Royal Wedding Duty-Not for the faint hearted


“You have to faint to attention… It will probably involve a broken nose and a whole lot of missing teeth.”  Major Dai Bevan, Leader of the Welsh Guards   Royal Wedding Guard of Honour*

The 101-strong Guard of Honour from the Welsh Guards, thankfully not all playing the trombone, have been instructed to think of England during their four hour stint on duty at next week’s royal wedding and, if necessary, to faint forwards while remaining stiffly at attention.

This is not sauce for the gander,  being contrary to the old fashioned imperial advice to new military wives to faint backwards, whether on bearskin rugs or not,  although the injunction to think of Albion was the same (see classic Enfield video below.)*

Their orders are clear for those Guards who find the heat is really on but can’t get out of the kitchen. There is to be no sideways shuffle or putting a hand down to facilitate a gentle descent. Overheated soldiers are to topple forward face first while still holding their bayonet-equipped rifles.It is not revealed whether  they also have to self-administer hari-kari as they fall but it seems that special opprobrium is  reserved for anyone who falls over on his back.

In the meantime the Welsh Guards are being groomed as fastidiously as the royal bridegroom. 390 Guards have already been issued with new boots and told to spend three days buffing and polishing them with wax and several tins of polish. Not so much putting the boot in as waxing lyrical.

To avoid a bad bear day the night before the wedding their orders are to shower with their bearskins and shampoo them before drying them overnight and grooming them with a fine tooth comb the next morning.

Bearskins as military millinery originated in the 17th Century. The purpose appears to have been to add to the apparent height and impressive appearance of these troops both on the parade ground and the battlefield. They became a little unwieldy for the latter, but great for royal weddings. They have been less in evidence at royal divorces.

Wikipedia declares imperially that the standard bearskin of British Foot Guards is 18 inches tall, weighs 1.5 pounds and is made from the fur of the Canadian black bear. Apparently an officer’s bearskin is made from the fur of the Canadian brown bear as the female brown bear has thicker, fuller fur, and is dyed black. A whole skin is used for each hat.

On August 3, 1888 The New York Times reported that bearskin caps might be phased out because of a shortage of bear skins. The article stated that, at that time, bearskin hats cost £7–5s each (about 35 contemporary US dollars; £600 in 2007 pounds) and noted “it can readily be seen what a price has to be paid for keeping up a custom which is rather old, it is true, but is practically a useless one save for the purpose of military display..”

More recently animal rights groups have protested against the continued use of real fur for the guards’ hats, alleging that the animals are killed cruelly.

In 1997 Minister for Defence Procurement said that he wanted to see bearskins phased out as soon as possible due to ethical concerns, but no replacement was available at that time. In 2005 the Ministry of Defence began a two-year test of artificial fur for the hats but the old sources of supply remain. They might have it sorted by the sesquicentary of the NYT article in 2038.

Apart from fainting feints, if the pressure on bladders is too much, apparently  the thick wool trousers the Guards wear are dark enough to cover their embarrassment. The entire uniform, which has 11 layers of cloth in the tunic, is designed not to show sweat patches and other signs of personal irrigation.

Of course, the Welsh should be good at fixing any leeks. If not, perhaps this is a good market opportunity for Icebreaker’s Merino products. My wife reminds me that my wool-lined cycle shorts will serve as geriatricware in years to come.

Major Bevan’s advice is: “You shouldn’t faint if you stay alert and keep concentrating. I do equations.” He doesn’t enlighten us, but presumably these are Equations for a falling body*. Under normal earth-bound conditions, when objects move owing to a constant gravitational force a set of dynamical equations describe the resultant trajectories. As an example, Newton’s Law Of Universal Gravitation simplifies to F = mg, where m is the mass of the body.

This assumption is reasonable for objects falling to earth over the relatively short vertical distances of our everyday experience, but is very much out of whack over larger distances, such as spacecraft trajectories. Okay for horizontally inclined Welsh Guards but not much good for Russian cosmonauts like pioneer Yuri Gagarin 50 years ago last week.

The Army’s fearsome chief drill instructor is Sergeant-Major Mott. To Mottivate the troops for the four hour stationary stint he prescribes on the day starters including a five-mile morning run, a good breakfast, plenty of water and a lot of toe-wiggling and calf-tensing to get the blood to flow back to the brain.

A tour of ground duty with the Libyan rebel rabble might look quite attractive by comparison.

*Blinks  Vid   Harry Enfield –The Conjugal Rights Guide   Music Vid– The Smallest Astronaut by the Royal Guardsmen 

  #Lyall Lukey 23 Apr 2011 My other(bit more serious) blog


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