Continuing our look at aspects of ceremonial life in London, this week’s postcard depicts the changing of a guard ceremony at one of the London Palaces. Like its larger compatriots on Horse Guards or at Buckingham Palace, this was the formal change over from one group of soldiers to another, although here it is a single guard outside a sentry box:
An officer and sergeant can be seen giving orders to the sentry who is being relieved:
The man coming off duty will be replaced by one of the two men to the right of the image:
The outgoing man will march from his sentry box and join one of these two replacements, whilst the other replacement will take his position. The two men, plus officer and NCO will then march to another sentry position where the process will be repeated with the second replacement man being dropped off. Finally the two men coming off duty will be marched back to their guardroom or barrack room where they will be dismissed and free to get a richly deserved cup of tea and a bite to eat.
These days Guardsmen usually do two hours on duty as a sentry at a time. In 1959 the regulations stated that guards must:
Patrol in a smart and soldierlike manner; not converse with any civilian except on business and then as briefly as possible and without movement; prevent any kind of nuisance in the vicinity; assist the civil police if called upon; not use more force than is necessary to carry out your duty; not stand easy, sit down, lie down, sleep nor smoke during tour of duty
The following description of life as a sentry comes from a 1959 copy of Stars and Stripes:
His schedule during the 24-hour guard mount will be two hours of sentry duty .and four hours off-duty.
The sentries’ synchronized movements are determined by rifle-butt taps of the senior soldier at each post. One tap means patrol; two, salute; and three, present arms. To stop patrolling, the senior soldier extends the index finger of his left hand:
When the elite guardsmen are a off-duty in the guardroom, they don’t look over elegant. They lounge about just like soldiers anywhere.
A guardsman never really gets away from spic and span: even his civilian attire is checked by officers. He doesn’t go off the station if his ensemble is not up to guards’ standard.
Among the requirements are plain shoes and trouser bottoms not too narrow.