Tales from a Royal Horse Guard and Norfolk policeman.
The Princess Elizabeth had been married to Prince Philip and for the first time since the War, the Household Cavalry had paraded in the ceremonial state mounted uniform for this event.
My story relates to the next most important event, the Silver Wedding of George VI and Queen Elizabeth. The escort was to consist of divisions of life guards and royal horse guards, now known as Blues and Royals. I was at the ripe old age of 18½, and 6ft 4 without a care in the world, so I thought!
The escort was known as a ‘trotting escort,’ the rider having to ‘bump’ the saddle; not very pleasant with four reins in the left hand and a large sword in the right. The scene is set. The King and Queen were in an open landau, and being a fine day, the crowds were immense, and the atmosphere was amazing, particularly to a youngster like me. Sweat soon started to run, the first part of the uniform to be attacked being the dreaded helmet which started to move to the back of my head. If not careful the helmet, with the weight of the plume, could fall off. The next horror was soon to follow – my jack boot came out of the left stirrup iron, just about the worst thing that could happen. In trying to rectify this, I promptly lost my other stirrup. If I lost my balance I would duly fall off. I knew I had seen my last birthday and my bladder very nearly acted accordingly. Now, in sheer panic, my helmet went even further back, what a state to be in. I could only think of one thing to do, as by now we were going hell for leather towards Admiralty Arch. To this day I don’t know how I managed it, but I put my sword in my left hand with the mass of reins and pulled my helmet down as hard as I could onto my head. Clever lad, this pushed the confounded thing down over my eyebrows with the resultant pain, but it kept there. By a further miracle I regained my stirrups. In a mass of sweat and in considerable pain we made our way to St Paul’s where, thankfully, we were able to rest during the church service held for the Royals.
The escort finally formed up ready for the return to Buckingham Palace via the Embankment and Westminster Bridge. More horrors awaited me. The old fashioned trams had been held back for the escort to pass, but fate decreed that just as I was passing one lurched forward causing my horse to be alarmed and instead of trotting, the cursed animal started to hand canter followed by a possible gallop unless I took somewhat drastic steps. This was in the form of giving the animal a fairly hefty wallop between the ears with the flat of my sword. He shook his head and then trotted on quite happily. For my sins I could at least have been shot at dawn, but nobody had witnessed my actions, probably because they were all dealing with similar problems!
The Royal Tournament
One of the highlights of the Regimental year was The Royal Tournament, and in 1949 together with a Royal Horseguard, I was picked to be a personal escort to members of the Royal Family etc., using the Royal Box. By this time, I was an NCO. The events lasted 6 weeks for which we received 1 shilling and 6 pence extra per day for our duties.
Now picture two Household Cavalry NCOs resplendent in what was known as ‘dismounted review’ order, gold braid and scarlet everywhere, standing outside the Paymaster’s Office. I saw the approach of three, foot guard sergeants. Have you ever had the feeling that something strange was going to happen? It did – they gave us a tremendous salute, no doubt thinking we were officers. They went on their merry way leaving us somewhat bemused to say the least.
Next morning is the next scene, and while having a cup of drink in the NCO’s mess, said three sergeants, no doubt remembering us from the previous day, vented their spleen as it were by stating mere corporals were not allowed to drink with sergeants. Our joy knew no bounds when it was pointed out by a very senior NCO that all NCOs were allowed in the Household Cavalry NCO’s mess, and that this also referred to the humble-surrounding building we were now in. Needless to say, we were now all in khaki. To appreciate what this was really all about you must remember the fierce loyalties between the various regiments of the Household Brigade. Foot guards were known as ‘tab’ guards, the Cavalry known as ‘donkey wallopers’, and the Royal Horseguards were the ‘ticky blues.’ Happy days!
The second story relates to Prince Philip. I was standing to the rear of Philip and Princess Elizabeth ready to answer any questions about future or present events in the arena. Enter the Royal Signals Motorcycle display team. The last to enter was a cycle and sidecar seemingly without rider of the cycle or passenger in the sidecar. This amused Philip who turned to me and said, ‘that was jolly good wasn’t it?’. I agreed naturally, with something of a smile. Sure enough, my attention was drawn to The London Illustrated News two days later, to the large photo taken from across the arena showing yours truly having a supposed laugh with Prince Philip. I waited for some sort of reprimand, but nothing was forthcoming.
Probably the most remembered event was the visit of Queen Mary. Surely this must date me somewhat. A regal person and very much a Royal with a capital ‘R.’ On entering the Royal Box we saluted her and her escort, the General commanding London District; our number one boss no less. I stood behind the Queen, rigid to attention, for what seemed like hours when suddenly the Queen turned to the General and her immortal words were, ‘please make sure my lads have a seat, they have been standing long enough!’ … Can you believe that? The General duly complied.
Have you ever tried to become invisible? Teatime approached and the Queen retired to the ante room. In passing us, once more at attention, she informed our dear General to make sure we were suitably refreshed with tea. I am not aware of the General’s remarks, but we had our tea. Beat that!
After each evening show, the Royal Box guests, Churchill being one well remembered, all left very suitable refreshments for the ‘hard working’ escorts and I certainly didn’t retire to my bed for three weeks without a rosy glow to my cheeks.
It was 1954, at Cromer. One year of my probation period had gone so I was not wanting anything to doubt my efficiency. Having managed to survive nearly six years in one of the most regimental atmospheres possible, what could possibly be worse? It would take me 30 years to give you a suitable answer.
However, to return to Cromer on a beautiful Whit Monday – I arrived in Church Street, considered the Holy of Holies and under no circumstances was this street to be cluttered with vehicles etc. The place was in chaos, cars everywhere, nothing moving, and only me to sort it out before the dreaded appearance of Supt. W W Garner, MBE, en route to visit his dear pal, the equally dreaded Inspector Page next to whom my wife and I and two very small daughters had the dubious pleasure of living for four very long years. I digress. I found the source of the problem to be a rather ancient lady in an equally ancient Austin 7 car, the nose of which was firmly fixed at right angles to the pavement outside Cromer Church. A number of onlookers were offering advice but guess who was to come to the rescue. I gave comforting remarks and told her the matter would soon be resolved. I got her into the car at which point she said ‘But officer…’ I naturally ignored this, well you would wouldn’t you. After several minutes of various left and right hand downs, etc., and to the applause of the viewers I managed to get the Austin central of Church Street and pointing in the direction of Sheringham. I didn’t expect any thanks, just glad the traffic would soon be back to normal, until I heard the immortal words from the dear lady ‘But officer [there were those same words again] I was trying to park my car!’ I walked off and left her to it. Before you shop me, remember it was well over 50 years ago.
The loco pit
Our dear Inspector had been informed that fuel was being ‘milked’ from buses parked in premises near the rear of Cromer Beach railway lines. These were numerous and the bus park could only be reached under the cover of darkness. To this end, my pal Tony (just out of the RAF and no longer with us I’m afraid) and myself were given the task of catching the thief. We duly paraded in civilian clothes at midnight on a very dark November night. I had a raincoat almost down to the ground (fashion of the day) grey flannel trousers, and highly polished boots (of course).
We set off across the numerous rail lines, Tony following close behind. Lights were out of the question. My height and long inside leg no doubt saved me because the next thing I knew my right leg had disappeared into the large loco pit, leaving my left leg high and dry and at a very painful angle. My right foot was ankle deep in thick watery oil. I must admit my first thought was to my polished boots. Not so Tony, having said ‘Where the hell have you gone to?’ He then burst into laughter; a noise not really required to catch thieves to which I had added to the noise some ripe Cavalry words. We wended our way to the iron fence which divided the railway and bus yard, and somehow, we had to get over this 8 foot plus fence and then quietly hide and wait for ‘chummy’ to appear. Quietly was not the word relating to what happened next. On trying to climb the fence I managed to slip and land on a mass of nettles and metal drums with noise sufficient to bring on lights from nearby houses. Tony had given up and was laughing so loud I felt the only thing I could do was join in. Needless to say, we didn’t catch the thief. He was caught two days later by an officer who had the common sense to obtain the keys to the bus yard and then wait in comfort for him to appear.
Finally, ‘Daddy there’s a horse in the garden.’ As I previously mentioned we lived next door to the Inspector, and at the rear of the houses were large gardens. The Inspector was keen, and I was to the extent of making all vegetables conform to the drill book. In other words, perfection.
We arrived on a late summer morning at about 5.30 am when my eldest daughter, about 5 years old, came into our bedroom and said, ‘Daddy there’s a horse in the garden.’ My remarks were not to worry, it will soon go away, assured that imagination was to blame, but then I remembered that in fact I had seen a grey cart horse in a field which bordered the gardens. To my horror the said horse was indeed in my garden and making a meal of everything in sight. Down to the garden, and being a complete fool forgetting all I had learnt about horses, I shouted and of course the horse passed wind, as they do, and galloped off across the rest of my garden back to the field.
Now Cromer is naturally very sandy, and it would be reasonable to expect the garden to be the same. Massive hoof prints had destroyed rows of nearly mature potatoes and beautiful lettuces had received a bite out of each. The garden was ruined. I stood there surveying the mess when an upstairs window of the Inspector’s house went up and out popped the head of Mrs Inspector. Now I could write a complete book about this lady, but I am too old to go to prison. However, she asked what had happened and was saying how sorry she was when the huge girth of my Inspector appeared, to either put me in my place, or survey his own garden. He chose the latter. I thought I knew most of the army swear words, but there were those cherished by Inspectors in the Norfolk Constabulary which outshone mine. In fact, his garden was like the battlefield of Mons. We later had a good laugh about it, my wife and I that is.
As for the Inspector, he gave me strict instructions to find the owner of the horse and inform him of various laws he would enforce (true or otherwise) if the horse was not suitably fenced in. I did so, and unfortunately a few days later the poor chap died. It was not my fault, honestly.
Submitted by RG of East Dereham to WISEArchive on 1st November 2007.
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