Musicians Mobilise in the Metrocentre

LCpl Damian Dunphy

LCpl Damian Dunphy

Lance Corporal Damian Dunphy is a trombonist with the Heavy Cavalry and Cambrai Band (HC&C Band) based in Catterick. Having served such a length of time in Yorkshire Damian’s roots are well and truly established. He plays for a number of orchestras in the North East in addition to a number of brass bands, he is also the Musical Director of a local brass band and has conducted a number of other bands in the area.

The threat of a visit to Gateshead’s Metrocentre will invariably either fill your heart with joy or fill it dread, depending on your attitude to shopping and more than probably your gender.  Add to the threat the fact that the visit is in December on a Saturday and you are likely either to jump for joy or tremble in trepidation with the thoughts of the impending crowds and crushes at the tills. But……

On Saturday 7 December musicians from the Heavy Cavalry and Cambrai Band, the Band of The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers and the Royal Signals (Northern) Band were tasked to visit the Metrocentre for something far less mundane than assembling this year’s Christmas presents, this was the Corps of Army Music’s third flashmob event.

For those unfamiliar with the concept the dictionary definition for the term flashmob is as follows: “A group of people mobilized by social media to meet in a public place for the purpose of doing an unusual or entertaining activity of short duration”

Okay, granted you cannot assemble 60 musicians spontaneously via social media, indeed the events take a great deal of choreographing, but the result has the appearance of spontaneity about it.

Festive mob

Festive mob


The sixty musicians, regular and reserve, met for the first time at 8am on the morning of the event. Any thoughts of grabbing a bacon butty were quickly put aside as it became clear that time was to be a bit of an issue, with the mall opening to the public at 9am. The Director of Music and Drum Major met with the film director to discuss camera angles, choreography and the overall look of the film, whilst the Band found their positions on the floor.

Drum Major Smith heads up the performance

Drum Major Smith heads up the performance

The overall shape of the Band once assembled was to be that of a Christmas tree and the best way to rehearse creating formations like this is to work backwards from the finish position.  To that end musicians were herded into position, given a marker and in some cases tape-markings were placed on the floor.

The show was to start with a soprano saxophone ‘busker’ being joined by a brass ensemble and then musicians were to emerge from various parts of the mall in an apparently random fashion before forming our Christmas tree shaped marching band.

After half an hour or so a crowd of curious and bemused Metrocentre workers had gathered to see what all the commotion was about, their elated reaction to the first run through verified that we had chosen a popular programme for the event!

The massed bands then returned to the St George’s Army Reserve Centre, in Newcastle, for a musical rehearsal and some well earned pastry based confectionery, courtesy of the Band of The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers.

Performance time

The performance was scheduled for peak shopping time (1pm) in an atrium in the mall. Musicians gathered together in various service bays and fire escapes out of sight of the crowds waiting for their musical cue, which was to be Lance Corporal  Andy Lightfoot on soprano saxophone playing the introduction of ‘A Winter’s Tale’.

For the occasion Lance Corporal Lightfoot was dressed as an Elf, and prior to the flashmob he was to be busking next to a Christmas tree.  Nobody had quite expected him to look so adorable, and combined with his excellent busking skills, the public were donating money quite quickly, which caught him somewhat by surprise, he hadn’t planned for that element of the event. The money will be donated to Help for Heroes the next time the Heavy Cavalry and Cambrai Band perform for the Pheonix House Recovery Centre in Catterick Garrison, North Yorkshire.

With the predictability of the rising sun the cleaners had removed the tape markings from the floor and the fact that the mall was now full of people made finding visual references a tad more difficult. It all went as planned though, and the sight of military musicians playing whilst descending an escalator will no doubt live in people’s memories for a long time.

Cpl Brown meets surprised children.

Cpl Brown meets surprised children.


The Band performed ‘A Winter’s Tale’ and ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town’ both from Ian McElligot’s excellent selection simply entitled “Christmas”, to a warm and appreciative audience.  The feeling from the ‘shop floor’ was that this crowd really enjoyed the performance.

The Band left the atrium to Rodney Bashford’s march Wassail and the music and the performers disappeared as swiftly as they had arrived. They say it’s always good to leave the audience wanting more and that was definitely the case with this performance.

Following the flashmob on Saturday the Heavy Cavalry and Cambrai Band stopped at the Metrocentre to entertain the crowds with some more music.  Whilst we performed to the public, the Army Media Team were editing the video ready for distribution.  By the time the bands had got changed and boarded the transport for home the video was already online and had already generated thousands of hits both on Facebook and YouTube. By the time the bus arrived back at Catterick the event had been shown on the local news.

Good news does indeed travel fast.

Lastly we would like to wish you all a Merry Christmas from all members of the Corps of Army Music and Army Reserve Bands.

Watch the action unfold in this video of the event: 

Visit The Corps of Army Music and learn about its role within the British Army

University challenge leads to Remembrance time

LCpl Damian Dunphy

LCpl Damian Dunphy

Lance Corporal Damian Dunphy is a trombonist with the Heavy Cavalry and Cambrai Band (HC&C Band) based in Catterick, North Yorkshire. Prior to joining the HC&C Band on its formation in 2006 he was a member of the King’s Division Waterloo Band, and prior to that the Regimental Band of the Green Howards.

Having served such a length of time in Yorkshire Damian’s roots are well and truly established. He plays for a number of orchestras in the North East in addition to a number of brass bands, he is also the Musical Director of a local brass band and has conducted a number of other bands in the area.

University challenge

The Band has recently been fostering links with music departments in local universities in order to demonstrate the capabilities of the Corps of Army Music and to assist the music students with workshops. We have been giving lunchtime recitals in Durham Cathedral, York St John University and we have further events with Newcastle University coming up.

The Band at York St John University

The Band at York St John University

The lunchtime recital in Durham Cathedral delighted of audiences young and old, many of whom relished the chance to enjoy a free concert just as they happened to be visiting the Cathedral. A varied programme ranging from Reed’s Festive Overture through to John William’s Star Wars via some varied and stylish repertoire including a fantastic contemplative arrangement of John Lennon’s Imagine ensured the audience enjoyed the event.

The Band set up for a lunchtime recital at Durham Cathedral

The Band setting up for a lunchtime recital at Durham Cathedral

The performance at York St John drew a capacity crowd of students. The academic staff remarked admirably on the standard of the Band and how thrilled they were to have such a partnership in place. The concert band performance was followed by a careers presentation and a ten-piece brass ensemble demonstration with an hour-long workshop. It was educating and entertaining at the same time.

At Newcastle University the students provided their own compositions for the Band, who performed them whilst the Bandmaster provided a workshop on composing and arranging for a military band. The experience was clearly quite new for the students who seem generally to have had more experience composing and arranging for orchestral ensembles.

The response from the students from all three universities has already proved to be highly positive with projects planned to link in directly with academic studies.  Indeed, in the spring, we will be working with composers and conductors from Newcastle University to select students for performance in front of their peers, very exciting for all involved.

Remembrance Time

Birmingham Remembrance Day

Birmingham Remembrance Day

As ever at this time of year the band have been involved with a number of Remembrance events, including a series of concerts arranged in aid of both ABF The Soldiers’ Charity and the Royal British Legion. The concerts have been narrated by Alisdair Hutton, the voice of the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, featured vocal soloists, choirs (including the original WAGS Choir, Catterick Garrison), standard bearers, cadets and pipers.  The culmination of the concerts was on Saturday 1oth November with a spectacular Festival of Remembrance held in the magnificent splendour of Durham Cathedral.  As the last post sounded and the piper played a lament thousands of poppies fell on the Band as the assembled audience and cast sat in dignified silence to honour the fallen.

Birmingham Remembrance Day

Birmingham Remembrance Day

Bright and early the following morning the Band were en route to Birmingham to take part in the city’s Remembrance parade.  This is something of a diary change for the band who normally take part in the parade in nearby York. When we arrived we found that we were to be sharing the musical workload with a local Salvation Army Band and a band from the local Fire and Rescue Services, which gave the band a brief chance to appreciate the musical efforts of others amidst the bright sunshine of this crisp November morning.

The Band in Barnsley

The Band in Barnsley


Tuesday 13th saw the band travel to Barnsley in South Yorkshire to perform in support of The Light Dragoons who were welcomed to the city following their recent deployment to Afghanistan.  A warm Yorkshire welcome was afforded to the Regiment as the temperature of the Band was lifted somewhat negotiating the steep terrain!

With our feet back in our very own North Yorkshire on Wednesday 15th November, the Band took part in the Royal Gun Salute in York to celebrate the birthday of HRH The Prince of Wales.  There are six such salutes every year and the Heavy Cavalry and Cambrai Band generally perform at them all whilst in station.

As I write, and with no let up in tempo, we are travelling on a very full bus to Cambrai, France, where we will be participating in a number of remembrance events with The Royal Tank Regiment, one of our affiliated Regiments.

Historical steps: Sandhurst and speed marching

LCpl Damian Dunphy

LCpl Damian Dunphy

Lance Corporal Damian Dunphy is a trombonist with the Heavy Cavalry and Cambrai Band (HC&C Band) based in Catterick, North Yorkshire. Prior to joining the HC&C Band on its formation in 2006 he was a member of the King’s Division Waterloo Band, and prior to that the Regimental Band of the Green Howards.

Relocaton, relocation

The Band have recently been relocated from our native North Yorkshire down to the sunny Surrey, where we have been employed as the residential Band for the Royal Military Academy (RMA) Sandhurst.  In years gone by the Academy had its own resident band known as the RMAS Band Corps.  The Band Corps was disbanded in 1984 as part of a strategic defence review which also saw many of the Army’s then Regimental Bands reduced in size from 35 to 21 performers.  Since 1984 the resident band position at Sandhurst has been rotated amongst the bands of the Army and since 1994 the Bands of the Corps of Army Music have undertaken the task in rotation.

RMA Sandhurst is where all British Army officers are trained prior to taking up commissions within their relevant arms and Corps.  The camp comprises a number of buildings prized for their architectural beauty and the whole place has an air of history about it which give the place something of a timeless quality.

Sandhurst Old College

Sandhurst Old College

The duties of any musician as part of a residential band at Sandhurst are to support the officer cadets, both on parade and at dinner nights and social functions, all of which are imperative to provide a  grounding for the future officers of the British Army.  Your author’s first visit to Sandhurst was in 1993 when Bands served a full term (three and a half months) on each visit.  In those days the British Army had 69 Bands and could easily provide the manpower for such deployments.  As times have progressed the  deployment of the Bands of the Corps of Army Music has changed somewhat, with Bands covering shorter spells on a more frequent basis.

Tradition still going strong

The Heavy Cavalry and Cambrai Band have been the resident Band at Sandhurst just once before.  On that occasion in 2006 the Band was newly formed and served a seven week term at RMAS.  The seven week tour was at the end of term and the Band had the honour to perform at the Sovereign’s Parade for the graduation of Prince William, an event which gave both RMAS and the Band global media coverage.

Anyway, with our feet on the ground the Band arrived on Sunday to unload our associated freight into the “Sullivan” Band block at RMAS.  In times gone by the resident Band have spent many hours travelling between accommodation, practice facilities and messes. Fortunately these days all three are very close so unloading the equipment was a relatively simple task.  Having allocated the relevant storage spaces to the relevant departments the Band met on Monday morning for a full band rehearsal.  On this occasion the band had to organise after dinner events for the various officer’s mess engagements on the immediate calendar.  A quick look at the schedule revealed that we had a number of forthcoming dinner nights, which invariably comprise a quintet performance through the dinner followed by after dinner entertainment provided by a small marching Band with the odd cabaret item thrown in.

Prior to the creation of Regimental Military Bands the officers of a Regiment would club together to employ civilian musicians, normally around eight in number; their primary task would be to entertain the officers before, during and after dinner.  Nearly 200 years further down the line the tradition is still going strong, Bands of the Corps of Army Music still regularly perform for dinner nights in messes all across the Forces world. Whilst the after dinner music is often a matter of the personal taste of the Director of Music, the formula is probably not.  The Band march into a dimly lit room and deafen a number of unsuspecting guests in a grand twist on the Victorian concept of ‘parlour music’!

The Band normally then find an area of the room, often the darkest area to add to the complexity of producing the music, and perform a number of solo items for the utterly startled, and hopefully delighted dinner guests.  Such displays of pageantry often find favour with more relaxed and lubricated audiences; however in the stoic atmosphere of a Sandhurst dinner night it is sometimes clear that the officer cadets are unsure as to how to react.  A trait which invariably disappears upon graduation from Sandhurst!

Whilst on tour the Band also performed for the Commandant’s Sovereign’s Parade music review.  This is the process whereby the music for the end of term Sovereign’s Parade is chosen and it is held in the nearby Woolwich Hall.  There is something of a gladiatorial quality about the process as the Commandant, seated directly in front of the Band gives either the thumbs up or the thumbs down to each piece of music.  Fortunately the Band always have alternative music available so that on the odd occasion that a piece gets the thumbs down a replacement is immediately at hand.

Members of the band training for an AFT

Members of the band training for an AFT

New members

When not employed musically the Band maintained imperative admin tasks and continued training for both PFTs (Personal Fitness Tests) and AFTs (Army Fitness Tests).  For the uninitiated a PFT comprises a fixed number of press ups and sit ups and a 1.5 mile run, to be undertaken within a set time (which varies with age); an AFT is an eight mile speed march (or tab) to be completed carrying weapons and with a weighted Bergen.  Members of the Band completed both in unseasonably warm March weather, needless to say there was a run on foot treatments and blister plasters at the local supermarket during our stop at Sandhurst.

New members

New members

On return from our short tour of Sandhurst the Band were delighted to welcome a number of new members who have been posted from Bands across the Corps of Army Music to bolster our numbers.  We look forward to performing at full strength once more and hope that all new members will be very happy in beautiful North Yorkshire.

From music to military training tests (MATTs)

LCpl Damian Dunphy

LCpl Damian Dunphy

Lance Corporal Damian Dunphy is a trombonist with the Heavy Cavalry and Cambrai Band (HC&C Band) based in Catterick, North Yorkshire. Prior to joining the HC&C Band on its formation in 2006 he was a member of the King’s Division Waterloo Band, and prior to that the Regimental Band of the Green Howards.

Soldiers first

Monday 14 February saw the Band briefly putting away musical instruments and clearing one of our practice rooms for the commencement of 2 weeks’ Military Training Tests (MATTs).  Whilst the Band’s primary concern is musical and the majority of our time is focused upon musical objectives, we are at the end of the day soldiers first and have to complete annual training and tests just as everybody else in the Army has to.

The MATTs training programme generally refreshes skills not often used and sometimes introduces new skills to the unit.  As we entered practise room two on Monday morning the sight of a couple of limp resuscitation dolls were an omen that the day would be spent dealing with issues relating to first aid, in Army speak, Battlefield Combat Drills and Basic Life Support.

The pallid complexion and debilitated demeanour of the lifeless forms in front of us may well have been evidence of a particularly harrowing rehearsal, however, the presence of brand new boots soon confirmed that these were indeed training aids and not overly fatigued musicians.

The day included plenty of opportunities for the musicians to hone their skills, often through practising on each other.  I can confirm that no amount of training can impart the gentle touch that our colleagues in the National Health Service posses; and many of the Band still have the bruises to bear witness!

On Tuesday the Band undertook map reading tuition and associated classroom based exercises.   Despite the complexity of what musicians do on a daily basis magnetic north always seems to cause problems when it comes to map reading, we came to the conclusion that this was because we are generally used to the Drum Major leading the way whilst in ‘the field’!

DMaj A Smith

DMaj A Smith

Diverse package of training

Of course Bands are always in demand and for that reason on Wednesday morning, mid-training, we once more donned our ceremonials to perform in support of a parade at the All Arms Drill Wing, Infantry Training Centre, Catterick, which is something of a frequent event in the Band’s diary.  The parade gave the Band a quick chance to draw breath before Military training resumed that afternoon.

On Thursday a diverse package of training was put together starting with education on health and well-being and moving through equality and diversity training, culminating with training on security and the Geneva Convention.  For the day’s training the tuition was divided up so that many members of the Band were given the opportunity to teach.

As ever Friday was given over to Pass Out Parades at ITC Catterick, this time the Band performed in support of two parades, one of which was the largest for a number of months in terms of numbers of participants.  Fortunately the climate was more akin to a warm April day than the frozen February ones we had recently become accustomed to.

The following Monday the Band donned their CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear) suits for the next phase of MATTs training.  This is an area with which the Band are more familiar as we have in the past undertaken training for our wartime role as CBRN Medical Decontamination Assistants.

This is one instance where familiarity does not breed contempt given the consequences of any error if one is exposed to a CBRN environment.  There are a number of drills to be carried out as part of the test, ranging from simple ones with little exposure to the environment, to the more unpleasant ones whereby the respirator is removed from the face.  Your author had the misfortune to be selected for one of the more potentially unpleasant ones.  However it seems every cloud has a silver lining and in this case a logistics problem beyond the Band’s control meant that the Band were unable to carry out the drills in a CS gas environment.  As you might imagine I breathed a very deep sigh of relief through my respirator!

WO2 Rigdewell, Captain Johnson, Sgt Southorn

WO2 Rigdewell, Captain Johnson, Sgt Southorn

Delicacy of ‘range stew’

Following more Military training, including weapon handling tests, the Band departed early on Friday morning for the firing ranges to take their Annual Personal Weapons Tests.  Range days are seldom conducted in warm weather and this day was no exception.  The Band were somewhat buoyed by the provision of ‘range stew’.  Range stew is a delicacy provided primarily by Military chefs in a large thermos flask, known as a Norwegian.  The contents of the stew are a closely guarded secret and it is widely believed that to give any stew a name might constrain the chef to such an extent as to render its production worthless.  On this occasion the range stew very clearly resembled a curry!  With the weapons tests in the bag and on full stomachs the Band returned weapons to the armoury before retiring for a well-earned weekend off.

With the ‘green kit’ back in our lockers the following week the instrument store re-opened as the Band resumed musical activities, this time in liaison with local musical youths.  A number of local schools’ music departments along with their students were invited to our facilities on Tuesday to participate in an open day.  They were given the chance to hear the Band perform before taking seats within the Band for a morning workshop, followed by a spot of marching band outside.

Young musicians

On Thursday, third year students from Durham University under the direction of Mr Ray Farr visited the Band with a number of symphonic wind band arrangements that  they had prepared as part of their studies.  The day provided an opportunity for the students to directly observe their work in performance and for Mr Farr and the Band to provide the odd critique on their arrangement techniques.

Both days gave the Band an opportunity to communicate with young musicians, some at school potentially considering further musical study and some at the end of their musical study considering opportunities for a musical career.  The Band regularly hold open days and workshops, and members of the Band visit music centres and universities where possible to offer advice on career opportunities.

Anybody between the ages of 17 and 36 considering a career in music can contact the Band on 01748 872278, we will ensure that you are given advice and possibly opportunities to visit a Band near to your location.

The night before the big day

Captain James Hulme of the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment sums up the mood in barracks on the eve of the Royal Wedding.

Final rehearsals

Final rehearsals

Hyde Park Barracks, Knightsbridge, London
Thursday 28 April 2011, 2100hrs 

100 minutes of the hardest imaginable work, that’s pretty much what is left. Well, I never thought it would actually arrive. The Royal Wedding is finally around the corner for the Household Cavalry. I have to be careful not to breathe the sigh of relief yet, the main event is of course yet to take place. But the rehearsals are behind us, the kit is ready, and the horses are getting their final feed before getting some rest. Some lie down, other simply narrow their eyes and slumber.

The atmosphere at the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment tonight is electric. Street parties are heard over the perimeter walls of our barracks, whilst inside you can cut the air with a sword. Anxiousness, excitement, tiredness, relief (prematurely perhaps)… just some of the emotions and feelings that we all now share. And the real challenge is yet to come. The business that we’re in is quite strange I suppose; being soldiers, veterans, trying to tame animals to ride geometrically, whilst wearing some cumbersome kit. It’s not an easy job.

So today started at 0600hrs, the Regimental Watering Order went out to exercise the horses that little bit harder and further. 1hr 30mins of walk and trot around the streets of London. I even took my Troop past the entrance to Westminster Abbey, where tomorrow we shall be parked up, ready to Escort the carriages. I like to think we had that extra bit of swagger today in light of our up-and-coming role

At 1100hrs, I had William, my trusty charger for the last six months, tacked up and ready for his final assessment. Was he ready to ride on the big day? An OK was given by the Regimental Veterinary Officer and an OK also from the Riding Master. I don’t want to ‘set myself up for a fall’, and have done everything possible to ensure he is OK to ride. You might think it is barmy for me to take out a horse that has been rested for the last two weeks, but I think he’ll know what is expected from him.

Well I am glad to say that yes, William will now be wearing the smart shabraque and beard, just two of the accoutrements that mark out an officer’s charger. He will be riding through the world’s cameras tomorrow, I think he’ll do just fine. As for soldiers, they will be as smart and professional as they always are. I went around the kit cleaning rooms tonight. That little bit of extra care is going into their uniforms tonight. Jackboots were the shiniest that I’ve ever seen them, cuirasses and helmets like mirrors. Self-pride has really set in.

Media have been frantically trying to get their final scoops, and my phone’s battery lasted barely an hour with the call overload. I think the final ones that can be accommodated, have now been done and dusted. Now we just have to cope with live footage of the event itself, and only fate will decide the outcome of that one. 2 billion people will be watching apparently.

Hopefully I will be able to get online and tell you all how it went. In the British Army, we love after-action-reviews. Who knows, we might need points for when we do our next Royal Wedding, hopefully in the not too distant future.

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Captain James Hulme

Cornet is so comfortable!

Captain Anton Lin of the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment blogs once more about preparations for the Royal Tattoo.

Captain Anton Lin, and Cornet

Captain Anton Lin, and Cornet

20 April 2011

Under yesterday’s very warm sun was the Major General’s Inspection, which went well.  My division was at the back and I did notice a few fallen helmets from the forward divisions vanish under our horses as we trotted round.  That often happens with so many men and horses operating together and it didn’t mar a very successful parade; sometimes it is people on the floor and that can spoil the layout more.

The trip to France was very useful and has allowed me and the Riding Master to start working on the routine.  Selections for men and horses continue, though with the notable obstacle of Royal Wedding preparations to work around.

Thankfully whilst in ParisI was informed by the French Officers that they have ceremonial commitments right up until they deploy toEngland.  It is reassuring to know they are experiencing a similar routine to us.  Indeed this period of the year, up until the Garter Service in June, is referred to by the men as ‘Silly Season’ for how busy it can become.  Maybe the French soldiers have their own word for it?

Rehearsals for the Royal Wedding are picking up, and instead of being done at Troop or Squadron level we are now practising as a Regiment.  The number of riders required for the day means that we can afford very few horses going lame between now and then, so everyone is taking a lot of care when they ride.

The wedding will provide a good opportunity to see how Cornet, my charger, responds to the loud noises of crowds and bands; if he’s good I might be able to convince the riding Master that he’ll be suitable for the Musical Ride.  It’s not that I mind riding another horse – but Cornet is so comfortable!

8 days to go

Captain James Hulme writes this Maundy Thursday with the latest news of the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment’s preparations for the Royal Wedding, which draws ever-nearer… 

Looking forward to the Royal Wedding

Looking forward to the Royal Wedding

It’s Thursday and the Easter weekend is almost upon us. Or at least it is for the rest of the world – not so for The Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment. What better time to train than in the week leading up to the Royal Wedding. At the moment, every hour counts.

This morning, I set my alarm for 0330hrs. Yes, that’s right, early! So what has been going on for us to incur such an inhospitable start? Well don’t worry, we’re not in trouble, it’s just that preparations are stepping up a pace. And if you thought that that was impossible, it is not. We are definitely in the business of ‘making time’. Soldiers’ eyes look perpetually glazed, and polishing fingers are almost worn down to the bone, but we are constantly reminded that our colleagues on the other side of the Regiment are in Helmand.

Thankfully, Tuesday saw an end to the parades in Hyde Park specifically for the Major General’s Review. That final parade is perhaps the most stringent test we undergo in the calendar. Essentially it is the test to ensure we can go forward to do the real events. The final phase of ‘Major General’s’ incorporated a charge, in review order, towards the Major General himself. It was quite a sight to behold. Thankfully the press were there to record it for posterity. Indeed, last week we were inundated by media types: ABC, ARD, BBC, CBS, CNN, NBC, TF1, RTL etc. All the big names were baying for us to perform behind the camera, for a world audience.

Don’t worry, we remain humble in light of this world interest, because when all is said and done, it might be one of our 18-year old troopers behind the camera, opening up about his arduous lifestyle, and all the hours required to produce excellence in what we do. Thankfully all our soldiers stepped up to the mark when confronted, and were particularly confident. One member of 1 Troop Blues & Royals, Trooper Denton John, is currently breaking hearts across America with his existentialist views of what it means to be a Yank on the Wedding within the Household Cavalry. A future star of military diplomacy, maybe?

So, on to today and that hellishly early start. It was actually our first rehearsal specifically for the Royal Wedding escorts, so perhaps the wake-up was justifiable. At an ungodly hour, we rehearsed with the Royal Mews and their carriages the entire format for the big day. Now some things I will not discuss quite yet. But let me assure you, it felt pretty good being a part of it. In my opinion, the spectacle is what it is because of quantity, and we get it just right. There are enough of us to really add a sense of Majesty.

So Knightsbridge at 0600hrs erupted into life with a display, put on for our own purposes, but hopefully enjoyed by tourists and commuters lucky enough to be waiting for buses at the right time. Who knows how we did, we are yet to be briefed about our performance. Thankfully not a single rider ‘dismounted’, and not a single Life Guard doffed his helmet… to the ground. The poor old Life Guards, they are smart, but rather impractically choose to have their helmets’ chinstraps fastened under their bottom lip. The Blues & Royals position chinstraps… well, under the chin.

The rehearsal ended with members of HQ Squadron’s ‘rent-a-crowd’ vigorously waving flags and bunting, banging drums, shouting and, generally sniggering if any of our horses reacted badly to the distractions. This is known as ‘Sticky Ride’. I am happy to report that our trusty cavalry blacks are getting use to the crowds. I have been reliably informed that riding on a Royal Wedding is something akin to riding through the middle of a rock concert; anyone sane shouldn’t really do it.

And which horse was I riding on, I hear you cry? Well, yet another one I’m afraid. George was my trusty charger today. Young, flighty, but very noble-looking. In fact George didn’t once let me down. Don’t worry, I still go and visit William daily, and still hope that he is fit for the big day.

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Everything at Knightsbridge starts early

In his first blog, Captain Anton Lin writes from Knightsbridge about rehearsals for the Major General’s Inspection, and an upcoming performance at the Royal Tattoo.

Late last night I managed to finish the planning details for the Royal Tattoo, which I sent out to the relevant parties.  I was glad to have this burden removed and it allowed me to concentrate better on this morning’s rehearsals for the Major General’s Inspection.  This is a parade we carry out at the start of the season in order to demonstrate to the Major General that the Household Cavalry is ready to perform its duties to the high standard expected.

Rehearsals are always early – in fact, everything at Knightsbridge starts early. A normal working day starts at 0600hrs for us all so we can have the roads and parks as much to ourselves as possible when we ride.  This morning’s rehearsal was a mix of exercising the horses and walking through the parade to learn the words of command.

Upon returning from riding and breakfast I saw that I had a hundred questions arising from my email last night.  Most of them relate to logistical details concerning the French Garde Republicaine – our mounted counterparts in Paris – who are riding with us at the Royal Tattoo this year.  What time will they take over their accommodation?  Are our vets allowed to treat their horses or will they bring their own vet? And so on.

Luckily I am off to Paris this afternoon to watch them perform and hopefully have some of my own questions answered.  Once I get back I will need a long meeting with our Riding Master to come up with a routine that will best demonstrate the varied skills of our Ride and their mounted band.  Our two groups together will number nearly sixty horses and we have only 14 minutes each night…

23 days to go

In his second blog, Captain James Hulme from the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment details another rehearsal (and an even earlier start to the day!) ahead of the Royal Wedding.

Reveille was at 0430hrs, so an even earlier start to today (6 April). I am now getting slowly more fatigued even though the Royal Wedding is still over three weeks away. A quick walk to work, a change into ERO ‘Escort Review Order’ (khaki service dress jackets, breeches, field boots, my sword, and our famous state helmet with plume), and I arrived at the stables to get my horse ready.

London is still sleeping, but at the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment, the Blues & Royals Squadron were preparing for a major rehearsal. It was all hands on brooms, pitchforks and wheelbarrows to get the indoor stables clear of the overnight mess. Mucking out was followed by grooming. Each man picks out the hooves of his horse for that morning, removing scurf from the horse’s coat, brushing the mane, forelock and tail, sponging-off eyes  etc. Horses get their hooves oiled for shine, a quick shave with a safety razor and chalk dust is applied to brighten their white ‘socks’.

Today I was on my trusty charger, a horse called William. Standing at 17 hands high, he is an elegant beastie with great ‘head carriage’, and at 19 years old he is a real veteran. He was in a better mood today, and was easier to tack-up as a result. Most of the horses are Irish Draught crossed with an element of thoroughbred, a mixture that we call a ‘cavalry black’. William definitely has more thoroughbred in than most of the horses, and therefore has a lot more speed and stamina than most – or so I thought.

We mounted-up on the Regimental Square (we are taught how to vault onto the horses ‘quickest and best’, but for parades we use a mounting block) and position ourselves into two ranks. The thinking behind this is, that in battle, a gap in the front rank can always be covered by someone in the second rank who would step forward. The trumpeter sounds “March on the Officers”, and four us take up positions at the front of the Squadron.  I am No. 4 Division Commander, that is, in charge of 24 soldiers and horses acting as a sort of a rear-guard to the whole parade.

“From the right, form sections, walk march”, and we left the Regimental Square, out of the Ceremonial Gate into Hyde Park for our drills. It was a beautiful morning, with the sun just rising over the Serpentine, with commuters passing by, and joggers getting in their own form of morning exercise. I am glad to say that our riding was okay too, straight, and precise.

The morning was almost complete when I noticed a distinct change in William’s rhythm at the trot. Something was definitely up. William, for the first time ever is not quite right. He’s happy enough, ears still forward, but he is definitely not firing on all four cylinders. I leave the rehearsal a little prematurely, to prevent any further aggravation. Getting back into barracks he is quickly seen by one of the Farriers and the Regimental Veterinary Officer, Major Ann O’Flynn. It was difficult to diagnose conclusively, but poor old William is going to need a bit of rest and remain under observation for the next few days. He’s going to need to be doted on a bit.

A little concerned that I was going to need to choose another charger to use for rehearsals, I set about the rest of my day as a Troop Leader and Unit Press Officer. Having spoken to my troop (30 soldiers & 40 horses) about the strains of the ‘silly season’, I felt that it was time to tackle today’s Royal Wedding media request inundation. As it is in the rest of the British Army, an Officer in the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment also remains largely deskbound in the afternoons.

After a pleasant evening meal with a guest speaker, my old Brigade Commander from Afghanistan, I contemplated the next day. We were due to conduct another, even bigger rehearsal, to be completed on a horse that I had never ridden before. Enter stage left: Cornet.

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25 days to go

Captain James Hulme
Captain James Hulme

The Life Guards and Blues & Royals of the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment (HCMR) will be playing an important role in the wedding of HRH Prince William of Wales and Miss Catherine Middleton on 29 April. They will form a Sovereign’s Escort for Her Majesty The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh and a Captain’s Escort for the Bride and Groom as the wedding party travel to Buckingham Palace from Westminster Abbey. This will involve almost 200 horses and soldiers on the day to escort and protect their carriages.

Captain James Hulme, Troop Leader and Unit Press Officer for HCMR will be blogging over the next few weeks as the Regiment prepares and rehearses for the big day.

I generally don’t like Mondays, and for this one, the worry was justified. An 0530hrs wake-up is never fun, and today it was particularly unwelcome – Officers had refresher training with the Riding Master, Captain Mark Avison, in the outdoor school. Riding for civilians can be very pleasant, but with the Household Cavalry at times, it requires intense concentration, discomfort and being shouted at… even when you’re a Captain.

This morning we were wearing ‘Military Review Order’, the order of dress that includes the ‘Albert Pattern’ helmets and plumes, the metal breastplate ‘cuirasses’, and the infamous jackboots. Yes it is uncomfortable, yes it is hard to ride in, yes it is difficult to get looking shiny. Please don’t underestimate the amount of time that goes into getting this kit ready, the boots might take 4 hours alone, each time you wear them! Brasso and black polish; we get through them by the bucket load. My horse William, elegant but extremely tricky to make behave, was being really bolshy. It was definitely a Monday morning for him too. Some people may have ‘dismounted’ earlier than they should have!

The rest of the Regiment exercised their horses (the cav blacks) around the streets of West London on what we call the daily ‘Watering Order’ – if you’re a Londoner you will probably have either seen or heard us early in the morning (even on Saturdays). I must admit that when I chose my Regiment at Sandhurst, I didn’t quite realise that it was an 0530hrs start kind of Regiment. Well, it’s the price you pay for the satisfaction of working with the horses, but also, in my opinion the best soldiers I’ve encountered in my five years working in the Army.

International media interest has also been intense recently, so I am definitely feeling the strain as the Unit Press Officer. At 1015hrs today, German camera crews from ARD turned up at Horse Guards to prepare their footage of the day, Germany always holding a big interest in our Army and the Royal Family. Americans are also fascinated, so I am trying to give NBC what they require too. It is quite a task getting the outside world to understand such a complex unit that has so many peculiar traditions that might not be understood. Some people don’t even realise that we’re Army, a particular bugbear of mine.

So preparations have already been arduous for the Royal Wedding, and will continue to be for the next 24 days. At the moment we practice pretty much every day, points that will be pertinent to this important event. Control of your horse, riding straight and dressed-off with your neighbour, precise and yet elegant sword drill, ‘carrying’ your plume, projecting your words of command… there is so much that goes into such a spectacle – it has all the drama of an opera. And before the Royal Wedding we have another parade to complete, the Major General’s Review, just to check all is in order – he shall not be disappointed!

I will take the opportunity to say a warm hello to the Household Cavalry Regiment soldiers and officers now serving in Afghanistan. D Squadron (Prince William’s old Squadron) are currently on patrol in Helmand Province, and doing a fine job in their Scimitars and Jackals. It has only been a year since I was there myself. Last year I was dusty and being shot at, now I’m on a horse, and hopefully very shiny. Such a role reversal is part of life in the dual-role Household Cavalry. With another long but colourful day completed, the countdown to the Royal Wedding gets ever shorter.