Armstice, 100 Years On

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Armstice on the 11th November 1918 between the Allies and Germany, bringing the First World War to its end after four years of fighting and casualties numbering over 41 million worldwide.

Known as as the Armistice of Compiègne from the place where it was signed, it came into force at 11 a.m. Paris time (“the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month”) and marked a victory for the Allies and a complete defeat for Germany, although not formally a surrender.

The actual terms, largely written by the Allied Supreme Commander, Marshal Ferdinand Foch, included the cessation of hostilities, the withdrawal of German forces to behind the Rhine, Allied occupation of the Rhineland and bridgeheads further east, the preservation of infrastructure, the surrender of aircraft, warships, and military matériel, the release of Allied prisoners of war and interned civilians, and eventual reparations. No release of German prisoners and no relaxation of the naval blockade of Germany was agreed to. This would serve as the basis for the final peace deal negotiated and concluded with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on 28th June 1919.

Although the fighting officially ended with the signing of the armstice, most of the soldiers still stationed on the Western Front would remain there until early 1919, due to the sheer number of men to be demobilized. There was little in the way of celebration; much like today, the 11th November 1918 was largely given over to contemplation over 52 months of conflict and the scale of death and destruction it had left in its wake.

“They shall not grow old as we that are left shall grow old; age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn”

“At the going down of the sun, and in the morning…we will remember them”

A True Cavalry Horse

On this day, 29th August 1984, one of the most famous horses of the Household Cavalry Regiment, Sefton, retired from the Household Cavalry Regiment. Sefton had gained fame for his miraculous survival from injuries sustained in a bomb blast in July 1982 that had killed four members of the Blues and Royals, as well as seven other horses of the regiment.

Sefton was being ridden to the Changing of the Guard on Horse Guards Parade on July 20th 1982 when the IRA detonated a car bomb in Hyde Park that claimed the lives of four men and seven horses. Sefton was one of eight horses left injured by the blast, but his injuries were the most severe, including a severed jugular vein, wounded left eye, and 34 wounds over his body. Sefton was the first horse to be removed from the scene and brought back to barracks, where he was treated in an emergency operation lasting over 90 minutes to save his life, and then an additional 8 hours of surgery (a record in veterinary terms in 1982); each of the injuries he’d sustained had the potential to be life threatening. He was given a 50/50 per cent chance of survival.

Sefton recovering from the injuries he sustained on July 20th 1982

Over the following months, he made continual progress; his nurse was quoted as saying “He took everything in his stride”. During his time in the hospital he received huge quantities of cards and mints from well-wishers, while donations exceeding £620,000 were received to construct a new surgical wing at the Royal Veterinary College which was named the Sefton Surgical Wing.

Sefton returned to his duties with his regiment, and he often passed the exact spot where he had received such horrific injuries. That year he was awarded Horse of the Year, and with Pederson back in the saddle took centre stage at the Horse of the Year Show, to a standing ovation. On 29 August 1984 Sefton retired from the Household Cavalry, and moved to the Home of Rest For Horses at Speen, Buckinghamshire where he lived to the age of 30 before having to be put down on 9 July 1993 due to incurable lameness as a complication of the injuries suffered during the bombing.

Even before he become a public name, Sefton had something of a notoriety amongst troopers; he was nicknamed “Sharkey” for his tendency to bite at troopers and horses he didn’t like. Despite ‘passing out’ in June 1968 (marked with the regimental number 5/816) also had something of a reputation for being something of a difficult horse, as he had a tendency for breaking ranks, fidgeting and napping. For these reasons, Sefton was sent with the Blues and Royals on deployment to Germany. He joined the Weser Vale Hunt, a bloodhound pack set up by Captain Bill Stringer, chasing volunteer runners. He quickly became the whipper-in’s mount, and excelled in this task, with a bold jump and fast pace. This made him a very popular horse, and due to his nature, he was not given to recruits to learn on, but offered as a prize for the best recruits to ride.

Sefton showing how he got his nickname of “Sharkey” amongst the troopers…

Sefton also competed in showjumping, and whilst on deployment between 1969 and 1974 won 1434 Deutschmarks of prize money, and made the army team competing for the British Army of the Rhine, as well as competing in and winning a point to point race.

In 1975, there was an outbreak of strangles at Knightsbridge Barracks, leaving a shortage of large black horses for ceremonial duties in London. At this time, Sefton had a suspect tendon, possibly due to being overridden, and was immediately chosen to return to England. Here, he worked for the Household Cavalry for the next four years, performing his guard duties, as well as appearing in Quadrilles, and tent pegging. He continued to showjump, including appearances at the Royal Tournament and other smaller shows, although from 1980 he was gradually retired from the sport as he reached the age of 18.

Sefton with Trooper Michael Pedersen of the Blues and Royals, who rode him on July 20th 1982

In Memoriam

Today is a rather sombre memory for the Household Cavalry. On this day 35 years ago, four members of the Regiment and seven horses lost their lives when the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) detonated a car bomb at 10:40am in Hyde Park. The Blues and Royals, riding down from Knightsbridge Barracks to perform the Changing of the Guard at Horse Guards Parade, were caught in the ensuing explosion.

The blast was one of two attacks that day in London (a second bomb blast at 12:55pm in Regent’s Park claimed the lives of seven members of the Royal Green Jackets).

Four members of the Blues and Royals (Lieutenant Anthony Daly, Corporal Major Roy Bright, Lance Corporal Jeffrey Young and Trooper Simon Tipper) were killed, while seven of the Regiment’s horses (Cedric, Epaulette, Falcon, Rochester, Waterford, Yeastvite and Zara) either died in the blast or were put down due to the severity of their injuries.

The Museum has in its collection several items connected to this tragic event, including the helmet worn by Trooper Simon Tipper on that day, a letter of condolence from the Queen Mother to the commander of the regiment at the time, as well as the hoof and damaged bridle of cavalry horse Sefton.

Sefton’s wounds from the bomb blast were so severe, it was believed he would not survive. He endured 8 hours of surgery, a record in veterinary terms at that time, treating over 34 injuries, all of them potentially life threatening. After the surgery he was given a 50/50 chance of survival, but he made an amazing recovery that turned him into a national symbol of defiance. He returned to active duty with the Regiment, being awarded Horse of the Year that October.

Sefton retired from active service on 29th August 1984 and lived out the remainder of his life at a rest home for horses in Buckinghamshire. He died at the age of 30 from health complications believed to be related to the injuries he sustained in the bombing.

Remembrance

Helmet of Trooper Simon Tipper of the Blues and Royals, who died 20th July 1982 in an IRA car bombing.

Waterloo

On this day 203 years ago, the Household Cavalry were soldiers on a battlefield where history was changed.

The regiments of the Household Cavalry all fought at the Battle of Waterloo, June 18th 1815, in the last battle of a brief military campaign to stop the return of Napoleon Bonaparte and all won great distinction in the fighting; over the course of the day, Napoleon sent successive cavalry attacks to try and swamp the British lines, and it fell to the British cavalry to fight them off, pushing the French back despite being outnumbered and pitted against an enemy with better training, mounts and equipment.

The Household Cavalry Museum contains many artefacts from Waterloo which tell the stories of the men who made names for themselves on that field in Belgium over two centuries ago, including:

The Eagle of the 105th Regiment of the Line, captured by members of the Royals at Waterloo: A French Regiment’s eagle, personally given by Napoleon, was mounted on top of its standard, and represented the honour and pride of the soldiers who fought under it. For the enemy to capture an eagle was a terrible blow to the French Army, and a great honour to the man who took it (as such commemorated on the left arm of the uniform of the Blues and Royals)

– A lock of hair and a snuff-box made from the hoof of Marengo, the horse ridden by Napoleon at Waterloo

– The sword wielded by Major Edward Kelly of the 1st Life Guards, with which he killed Colonel Habert of the 4th Cuirassiers during one of the savage cavalry clashes at Waterloo (winning him a knighthood of the Order of St. Anne, as well as the personal commendation of the Russian tsar), as well as the tail of Kelly’s favourite bay mare, which carried him to safety despite a fatal lance injury to the head.

– The uniform of Sir Robert Hill, commanding officer of the Blues at Waterloo, including the musket ball removed from his arm on the field.

– A cast of the skull of Corporal John Shaw of the 2nd Life Guards; a veritable Hercules of a man, over 6ft tall with a career outside the army both as a boxer and a life model for the Royal Academy, Waterloo was Shaw’s first and last battle; he died during one of the cavalry clashes, accounting for 10 French cavalrymen before he was cut down (when his sword shattered, Shaw resorted to clubbing enemies with his helmet and the broken hilt). Given a hero’s burial on the battlefield, Shaw’s body was later exhumed and casts of his bones made to feed the vogue in British society for souvenirs with a connection to the battlefield.

– The prosthetic leg of the Earl of Uxbridge. A musket wound sustained at Waterloo necessitated the amputation of his right leg below the knee; dissatisfied with the prosthesis provided for him, Uxbridge commissioned a fully articulated prosthetic leg which would be the standard of such until as late as 1914.

These artefacts and the histories attached to them are just some of the stories that can be discovered at the Household Cavalry Museum, tied to that grey, damp day in June where on a field in Belgium over 200 years ago, the course of history was changed…

Trooping The Colour

Trooping the Colour, in layman’s terms, is the Queen’s birthday parade, which has taken place since 1748. It’s annual – birthdays tend to work like that – and, since the 1950s, has always fallen on the second Saturday of June, the monarch’s official celebration.

This year, it falls on June 9. Although Her Majesty The Queen’s actual birthday is April 21st, her ‘official birthday’ is marked by Trooping the Colour, a ceremony which is always held in June. This was a tradition begun by Her Majesty’s great-grandfather, King Edward VII, who chose to set it in June to compensate for the vagaries of British weather, particularly given that his own birthday was in November! However, the history of Trooping the Colour is much older; on the battlefield, the principal purpose of a regiment’s Colours was to provide a rallying point in the chaos of battle. Given how easy it was for troops to become disoriented and separated from their unit during conflict, it was the habit to have the colours of the Regiment displayed for the troops so they could familiarise themselves with the colours. This was done by having young officers march in between the ranks of troops formed up in lines with the Colours held high. So, what today is a great tradition began life as a vital and practical parade designed to aid unit recognition before a battle began.

After travelling from Buckingham Palace to Horse Guards Parade, the Queen inspects around 2,000 members of the Household Division and Horse Guards, made up of 1,400 soldiers, 200 horses and 400 musicians, who give Her Majesty the royal salute. Then the Colour is Trooped – that is, a regimental flag (the ‘Colour’) is paraded (‘Trooped’) in front of the Queen. Though the flag changes yearly, it will always come from one of the five regiments of the Foot Guards regiments (either the Scots, Welsh, Irish, Grenadier and Coldstream Guards). This year, the 1st Battalion of the Irish Guards will be providing the Colour, the first time they have done so since 2009. Their Colonel is Prince William, who took the position in 2011. Back in the 1700s, the flag would be shown off so all troops would recognise it in battle.

This parade is not a simple wave, followed by a brisk dismissal however: it is an extravagant display of military prowess, involving over 100 commands, and following strict timings. Troops begin to form at 9.15am, but things begin properly at 10.45am when the Queen leaves Buckingham Palace to begin her grand birthday parade down to Horse Guards Parade, which she reaches at 11am. Her Majesty then reviews the soldiers before heading back to the palace. At 12.52pm, there is a cannonade of artillery, followed by a Fly Past over Buckingham Palace by the Royal Air Force at 1pm.

Until 1987, the Queen rode alongside the Guards – including in 1981, when she was shot at by a member of the crowd who was later arrested – but now watches the entire parade from a carriage. Her Majesty has attended the event every year bar one since taking the throne in 1953: in 1955, a National Rail strike necessitated the cancellation of the event.

Trooping the Colour is taken extremely seriously every year, with troopers participating in the display taking up to 12 hours to prepare their uniforms and a reported 1200 pots of polish used each year. The streets also need taking care of: a team of road sweepers is employed by the Royal Parks to clear up after the horses, which can leave up to 4.5 tons of manure behind during the event.

For those of you who weren’t lucky enough to get tickets for the event at Horse Guards, it will be possible to view the ceremony from along the Mall and within St. James’s Park.

Charles II

Today, May 29th marks the birth of our regiment’s founder, King Charles II, born on 29th May 1630, as well as the date of a former celebration commemorating his return to England on May 29th 1660, his 30th birthday, after 10 years of exile in France and the Netherlands following the defeat and execution of his father, Charles I at the end of the English Civil War.

Invited to return to England upon the death of Oliver Cromwell and the political crisis that followed the collapse of his protectorate in the wake of Cromwell’s son Richard, being incapable of following his father’s work, Charles, while eager to return and retake the throne, was less than trusting of the Parliament that had sent his father to the headsman’s block. Upon his return to England, he brought with him 500 English gentry, all veterans of the Royalist cause, all of whom had paid for the privilege of protecting him, inspired by the bodyguards of other European monarchs that he had seen during his time in exile. In answer to this, the regiments that would become the Blues and Royals were established from soldiers of the disbanded New Model Army (the force that had fought for the Parliamentarian cause during the English Civil War), both sides recognizing the necessity of protecting the King’s life, but neither wishing to leave the matter in the hands of soldiers they’d spent a decade battling against.

Charles II’s reign was largely viewed fondly; he was a popular and beloved king, mainly because his reign was seen as a more lively and exuberant time for England after a decade of rule by Oliver Cromwell’s Puritans, as well as a return to normality for England after the turmoil and chaos of the English Civil War and the upheaval that followed. Charles was willing to pardon many of those who fought against his father during the Civil War, though he refused to extend that mercy to the men who had signed the death warrant of Charles I; nine were executed (the bodies of Oliver Cromwell, John Bradshaw and Henry Ireton were exhumed and posthumously beheaded), while numerous others were imprisoned for life. He was also generous and openhanded in rewarding old allies who returned to England with him in 1660, though like his father, he did endure conflicts with Parliament over certain matters towards the end of his life.

This date was, until 1859, traditionally celebrated as Oak Apple Day or simply Royal Oak Day, to commemorate the restoration of the English monarchy in May 1660. Parliament declared it a national holiday “to be for ever kept as a day of thanksgiving for our redemption from tyranny and the King’s return to his Government, he entering London that day”.

Traditionally,  celebrations to commemorate the event often entailed the wearing of oak apples  or sprigs of oak leaves, in reference to the occasion after the Battle of Worcester during the English Civil War in September 1651, when the then Prince Charles escaped Roundhead soldiers hunting hum by hiding in the branches of an oak tree near Boscobel House, Shropshire.  Anyone who failed to wear a sprig of oak risked being pelted with bird’s eggs or thrashed with nettles.

Although the holiday was formally abolished by the Anniversary Days Observance Accordance of 1859, it is still acknowledged in certain parts of the country, and the date is still afforded some significance in local or institutional customs. It is, for instance, kept as Founder’s Day at the Royal Chelsea Hospital, which was founded by Charles II in 1681.

Image copyright: National Gallery

Congratulations To A Former Comrade

The Household Cavalry Museum extends its congratulations to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on the date of their wedding.

Prince Harry served as a member of the Blues and Royals, joining the regiment upon completing his officer training at Sandhurst in 2006, joining the Blues and Royals as a cornet (second lieutenant), rising to the rank of lieutenant within the regiment in 2008, as well as serving in Afghanistan with the Household Cavalry Regiment. Although his career in the British Army came to an end in 2015, Prince Harry has remained close to the Household Cavalry and other regiments he served with during his time in the army, and has been a passionate supporter of promoting the welfare of those who are serving or who have served their country in the Armed Forces, as well as campaigning to raise awareness of the ongoing challenges facing service personnel making the transition to civilian life, working in particular to bring wider public attention to the support that wounded, injured and sick servicemen and women need through their entire rehabilitation process.

In recognition of Prince Harry’s service within the Household Cavalry, troopers of the Household Cavalry will form a 24-man staircase party outside St. George’s Chapel in Windsor, before giving a royal salute to the married couple as they exit the chapel, while a troop of 24 mounted troopers will be waiting to escort the couple’s carriage through the streets of Windsor as they return to Windsor Castle from the chapel.

The Battle of Abu Klea

132 years ago, between the 16th to 18th January 1885, the Household Cavalry fought at the Battle of Abu Klea, one of a series of battles in Northern Africa in a desperate race against time to reach a trapped contingent of British soldiers in the region.

The battle was one of several fought by the British Desert Column against Mahdist forces (the Mahdists were Sudanese fanatics loyal to Muhammad Ahmad bin Abd Allah, a self-proclaimed Islamic messianic figure who took advantage of widespread resentment amongst the Sudanese population towards the oppressive policies of the Turco-Egyptian rulers, and capitalized on the messianic beliefs popular among the various Sudanese religious sects of the time).

The overall goal of the British forces was to push through the Mahdists to Khartoum and relieve General Charles Gordon, under siege there by Mahdist forces, with time swiftly running out to save their embattled comrades at Khartoum. Having spent the night before the battle taking continual fire from Mahdist snipers, when the British forces began advancing into the wadi of Abu Klea at first light, they came under attack from a Mahdist force concealed in the ravine that had been waiting to ambush them.

Despite being heavily outnumbered (approximately 1,100 British troops to supposedly 12,000 Mahdist warriors), in a bloody exchange that lasted little more than fifteen minutes, the British forces were able to push the Mahdists back. Unfortunately, despite having technically won the battle and inflicting serious casualties on the enemy (British losses were 76 dead, 82 wounded, in contrast to Mahdist casualties numbering at least 1100), Abu Klea was a phyrric victory, given that the overall British goal to reach Khartoum and relieve General Gordon failed (the city had fallen and Gordon killed two days before the British Desert Column arrived). The failure to save Gordon caused a major public backlash that effectively ended the political career of Prime Minister William Gladstone (most in British society, including Queen Victoria, blamed Gladstone for the delay in sending a rescue mission), as well as forcing a British retreat from Sudan that would leave the country under the control of the Mahdists for 13 years.

Among the losses suffered at Abu Klea was one of particular significance to the Household Cavalry: Lieutenant Fredrick Burnaby of the Blues, killed by a Mahdist spear through the throat while trying to rescue an injured comrade. This bombastic and swashbuckling soldier, a hero in the hearts and minds of the Victorian public, had rejoined his old regiment voluntarily to accompany them to Sudan, the War Office having denied him an official posting. When word of his death on the battlefield spread amongst the soldiers, the commanding officer of one detachment recorded that many of his men sat down and wept at the death of such a beloved figure.

Colonel Frederick Burnaby
Colonel Frederick Burnaby, a hero of the regiment and beloved figure in Victorian high society, died in battle at Abu Klea.

Among the artefacts contained in the Household Cavalry Museum’s collection, you can find a dagger of the sort that would have been wielded by the Mahdist warriors (also known as Dervishes) and the boots Burnaby was wearing when he met his end on the battlefield that day.

Some of the artefacts belonging to Colonel Burnaby, on display at the Household Cavalry Museum. Image belongs to L.Courtne,y 2017

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