Every year, on a Saturday in June, The Queen’s Official Birthday is celebrated in a ceremony of pageantry and music called The Queen’s Birthday Parade or more commonly known as ‘Trooping the Colour’.
The ceremony is an ancient Military custom in which a regiment would troop its respective colour (flag) around its troops so that in the confusion of battle, the troops would remember the flag’s markings to rally around in battle.
Nowadays, it is used every year as a way for troops of the Household Division (the 5 regiments of footguards who are both active servicemen and act as Guards at The Queen’s residences) to honour the sovereign. This year, on 15th June, the troops of the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards have the singular honour of trooping their colour.
The Royal Colonels
Each of the 5 regiments of footguards (with one exception) has as its Colonel, a member of the Royal Family. They’re listed and pictured below.
HRH The Duke of Edinburgh Colonel Grenadier Guards
Lt Gen James Bucknall (non-royal) Colonel Coldstream Guards
HRH The Duke of Kent Colonel Scots Guards
HRH The Duke of Cambridge Colonel Irish Guards
HRH The Prince of Wales Colonel Welsh Guards
Four of the five colonels are expected to be on parade this year. Even though the Irish Guards are not present at the troop this year (except the Band of the Irish Guards in the massed band), Prince William will still ride on parade as Colonel Irish Guards.
The 4 colonels will be placed next to the saluting base where Her Majesty The Queen will sit.
Other members of the Royal Family, including Prince Harry, Prince Andrew, Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie and the Duchess of Cambridge will watch the parade from the Duke of Wellington’s old office.
The Duke of Edinburgh will now not attend this year’s trooping due to being admitted to hospital.
Elements of The Parade
This handy infographic we’ve produced points out the key areas of the parade.
The Massed bands are the musicians on parade. During the troop, this ‘massed band’ made up of musicians from bands of the 5 regiments of footguards will provide music.
The Escort for the Colour (later Escort to the Colour) will be the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards who will troop their colour in front of The Queen. They’re also referred to as Number 1 Guard.
The Saluting Base is where the troops pass and it’s where Her Majesty and the Duke of Edinburgh are sat.
The 4 mounted colonels (3 royal, 1 non-royal) are on parade here, just next to Her Majesty.
The Duke of Wellington’s old office is where the Royal Family members not on parade will watch the troop.
This is where the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery, Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment and Blues and Royals will stay whilst on parade, before the rank past.
This is where the colour party stand before the colour is handed over to the Escort to the Colour.
Schedule of Parade
The composition and movement of the parade is very easy and actually very logical. Here is a simple step-by-step guide to the parade.
The footguards arrive on the parade before 11am.
At precisely 11am, the Royal Family have arrived and as the clock chimes 11, Her Majesty steps out onto the saluting base for the national anthem.
Her Majesty then returns to her carriage to inspect the troops before returning to the saluting base.
The Massed Bands then perform a slow march to the tune ‘Les Huguenots’.
The Massed Bands then perform a quick march, which is different every year.
The drummer who marched away from the band during the quick march now plays the Drummer’s Call – which is a signal for officers in the Escort for the Colour to take post before preparing to march.
The Escort for the Colour then performs ‘dressing’ (where it makes sure it is in a straight line).
The Escort for the Colour then marches forward to the tune ‘British Grenadiers’ (played every year, regardless of which regiment is trooping).
The colour is then presented to the Escort for the Colour (which then becomes the Escort to the Colour) who present arms.
The colour is then slow marched through the troops, initially to the tune ‘Escort to the Colour’ and when the escort reaches the guards, they present arms and the tune ‘The Grenadiers’ Return’ (sometimes known as ‘The Grenadiers’ Slow March’) is played.
After the escort has trooped, it returns to its original position, this time with its colour.
The guards (all on parade) then prepare to march past The Queen in slow time.
The guards march past The Queen with their regimental slow marches played as they cross the saluting base.
The guards then break into Quick Time to march past Her Majesty again. This time, the respective regiments’ quick marches are played.
The guards then return to their positions on the parade ground and the cavalry and King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery then ride past to their regimental tunes.
They then move off to places outside Buckingham Palace and the King’s Troop head off to green park to prepare to fire a gun salute.
The ‘Field Office in Brigade Waiting’ (who commands the parade) asks for The Queen’s permission for the troops to leave the parade ground, saying, “Your Majesty’s guards are ready to march off Ma’am”.
The guards then leave the parade ground with Her Majesty behind and the Royal Colonels to return to Buckingham Palace where one more rank past will be performed.
The Royal Family then head inside the Palace where the extended Royal Family appear on the balcony for the RAF fly past.
The parade then concludes.
Here is a list of fun facts about the traditions which accompany this magnificent parade.
It was Edward VII who first decreed that he would celebrate his birthday in June as his birth month, November, didn’t offer favourable weather. To this day, the UK still honours The Queen’s birthday in June, even though she was born in April.
Prince William wore his uniform as Colonel of the Irish Guards to his wedding in 2011. The only changes to the uniform were that he wore a forage cap instead of bearskin cap and didn’t wear a sword as he was going into a place of worship.
The guards traditionally wear their red tunics and bearskin caps on parade. The bearskin caps were taken when the British defeated the French at the Battle of Waterloo from the French Imperial Guard and have been worn by the Grenadier Guards since then (later expanding to the whole household division for uniformity).
The guards on parade are real soldiers who have fought on the front lines, but part of their duties are ceremonial. The medals you see on their tunics are real and the colour (flag) they carry has real battle honours the regiment has achieved on it.
You can tell the 5 regiments of footguards apart by looking at the plume in their bearskin caps. The Grenadier Guards have white plumes on the left, Coldstream have red plumes on the right, Scots Guards have no plume, Irish Guards have a blue plume on the right and the Welsh Guards have a white-green-white plume on the left.
The tune ‘British Grenadiers’ is always played for the Escort for the Colour as traditionally the right flank company was always a Grenadier company.
The Queen will be attending her 60th parade as Queen this year. The Queen has never missed a parade and it has only been cancelled once in 1955 due to a strike.
The Guards’ job never ends. The reward for the guards on parade for several hours is getting to mount guard at Buckingham Palace, St James’s Palace and Clarence House straight afterwards with guards standing at their posts for 2 hours at a time.
The officer who carries the colour for the Escort is called the ensign. He is presented the colour by the colour party who are the other side of the parade ground. This consists of a Colour Sergeant and two sentries who guard the colour on the parade ground until the Ensign comes to collect it.
The Mall is also lined by what are known as ‘footguards half companies’ who are responsible, alongside police for protecting the processional route and the Royal Family as they travel up it and back.
During ‘British Grenadiers’ as the Escort for the Colour go to collect the colour, the Massed Band face a difficult situation. They have to change direction but because of the guards marching forward, they have limited space to do so. In order to do this, they do something extremely difficult and confusing called a ‘spinwheel’ which is something not written in any drill manual and is something that’s passed from one generation of bandsmen to another.