Spit and polish are the secret weapons for troops on British royal wedding parade

08:38, April 29, 2011      

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The British royal wedding of Prince William and his university sweetheart Catherine Middleton has taken months of planning and preparation, not least by ceremonial troops taking part in the wedding procession and lining the route from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Abbey where the couple will get married.

The troops from the British army will be in full ceremonial dress. For soldiers this is likely to be scarlet tunics, black trousers and huge bearskin helmets.

For the cavalry riding in the procession and on the route, the uniform is even more splendid -- red or blue uniforms with sparkling silver gilt helmets and breast plates as well as thigh- high black boots which take weeks to polish.

And for the cavalry, the horses must be in tip-top condition too.

Xinhua spoke to some of the soldiers who will be taking part in Friday's event, and they revealed the hours of practice and preparation that goes into producing a faultless performance and turn-out on the day.

Captain Mark Avison is the Riding Master of the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment, and is responsible for the riding training of the soldiers in his regiment.

He said the troopers undergo 20 weeks of riding training, and in his latest batch of more than 10 trained riders who had just completed their training, four had never ridden before and most of the others had only taken a few riding lessons.

Captain Avison said that after that the troopers must go through "five weeks of ceremonial training; the first week getting used to the horses which they will do that training with. Second to fifth week will be a matter of putting a different item of ceremonial kit on every day so by week three they will have all that kit on."

On the royal wedding day, the troopers and their officers will ride with helmets, breast plates and boots in place and could be in the saddle for several hours.

All the members of the regiment are fully trained operational soldiers, and the unit had recently returned from the war in Afghanistan.

It was normal, said Captain Avison, for troopers to spend some time with the mounted part of the regiment before joining the armored regiment, which uses reconnaissance tanks.

"Some time in these soldiers' careers they will go to the armoured regiment, that is usually two years after they have completed their ceremonial training," he explained.

For each ceremonial duty that they perform with the Mounted Regiment, Captain Avison said troopers "usually spend 14 to 16 hours preparing their kit to go on ceremonial duties. It is quite arduous, it is long hours."

Trooper Sam Abbott told how the horses required a lot of dedicated work, especially for a ceremonial occasion. British people traditionally call this 'spit and polish' because those two things are necessary to produce a perfectly polished piece of kit.

He said, "The lads muck the yard out every morning and get the horses ready for exercise; take them out; bring them back in and groom them; that's our daily routine."

There is a constant danger on parade that something might scare the horses, and it is a worry for the wedding parade.

Trooper Abbott said, "The horses sometimes get spooked by something -- if they do go, there is a domino effect, but on the day it should be all right. The day before, you try and exercise them a bit more, just to flatten them down a bit, they should be a bit more calm."

But as well as looking after the horse, and their own kit, the troopers must look after the horses kit. Bridle, saddle, leather gear and metal ornaments are all polished again and again to get a perfect finish.

Lance Corporal Hughes said that this was a tough job and full kit for the horse would "take a trooper roughly four hours to clean".

Captain Anton Lin, who will be leading his troopers on Horse Guards Parade on the day, revealed that the regiment is not just ceremonial but also operational.

He said, "I'm in the Blues and Royals which is one half of the regiment, and the other half is the Lifeguards. We also spend a lot of time in tanks, so my unit is a disparate concept in that some of my men are still in Afghanistan and others are still based in training in the tanks in the UK, and now I've taken over a group of men here who are on horses for the moment but could be anywhere this time next year."

On the wedding day Captain Lin will be commanding a group of men with a standard and a trumpeter who will salute the Queen and the other royal carriages and the bride's parents as they move through Horse Guards Arch.

It's an extra special day for the regiment because both Prince William and his brother and best man Prince Harry are members of the regiment.

"Prince William is still a member of this unit. Although he is no longer working with us, he is still an officer in the Blues and Royals and in fact his brother Harry is still with us," said Captain Lin.

"Everyone is excited to be taking part in such a big event, but some of our soldiers have worked with Prince William and Prince Harry in tanks -- some will have worked with Prince Harry in Afghanistan. My Corporal of Horse, for instance, spent three weeks in a tank with Prince William on exercise. Everyone is very happy for the couple," he added.

On the wedding day, 1,700 troops from the British army, air force and navy will take part in the event. The most colorful will be the mounted troopers of the Household Cavalry, along with the horse-drawn guns of the King's Troop, Royal Horse Artillery, and soldiers from five regiments of foot guards, who are the British queen's personal bodyguard.

Once the royal wedding is completed, the soldiers will then begin preparing for two further important ceremonial events. In late May, United States President Barack Obama pays a state visit to Britain and the troops will form a parade for him. They will also parade in large numbers for the Queen's official birthday in mid-June.

Source: Xinhua
 
 
     
 
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