'A guardsman's life is terrible hard'
Stars and Stripes October 28, 1959
They're changing guard at Buckingham Palace — Christopher Robin went down with Alice. Alice is marrying one of the guard. A soldier's life is terrible hard ...— A. A. Milne
"THEY'RE CHANGING GUARD at Buckingham Palace. ..." As a matter of fact, they've done something far more drastic: They've put the super elite units of the British Army behind bars.
The bars are the railings of Buckingham Palace. They've put the guardsmen behind the railings to keep the tourists from tormenting them.
"It's about time," one young guardsman rejoiced. "We've had enough of that lot. They'd stick pins in you, some of them."
The older guards say the move is a pity — tradition and all that. Not that they enjoyed being constantly provoked by gawkers against whom they could not move a muscle or bat an eyelash.
Except for a recent minor hero who gave a pestering American tourist something to remember him by.
It's still unsettled whether the woman received a kick, bump or a trip. Whatever it was, Britons agreed that the woman needed a good, swift whatever it was.
The tormentors stopped at nothing. They placed banana peels along the patrol path. Untied the guards' shoe laces. Ava Gardner snuggled up to one for a photographer.
Two bikini-clad girls made faces at them one midnight not long ago.
"I don't mind people taking photos," said Guardsman Ronald Tibbetts, of the 1st Bn, Coldstream Guards. "What bothers me are the people who try to take the mickey out of you. Some march up and down with us and others pull our bearskins. Some people put fag ends down the rifle butts. Some stick oranges on the end of the bayonet. And the worst of the lot are the Teddy Boys.
"Women sometimes come up and try to hold hands. Lots of women slip things into our pocket when we're wearing greatcoats. Things like addresses and telephone numbers."
These guardsmen are no toy soldiers. Throughout British history no units have been more consistently heroic on the battlefield. Their ranks are filled with peers and aristocrats, and in just about every case they come from Eton or Harrow and Cambridge or Oxford. The royal family know many of them by name and mingle with them socially.
No matter what mischief the public concocts, the guardians of the monarch are expected to "patrol in a smart and soldierlike manner; not converse with any civilian except on business and then as briefly as possible and without movement; prevent any kind of nuisance in the vicinity; assist the civil police if called upon; not use more force than is necessary to carry out your duty; not stand easy, sit down, lie down, sleep nor smoke during tour of duty."
The guards consist of the Life Guards, who wear scarlet tunics with blue collars and cuffs, and the Royal Horse Guards, blue tunics with scarlet collars and cuffs — the Household Cavalry. The Foot Guards are the Coldstream, the Grenadiers, the Scots, Irish and Welsh.
About 80 percent of the enlisted personnel of the Coldstream Guards — Tibbetts' outfit — are regulars, according to veteran NCOs. The remainder are national servicemen on 2½-year. duty. All are volunteers.
A typical day for 22-year-old Tibbetts — gross pay $6.60 a week — went like this when his battalion spent a month on Queen's Guard:
6:30 a.m. — Reveille at Chelsea Barracks, about two miles from Buckingham Palace. Wash, tidy bed, clean barracks area.
7 — Breakfast, usually cornflakes, beans, eggs, fried bread, tea or coffee.
7:30 — Clean barracks.
8 — Roll call in square; denim uniform.
8:15 — Pack kit that will be trucked to guardroom at St. James Palace, his sentry assignment for the day. Kit includes blankets, pillow, tobacco, shaving and wash items, reading matter.
8:45 — Get into dress uniform of scarlet jacket, blue pants, hobnail boots and bearskin. The bearskin weighs about the same as a garrison cap. The uniform has been readied the previous evening on Tibbetts' own time.
8.55 — Fall out for parade on the square.
9:15 — Inspection by adjutant and regimental sergeant major. After inspection, the guards stand easy while a band plays incidental music.
10:10 — March to Buckingham Palace.
(between Oct. 1 and March 31 the Queen's Guard is usually changed daily — at Buckingham Palace when the court is in London and at St. James when the court Is out of London. On Saturdays or Sundays during this period the ceremony takes place at St. James.)
(Between April 1 and Sept. 1, the ceremony takes place at Buckingham :Palace whether the queen is in residence or not.)
10:30 — The new guard, headed by a band, arrives at the palace to find the old guard drawn up in the forecourt.
Abort 50 guardsmen are assigned to sentry duty at Buckingham Palace and St. James.
Eight are on duty when the queen is in residence, and four or five when she is not.
Following the return of the relieved sentries, the old guard marches out of forecourt by the main gate to the music of its regimental slow march, changing to a quick march in the road outside.
After the departure of the old guard, part of. the new guard marches off to St. James, headed by a drum-and-fife band or pipe band.
The ceremony when held at St. James is similar, but the Buckingham Palace detachment does not take part.
Why the guard changing at St. James?
It's still the official royal residence — all ambassadors are accredited to "the Court of St James's."
The captain of the guard has his headquarters there and, in addition to guarding the palace, sentries are also posted at the adjoining buildings of Clarence House, the residence of the queen mother and Princess Margaret.
11:15 — The St. James detachment arrives and Tibbetts is posted at sentry box No. 1.
12:30 pm — Relieved for lunch.
4 pm — Sentry duty again.
His schedule during the 24-hour guard mount will be two hours of sentry duty .and four hours off-duty.
The sentries' synchronized movements are determined by rifle-butt taps of the senior soldier at each post. One tap means patrol; two, salute; and three, present arms. To stop patrolling, the senior soldier extends the index finger of his left hand:
When the elite guardsmen are a off-duty in the guardroom, they don't look over elegant. They lounge about just like soldiers anywhere.
A guardsman never really gets away from spic and span: even his civilian attire is checked by officers. He doesn't go off the station if his ensemble is not up to guards' standard.
Among the requirements are plain shoes and trouser bottoms not too narrow.
The guards offer no soft berth for a soldier, but compensations include the satisfaction that, in the Kipling phrase, the Guards are "the pick of the Army."