Do Queen’s Guards Ever Respond to Tourists?

Tom Venter
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The Queen’s Guard, a symbol of British steadfastness, is more than the stoic figures in red tunics and bearskin hats guarding the Queen’s residences. These soldiers, primarily chosen from five elite regiments, embody a blend of discipline and duty that has captivated global attention.

Contrary to popular belief, the Queen’s Guard is not rooted to the spot during their duty. They are, in fact, permitted to move – and they do, especially during guard duty. This includes regular patrolling of their posts every 10 minutes, a practice that serves both to maintain vigilance and to keep their blood circulating, preventing fainting spells.

On duty, these guards exhibit an extraordinary level of self-control. They are trained to stand unflinching against everything from severe weather to intense verbal abuse. Interestingly, if a guard needs to relieve themselves during their two-hour shift, they do so in their trousers – designed to mask any signs of this. This policy is particularly notable considering that guards are encouraged to hydrate heavily to prevent heatstroke, especially in summer.

The Queen’s Guard’s approach to fainting is unique. If a guard feels faint, they are trained to “faint to attention,” leading to the iconic image of a guard falling over rigidly. Despite this, fellow guards must continue their duty, undistracted by such incidents. Medical personnel, however, are promptly dispatched to assist.

While the role of the Queen’s Guard is largely ceremonial today, they still adhere to strict protocols, especially concerning public interactions. They are instructed to ignore distractions such as tourists trying to elicit reactions. However, guards have been known to subtly disrupt tourists’ photographs or continue marching to express their annoyance at disrespectful behavior.

Despite their stoic appearance, guards are human, and rare instances of laughter or smiles have been reported. However, such lapses in composure can lead to penalties, including pay deductions and, in extreme cases, removal from the guard. Tourists attempting to break a guard’s composure may unwittingly jeopardize the soldier’s livelihood.

The Queen’s Guard is not just a prestigious position but also a demanding job. The soldiers earn between £1,200 and £2,000 per month (approximately $1,500-$2,600), a modest sum considering the responsibilities and discipline required.

When faced with nuisances, the guards follow a specific protocol: coming to sharp attention with a loud stamp, issuing brief, clear warnings, and if necessary, marching towards and pointing their bayoneted rifles at the person causing a disturbance. In extreme cases, they may detain the individual or alert the police.

While it might be entertaining for tourists to try and provoke a reaction from these soldiers, it’s important to remember that such actions can have serious consequences for the guards. The Queen’s Guard, a blend of tradition and discipline, represents a significant aspect of British cultural heritage and deserves respect and admiration.

Interesting Facts

Unloaded Weapons: Interestingly, the Queen’s Guard’s rifles are not always loaded. They are only equipped with ammunition when there is a known, serious security threat. A Guardsman shared on Reddit that during his service, he never carried a loaded gun​​.

Chinstraps for Safety: The iconic bearskin hats of the Guard have chinstraps that are fastened under the nose. This design choice is historical, aimed at ensuring the hat comes off without breaking the neck if struck, particularly during cavalry charges​​.

The Weight of Tradition: Those bearskin hats are not just for show; they weigh between two to four kilograms. This weight can increase when the hats get wet, adding to the physical challenge of wearing them​​.

Bear Fur Hats: The guards’ hats are made from real bear fur. Attempts to switch to synthetic fur were unsuccessful due to color running issues. Notably, these hats are not frequently replaced; some are decades old, with one reported case of a hat dating back to 1968​​.

Selection Criteria: To become a member of the Queen’s Guard, candidates must pass the British Army Recruit Battery test, which assesses logic and intelligence. Additionally, a physical requirement is height; guards must be tall​​.

Dealing with Public Nuisance: When confronted by an obstructive or aggressive individual, Guards are authorized to shout warnings and, if necessary, to detain the person or summon police assistance by pressing a button in their sentry box​​.

Mental Coping Strategies: Guard duty involves long periods of standing still. Guards often cope by singing songs in their heads, recalling movies from start to finish, people watching, or subtly photobombing tourists while maintaining a professional demeanor​​.

Guard Duty and Marching Protocols: During their two-hour post, guards perform a set routine every 10 minutes to prevent fainting from blood pooling in the legs. This involves standing to attention, sloping arms, and marching 15 paces across their area​​.

Historical Changes in Positioning: Until 1959, sentries were stationed outside Buckingham Palace’s fence. This changed after an incident where a guardsman kicked a tourist, leading to the guards being repositioned inside the fence​​.

Women in the Queen’s Guard: Traditionally, women have not served in combat units, including the Queen’s Guard. However, in 2007, women from the British Army served in the Queen’s Guard for the first time, in roles with the King’s Troop and Royal Horse Artillery, and the Army Air Corps​​.

In reality, the Queen’s Guard follows a strict protocol for dealing with disturbances. They are trained to remain unflinching in the face of provocations but are authorized to respond to threats or aggressive behavior. This response includes shouting warnings, coming to attention sharply, and even pointing their bayoneted rifles at persistent troublemakers.

Changes in Sentry Positioning

Historical incidents have influenced the Guard’s interaction with the public. For example, the positioning of sentries inside the Buckingham Palace fence since 1959 followed an incident involving a guard and a tourist. Such changes underscore the balance between traditional duties and practical adjustments in response to real-world interactions.

Evolving Roles and Women in the Guard

The inclusion of women in the Queen’s Guard since 2007 marks a significant evolution in the Guard’s history. While their primary role remains unchanged, this development reflects the broader shifts in military roles and gender inclusivity within the British Armed Forces.

The Queen’s Guard, known for their stoicism, do possess guidelines for interacting with the public under certain circumstances. While they are trained to maintain an unwavering demeanor, they are not completely devoid of reaction. The protocol allows them to address disturbances or threats in a controlled manner. This balance between strict discipline and necessary response reflects the depth and complexity of their role in modern ceremonial duties.