The Queen’s official birthday was marked at Windsor Castle yesterday (SAT) for the first time in her 68-year reign.
In her first live public engagement during the coronavirus lockdown, the monarch attended a parade by 20 socially distanced soldiers from the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards – including the first ever female guardsman to parade for the Queen’s birthday.
Wearing a floral silk jade grey and dusty pink dress by Stewart Parvin outfit and hat by Rachel Trevor-Morgan, with the diamond leek brooch of the Welsh Guards, the Queen smiled broadly as she emerged onto the historic castle’s Quadrangle from the Sovereign’s Gate.
Taking her seat on a dais, a raised platform decorated with pink begonias and bay trees, Her Majesty looked on with pride at the assembled military outfit, accompanied by Vice-Admiral Tony Johnstone-Burt, Master of the Household, Lt Col Michael Vernon, Comptroller and Major Nana Twemasi-Ankrah, the Queen’s equerry.
It is understood that other senior members of the royal family, including the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge tuned in on the BBC to watch the spectacle from their homes in Birkhall, Aberdeenshire and Anmer Hall, Norfolk, respectively
The Queen, 94, was greeted by a royal salute before watching military drills by the guardsmen who are used to standing shoulder-to-shoulder, but had specially adapted their manoeuvres to keep 2.2 metres apart, under the watchful eye of Lieutenant Colonel Henry Llewelyn-Usher, who commanded the ceremony.
The 1st Battalion Welsh Guards, who are currently on guard at Windsor Castle and have played a key role in the Covid-19 response, were due to have their Colour “trooped” at this year’s official birthday parade, Trooping the Colour, which traditionally takes place at Horse Guards Parade in London and involves more than 1400 soldiers and 200 horses.
Soldiers were chosen to take part who were either living in the Windsor area, on duty at the Castle or based in the nearby barracks, limiting the amount of travel required.
Members of the public had been actively discouraged from travelling to Windsor so that the strict rules surrounding gatherings could still be adhered to.
The Queen has previously attended Trooping the Colour at Horse Guards Parade during every year of her reign, except for 1955 when it was cancelled due to a national rail strike.
Today was the first time the sovereign’s birthday parade has been held at Windsor since 1895 during the reign of Queen Victoria. Trooping the Colour has marked the official birthday of the sovereign since 1748.
A reduced Massed Band of the Household Division of 42 musicians, conducted by Lieutenant Colonel Simon Hoare played a series of Welsh tunes during the brief 20-minute ceremony including Men of Harlech and The Rising of the Lark.
Trooping in slow and quick time, band members executed “feathering” at each end to ensure they maintained social distancing.
The Queen watched the Guards’ Colour being paraded and a second salute before departing.
The event was televised live on the BBC, but took place entirely within the confines of Windsor Castle, with no viewing positions for the public due to coronavirus restrictions.
A royal source said the Queen was “delighted” the spectacle was performed and “grateful” for the efforts of everyone who made it a reality.
Garrison Sergeant Major Warrant Officer Class 1 Andrew Stokes, who oversaw the soldiers’ training for the unique ceremony, said: “The Army teaches individuals many skills, but one of the greatest is teamwork, and this parade is a marvellous display of that: a collaboration of ideas and new thinking to celebrate the leadership of the Sovereign on her official birthday.
With fewer people on parade there is no hiding place, there never is, and only the highest standard is acceptable, but more spacing between individuals means there is also no room for errors, and so the soldier has to really concentrate on their own personal drill, reaction to orders, dressing and social distancing.”
Guardsman Rhian Morgan from Newport, South Wales, is one of two female Guardsmen who joined the Welsh Guards earlier this year.
She is the first female Guardsman to appear on a parade for The Queen’s birthday, although she has done several duties as Queen’s Guard at the Royal Palaces and was also involved in COVID-19 testing at Regional Testing Centre Chessington early in the pandemic.
Women regularly appear on the Trooping of the Colour as musicians, members of The King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery, supporting staff, veterinary officers, signallers and latterly in the Household Cavalry.
Lance Corporal Chusa Siwale, 29, from Zambia, who deployed to Afghanistan in 2018, was the Lone Drummer for the ceremony, delivering the “Drummer’s Call” to instigate the colour being “Trooped” through the ranks.
He said: “It is a huge privilege for me to be undertaking this key role in the parade at what is a very difficult time for the UK.
Only four weeks ago I was involved with testing key workers for COVID-19 as part of the Welsh Guards’ contribution to the battle against the virus; now I am on parade performing in front of Her Majesty. This is a very proud day for me”.
At the Queen’s side throughout the ceremony was Vice-Admiral Tony Johnstone-Burt, the Master of the Household who has been overseeing what has been nicknamed “HMS Bubble” – the loyal group of staff working for the Queen and Prince Philip at Windsor throughout the lockdown.