of His Majesty the King of the Belgians, Prince Michael of Romania, the openings of Parliament etc. etc. On one of these occasions because of the inclement weather, order was given to don capes. It was then revealed how the old sweats managed to square up their capes so precisely, when parts of cigarette packets etc. fluttered suspiciously to the ground. Another wheeze I was to learn was that the back tunic buttons were a tourist souvenir attraction, so it was wise not only to sew them on, but to thread a tape through the back of the buttons to help prevent this activity.
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