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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17 days to go

Here’s another blog from Captain James Hulme, Troop Leader and Unit Press Officer for the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment. With 17 days to go before the Royal Wedding morale remains high, despite the endless kit cleaning…

William

William

A busy week so far, but at least the weather is holding out here in Knightsbridge, the home to the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment. This freak proto-summer has been a big help to the rehearsals. Also a bit of sun just eases the Regiment through what is a very stressful time. I am happy to report that morale is very high and looks to be staying that way. When in a normal season, soldiers might be beginning to tire of the endless kit cleaning, but this year it has definitely helped that the hard work is for a wholly justifiable reason. We really are privileged to be taking part in something so special.

In the pipeline for this week is an event that will see our home at Hyde Park Barracks open to the world’s media. Everyone wants to know what we’re up to in the final three weeks leading to the big day and, as the Unit Press Officer, I’m the one to organise their access. Not that it’s quantifiable, but I think that the Royal Wedding will be one of the biggest media events of the decade. I will hopefully be able to let the reader know an estimation of where to see us, and when. Please keep your eyes glued to www.facebook.com/hcmr for details.

At least working over the weekend did give me an opportunity to check up on my charger William. He still hasn’t completely recovered, though he is no longer lame at the walk. He certainly had enough energy to break free from his stall and raid the hay storage area in the stables. He really is quite an escape artist. I took him for a bit of walk out into the sun, and I think he appreciated this, he certainly laps up the attention. His vanity knows no limits. He will definitely be chuffed that his photo appears online.

Since William’s little mishap (definitely attributable to over-excitement), I have been on two different horses, trying them out for size, just in case William remains on sick leave the day of the Royal Wedding:

Cornet: a beautiful horse, but not quite as tall or handsome as William. He also belongs to another Officer. In my opinion, his longish ears make him look a little like a mule. Cornet has his merits though. He is very easily controlled one-handed, which is always a bonus. He is much less headstrong which means the rider can relax a lot more and settle down to the job at hand – commanding a division. He is rather slow at the walk though, and one really has to push him on.

Jubilee: I took this youngster on a Watering Order on Monday. He isn’t an Officer’s charger, so I would never really be able to use him on a parade, but as a competent troop horse he is definitely the future. One has to avoid his hind quarters though, he has a tendency to kick out. He will eventually learn some manners. I will probably ride him again tomorrow, just to confirm my assessment.

Today though, our Commanding Officer inspected the Regiment. We are yet to hear the feedback, the exact detail of how we might improve our performance, but there were no major mishaps at least. As a Blue & Royal, I painfully have to concede that The Life Guards win the contest for the smarter ‘dressing’ today, ie their ranks were geometrically perfect. The Blues & Royals will have their day yet, let me reassure you…

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.