All guns blaz­ing

Flora Watkins meets the men, women and horses of The King’s Troop Royal Horse Ar­tillery

Country Life Every Week - - Contents -

The reg­i­ment en­joys a warm re­la­tion­ship with the Sov­er­eign

In the airy Vic­to­rian Royal Mews at Wind­sor Cas­tle, tails swish peace­ably from the gleam­ing hindquar­ters pro­trud­ing from ev­ery stall. There’s no hint of the fre­netic ac­tiv­ity of a few hours ago, as the men and women of The King’s Troop Royal Horse Ar­tillery pre­pared for a visit by The Queen.

‘Her Majesty spent a good hour with us,’ dis­closes com­mand­ing of­fi­cer Maj Harry Wal­lace. ‘She’s gen­uinely in­ter­ested in ev­ery­thing The King’s Troop does and re­marked on how well the horses look, which is a great tes­ta­ment to what my sol­diers do.’

When I vis­ited in May, the horses were sta­bled in the mews for the Royal Wind­sor Horse Show, where the Troop per­forms the fa­mous Mu­si­cal Drive each night—their usual home, since 2012, is a pur­pose-built bar­racks in Wool­wich, south-east Lon­don.

The reg­i­ment en­joys a warm re­la­tion­ship with the Sov­er­eign; the ‘King’ of its ti­tle refers to Ge­orge VI. When the last horse­drawn ar­tillery bat­ter­ies were mech­a­nised af­ter the Sec­ond World War, the King re­quested that one troop—dressed in the tra­di­tional man­ner—be re­tained, in or­der to take part in the great cer­e­monies of State. The first salutes were fired in 1946.

‘We were orig­i­nally the Rid­ing Troop,’ ex­plains sec­tion com­man­der Capt Greg Flynn, ‘but when Ge­orge VI came on in­spec­tion, on Oc­to­ber 24, 1947, he crossed out the word “Rid­ing” in the vis­i­tors’ book and wrote “King’s” in­stead.’ On her ac­ces­sion to the throne, The Queen de­clared it would re­main The King’s Troop, in hon­our of her fa­ther.

There’s mount­ing ex­cite­ment in an­tic­i­pa­tion of tonight’s per­for­mance. This thrilling piece of equine chore­og­ra­phy re­mains largely un­changed from its first per­for­mance in 1897. The com­plex ma­noeu­vres in­clude the Wagon Wheel and the Scis­sors, when the six gun teams criss-cross the arena at a gal­lop.

This will be 20-year-old gun­ner Jes­sica Young’s third Wind­sor, but she ad­mits to hav­ing ‘mas­sive but­ter­flies’ be­fore­hand. ‘It’s a mad ex­pe­ri­ence,’ she laughs. ‘I just need to re­mem­ber to breathe.’

Capt Flynn is try­ing not to think about the mo­ment when he’ll have to re-mount all 18-plus hands of his charger, Lord Fire­brand, or ‘Yogi’, un­der the glare of the spot­lights af­ter the fir­ing of the gun (no leg-up al­lowed). He texts me the fol­low­ing day to say all went well. The Drive ends with the nail-bit­ing gal­lop out of the arena. Tim­ing is ev­ery­thing, with each of the six-horse gun teams pulling a 13-pounder field gun weigh­ing 1½ tonnes.

Maj Wal­lace con­fesses to pulling rank when it came to the sa­lute mark­ing the birth of Prince Louis in April. ‘Lead­ing the charge from the top of Hyde Park was very much the com­mand­ing of­fi­cer’s priv­i­lege,’ he re­calls. ‘I think it was one of the fastest gal­lops they’d seen in a while—that prob­a­bly came from hav­ing rid­den in a point-to-point a cou­ple of days ear­lier.’

Maj Wal­lace is an ac­com­plished am­a­teur jockey, who has won both the Royal Ar­tillery Gold Cup and the Grand Mil­i­tary Gold Cup at Sandown. He’s us­ing his tour as com­mand­ing of­fi­cer to in­crease the num­ber

‘I think the charge from the top of Hyde Park was one of the fastest they’d seen’

of new re­cruits who can al­ready ride when they join (many can’t). ‘It’s very niche, very tech­ni­cal, to ride and drive with a ton­ne­and-a-half of gun,’ he ex­plains.

He’s keen to see ap­pli­ca­tions from young peo­ple who are con­fi­dent in the sad­dle and, to this end, sent Troop in­struc­tors to Pony Club camps and horse shows over the sum­mer. His reg­i­ment, he stresses, of­fers won­der­ful op­por­tu­ni­ties, with sol­diers en­cour­aged to com­pete in a range of dis­ci­plines on Troop horses—be­cause, ‘ul­ti­mately, it’s mak­ing them bet­ter rid­ers to de­liver their state cer­e­mo­nial role’.

In the cen­te­nary year of the Ar­mistice, it’s ex­tra­or­di­nary to think that these guns, orig­i­nally used on the West­ern Front, are still fir­ing. There will be par­tic­u­lar poignancy for the Troop when it fires the guns to mark the be­gin­ning and end of the twominute’s si­lence on Novem­ber 11.

Away from the pomp and cir­cum­stance, the King’s Troop is on per­ma­nent standby for Op­er­a­tion Tem­perer, sup­port­ing the po­lice in the event of a ter­ror­ist at­tack. Within only a few hours of the Manch­ester Arena at­tack last year, Troop sol­diers were de­ployed around Down­ing Street and Horse Guards in case of fur­ther strikes.

Dur­ing the Iraq and Afghanistan cam­paigns, ‘we had the abil­ity to roll in as lo­gis­tics,’ ex­plains Capt Flynn. ‘The troop­ers are all trained sol­diers, so they can go and pick up a ri­fle and be­come in­fan­teers, if needed.’

As Capt Flynn claps a hand af­fec­tion­ately on Lord Fire­brand’s glossy neck, he muses on the ap­peal of The King’s Troop. There’s the fun and ex­cite­ment of the Mu­si­cal Drive, the hon­our of trot­ting down The Mall for The Queen’s Birth­day Pa­rade, but, ul­ti­mately, he con­cludes, it’s about the horses. ‘In my last reg­i­ment, we looked af­ter the kit, but you don’t get emo­tive about a gun or a mis­sile sys­tem in the way peo­ple do about the horses.’

The King’s Troop will be ap­pear­ing in the Lord Mayor’s Pa­rade in Lon­don (Novem­ber 10) and in Re­mem­brance Sun­day com­mem­o­ra­tions, as well as per­form­ing the sa­lute for The Prince of Wales’s birth­day (Novem­ber 14) Those in­ter­ested in join­ing the reg­i­ment should visit https://ap­ply.army.mod.uk For in­for­ma­tion on his­tory and events, visit www.thek­ingstrooprhaass.co.uk

Above: No State oc­ca­sion is com­plete with­out a sa­lute. Fac­ing page: Stan­dards are as high to­day as when Ge­orge VI named the Troop

Seventy years of royal ad­mi­ra­tion: The Queen in­spects the Troop on its an­niver­sary in 2017

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