After RCMP Constable Beverly White had spent more than an hour at attention on a sleek black horse under the hot sun in London’s Hyde Park, the grand weight of history was not as pressing as the unyielding hard leather of the British saddle.
“It really is a much less comfortable saddle than the Canadian one – we’re going to be aching when this is done,” said the 32-year-old New Brunswick native, who, along with 15 fellow Mounties, had just endured a long morning beneath her stetson being screamed at by a British officer while engaging in precision exercises astride an unfamiliar horse.
It is, however, the highlight of their careers, and a big moment for the Mounties. On Wednesday they will ride down the Mall for the 11:00 Changing of the Guard before spending 24 hours in front of Buckingham Palace, taking the place of the Queen’s Life Guard.
The RCMP are doing this at the invitation of the Queen as part of her Diamond Jubilee, marking 60 years on the throne. It is only the second time the Canadians have been invited to perform this ancient equine ceremony. The first, in 1897, was for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee.
That one was a crucial moment for the fledgling RCMP (then known as the Royal Northwest Mounted Police). It was the first time they had worn stetson hats – which proved so popular at the Jubilee that they adopted them as their main headgear the next decade.
There was a slight nervousness this time among members of the Household Cavalry, the British soldiers who usually guard the Queen. They are burly soldiers, many of them Afghanistan veterans, who pride themselves in their precision equine skills and their general unflappability.
“It’s not something you can learn immediately, and we need to knock it into them,” said Regimental Corporal Major Warren Brown, 43, the commander of the Horse Guards. He flew to Ottawa last month to train the Mounties in the British manoeuvres, and doled out the rather rigid parade-ground discipline during their Hyde Park Barracks training on Monday.
“We’re always afraid of that YouTube moment at the end of the day – you’re aware that hundreds of eyes are watching you, and you can’t get anything wrong,” RCM Brown said.
This also marks one of the few times women have ever been included in the Guard – something that Const. White was well aware of.
“It’s a bit overwhelming, really – you really feel a sense of responsibility, given the historical importance of this,” she said. She and her colleagues had considerable experience in the Musical Ride and other horsebound guard duties (and are on leave from their regular policing duties). And the RCMP’s procedures are based on British Horse Guard manuals from the 1930s. Still, the Mounties said, it’s not quite the same.
There was a sense of historical significance to the day. When the Mounties last took part in the Changing of the Guard, in 1897, the contingent that travelled to London for Victoria’s Jubliee was led by Aylesworth Bowen Perry, who later went on to become a long-serving Commissioner of the RCMP.
Today Mr. Perry’s great grandson Gordon Campbell, the former premier of British Columbia, is the Royal Commissioner to London and will be attending the Changing of the Guard on Wednesday, which happens to be the 139th anniversary of the creation of the Mounties in 1873.