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!

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.