History & Procedures: Queen’s Birthday Parade

June 12, 2010

bermuda queens parade 2010 pic (14)[Written by Larry Burchall]

Bermuda’s annual Queen’s Birthday Parade on Front Street has been happening for more than a hundred years. Until the late 1950’s, it took place in Bernard’s Park. Prior to the 1940’s, it happened at the Prospect field that has since been turned into the National Stadium.

In 2010, the Ceremony is undertaken by the Bermuda Regiment, joined by the Bermuda Police Service, the Bermuda Cadet Corps, the Bermuda Department of Corrections, and the Sea Cadets. [You can view a photo gallery of the 2010 Parade here]

The parade itself is a reminder of the size and scope of the British Empire that, at its peak, encompassed twenty-five percent of the world’s population. The idea of the ‘Official Birthday’ began in England in 1788. The parade’s format was actually established over seventy-five years ago. Since then the only changes have been caused by changes in weaponry, but these alterations are relatively minor.

Reduced to its essentials, this is what happens on the standard Queen’s Birthday Parade; and this applies wherever in the world this parade takes place:

  • The military units march on, and in aggregate, are loosely called the ‘parade’.
  • The most senior military commander arrives, is greeted with his appropriate salute and with the hoisting of his flag. He then inspects the parade to see that they are ready for Her or His Majesty.
  • The parade then ‘passes in review’ and thus demonstrates its prowess to the senior military commander and, again, salutes the senior military commander.
  • The senior military commander then stands with those under his command to receive the Queen (or King).
  • The Queen arrives. As in Bermuda, where the Queen does not actually show up, her arrival and presence is shown by the simultaneous lowering of the military commander’s flag and the unfurling of the Royal Standard (see photo). If the Queen is actually present, the Royal Standard would be handled and flown in exactly the same way and for the same reason. The lowering of the Royal Standard shows the Queen’s departure.
  • The Queen is greeted with the standard full ‘Royal Salute’. This means a twenty-one gun artillery salute, and the playing of the National Anthem.
  • A special salute follows. Stemming from the 19th century Napoleonic Wars it’s the ‘feu-de-joie’. Here, one after the other (i.e. not all at once), each individual soldier on parade fires his weapon to make his personal salute. This happens three times. Then the soldiers remove their caps and give three cheers for the Sovereign.
  • Then it’s caps back on and the departure of the Queen which is marked by the playing of the National Anthem and the lowering of the Royal Standard with the senior military commander’s flag being hoisted to replace the Standard.
  • With the Queen ‘off parade’, the senior commander goes ‘off parade’ getting his appropriate salute as he does so.
  • Then the parade marches off and goes back to its routine duties.

With some minor variations, that is what has been happening all over the world in what was and is the British Empire and Commonwealth. In most of the independent countries of the Commonwealth, the form of the Queen’s Birthday Parade has been kept, but modified slightly into an Independence Day or other most significant National Day parade.

In late 2009, I saw the Antigua Defence Force use the format to celebrate Antigua’s Independence Day. The Queen’s place was taken by the Governor-General of Antigua, who as it happens, is also a woman. Jamaica’s August Independence Day Parade has much the same format.

In the UK, the equivalent event is the well-known ‘Trooping of the Colour’ on Horse Guards Parade. Here, on a Saturday in June, one of the Regiments of the Foot Guards will parade and ‘troop’, that is show its Regimental Colours, to the soldiers on parade. The unit will then pass in review and pay respects to the reigning Monarch who is also the person to whom they have sworn allegiance. Following the ‘trooping of the Colours’, the units on parade form up, and, following behind the Queen, march back to Buckingham Palace; giving a final salute as they march on past the Palace on their way to their nearby barracks.

Why is the Parade always held in June? Because that is the day decreed as the ‘official Birthday’ of the King or Queen; and in the UK in June, the weather is usually at its best. The rest of the Empire and then Commonwealth simply followed suit.

The Queen’s Birthday is still celebrated with military style parades or other smaller military activities – Gun Salutes, special flags flown – in Canada, Gibraltar, Australia, Fiji, New Zealand and many other countries.

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