Christmas for the Cavalry…

While the rest of us are enjoying Christmas Day at home, it’s business as usual for the Household Cavalry on Christmas Day — after all, someone has to guard The Queen. The guards get up early as usual and muck out the horses, who have the day off. The regimental hierarchy serve the soldiers ‘gunfire’, a noxious mix of coffee and whisky that is not for the faint-hearted. They also tuck into mince pies and chocolates, kindly donated by local businesses, including Harrods among others. The soldiers then sort out the horses as quickly as possible before being dismissed for their family celebrations at midday. The 12 horses and riders who have drawn the short straw on duty for the Queen’s Life Guard are confined to their base at Horse Guards on Whitehall until 11am on Boxing Day.

The guards start the morning with a fancy dress parade where the commanding officer awards the least monotonous duties to those who have made the most effort. Notable examples in the past have included the Phantom of the Opera, the annual favourite, Ninja Turtles, and a Santa-clad trooper once transformed his horse into Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. The troopers then change into their state uniforms before taking up their positions, with the mounted guards rotating in one-hour shifts.

Between shifts, the soldiers are served a Christmas meal with all the trimmings, all in the spirit of trying to give the soldiers who are on duty at Horse Guards as good a time as possible in the circumstances.

The Guards at Christmas

As we approach the festive season, we should remember that as serving soldiers, the Household Cavalry have been required to serve on the front lines, often away from their families and home for months or even years at a time.

This altar, on display in our ‘Sacrifice’ cabinet at the Household Cavalry Museum (along with a Communion cup, wine vessel, wafer box, altar cross, Bible and priest’s stole), was used by Reverend R.K. Haines, a regimental Chaplain of the Household Battalion to perform services in the trenches from 1916-1918. In a letter to his wife written in late 1918, the Reverend Haines related that he performed two Masses in the trenches on Christmas morning 1918 in a section of the trenches that only allowed for 25 men in attendance at a time. The Reverend also remarked in his letter how unusual he found it to look out at the expanse of land between the trenches on both sides and not hear a single shot fire (although the war officially ended with the signing of the Armistice on November 11th, many of the soldiers deployed on the Western Front wouldn’t be demobilized and return home until early 1919).

portable altar