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The Queen's Life Guard
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The Queen's Life Guard

A historic role.

The Queen's Life Guard is the name given to guard duty performed by The Household Cavalry at Horse Guards. It dates from 1660 when The Life Guards mounted a permanent guard at the entrance to Whitehall Palace.

Responsibility for mounting the guard alternates daily between The Life Guards and The Blues and Royals. An inspection in Hyde Park Barracks decides which 'relief' a soldier will do: the smartest will carry out his duty on his horse and the least well turned out will do longer duties on foot. The guard then rides to Horse Guards via Hyde Park Corner, Constitution Hill and The Mall.

The Queen's Life Guard

The Old Guard leaves Horse Guards Parade.

The ceremony of changing the Queen's Life Guard starts at 11 am with the Old Guard formed up on Horse Guards Parade. As the New Guard arrives, a trumpeter sounds a royal salute and the officer salutes. The New Guard forms up facing the old one. Once both lines are still, the corporal major, senior non-commissioned officer and sentries of the New Guard (the first relief) rein back their horses and leave for the guard room to take over their duty, which lasts for 24 hours. The sentries from the Old Guard return to the parade ground and the entire Old Guard returns to barracks.

The Queen's Life Guard

Last-minute adjustment before the 4 o'clock inspection.

When the monarch is in London, there is a 'long guard' consisting of an officer, a corporal major (who carries the standard), two non-commissioned officers, a trumpeter and ten troopers. When the monarch is away, the guard is reduced to two non-commissioned officers and ten troopers and is known as a 'short guard'. The two mounted sentries are known as 'boxmen' because of their large sentry boxes. The boxmen change every hour and are on duty between 10 am and 4 pm. The horses are on guard for relatively short periods so that there is time for them to be groomed, watered and fed.

The Queen's Life Guard

The Queen's Life Guard

The Old and New Guard form up facing each other on Horse Guards Parade.

Two dismounted sentries, 'the sentry over the arms' (formerly protecting the weapons) and 'the sentry under the arch', are on duty until the gates are shut at 8 pm. Their duties include allowing only those vehicles to pass under Horse Guards arch whose occupants hold an 'ivory pass'. Introduced in 1775, they were considered a sign of particular royal favour. Even today, entry is restricted to government ministers and members of the Royal Family.

The Queen's Life Guard

Preparing for the Guard change.

At 4 pm every day there is a short parade in the yard, the 'four o'clock inspection' when the duty officer inspects the Guard to ensure that they are well turned out and on duty, a tradition stretching back to Victorian times.

The Queen's Life Guard

During the Second World War, the King's Life Guard continued, but in khaki uniforms and dismounted. In 1945, horses were reintroduced. Ceremonial uniform returned in 1947 on the occasion of the wedding of Princess Elizabeth (now HM The Queen) and the Duke of Edinburgh.

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