River Wissey Lovell Fuller

The Household cavalary - another view

October 2009

Keith is able to provide more detailed information on the Household Cavalry following April's item in the last issue

Dear Sir,

I wish to refer to the contribution by April Lister in the September 2009 issue of the Pump. Firstly, fabulous to have a 'Teenage tangent' on life in our villages and more power to April's elbow.

However, there must have been a few more readers than just I who felt the need to put right some misconceptions that she has about the Household Cavalry. There is little interest in military history and traditions nowadays. This may be a little saddening for those steeped in it, but it is nonetheless a healthy reflection of a society which is not, as Victorian society was, fixated on military adventures and successes everywhere in the world, but sees wars as awful and to be avoided. This does need to be said so that all that follows is in a proper context.

Given that, I am taking it upon myself to correct a couple of April's comments and do so in the hope that she won't take umbrage - this is meant to be helpful and even vaguely educational. It is also not meant to upset those who may know a deal more than I do and will see the inaccuracies and infelicities that I am going to be guilty of.

Yes, the Household Cavalry is divided into two regiments. Even in the black and white pictures accompanying April's article, it is possible to see two distinctly different uniforms. The dark - in fact blue, uniform with the dark, in fact red, horsehair plumes from the helmets is worn by the Royal Horse Guards (in which both my grandfather and father served). The lighter, in fact red, uniform with the lighter, in fact white, plumes is worn by the Life Guards. However, both regiments have identical duties. Both perform ceremonial duties around the monarch. Both serve in the front line in armoured vehicles.

I am not sure where the idea that they are 'the eyes and ears' of the army come from. They are front line soldiers, just like other armoured units.

When I can, in June I watch the annual Trooping the Colour on Horseguards' Parade on TV. As a boy, living only a couple of miles away in the middle of London, I used to go to watch the Trooping every year, with only a small area of reserved seats and relatively few tourists, so Londoners could see what was going on for free. When, later, I used to watch it on TV, some decades ago, the commentators were very knowledgeable about the military traditions involved and you could rely on a wealth of unimportant but fascinating minutiae of traditions to emerge. Now they spend much of the time linking up with front line troops in Afghanistan and all sorts of other extraneous stuff - Yes, I know this shows why we have an army at all and that the Technicolour bit is not actually very important, but if that really is the case lets stop doing it and showing it on TV at all. If it is worth continuing, then it is ONLY because it does remind us of the history and the traditions. We most of us do actually know that there are boys and girls dying for us in Afghanistan and we should and can see News and Documentaries about it. But when we watch a Hornblower film about the Navy in the Napoleonic wars, they don't interrupt it to show us excerpts of Warship (a TV fly on the wall documentary about the modern Navy).

The commentators now do not tell us about how many buttons are grouped together to let you tell easily which Regiment of Guards you are looking at, which regiment wears its cockade on the other side of the bearskin to the rest - and why. Three or four years ago, I even heard the ultimate sin of a commentator referring to the Guardsmen's busbies, instead of bearskins - write to me if you don't know the difference, but please don't if you really do not care at all (I won't be at all offended). Why do they now seem never to do a close up of the two Horseguards wearing neither red nor blue uniform and explain who they are - they are always there! They rarely close in on the four guardsmen at the corners of the Colour Guard, who do not present arms to the Colour when the Guard as a whole does - they turn to look outwards and port arms. Have they in recent years explained what is going on there? Maybe I have missed it.

Sorry April - you have been the unwitting cause of me getting a little uptight about the way we easily forget our traditions, which are interesting, even though they are rightly made unimportant amid the truly significant aspects of our lives. I am really pleased you were so interested and I hope I may have whetted your appetite to look a little deeper, but don't feel remotely compelled to take any notice of old grumps like me.

Yours sincerely,

Keith MacLeod

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