Jonathan Boff

A Guardsman’s life as not as glamorous as it might seem

Besides taking part in dangerous operational tours abroad, units of the Household Division keep up a gruelling schedule of ceremonial duties at home

A member of the Household Cavalry parades at the Major General’s Review in Hyde Park, 29 March 2012. [Getty Images]

This book is the perfect present for the Guardsman in your life. It offers an authorised biography of the five regiments of Foot Guards and two of Household Cavalry from 1969 to the present day. In that half century the Guards have been under fire in Northern Ireland, the Falklands, Iraq, the Balkans and Afghanistan, with much of the time also spent maintaining a presence in West Germany.

These were busy years. Units of the Household Division took part in no fewer than 24 operational tours in Afghanistan between 2006 and 2013, many of them involving intense combat. At the same time, the Guards have also had to keep up a demanding schedule of ceremonial duties. Buttoning up their red coats, brushing off their bearskins and buffing their boots, they have not only appeared in major parades and processions such as Trooping the Colour and the King’s coronation but have also mounted daily guard outside the royal palaces. As Alice told Christopher Robin: ‘A soldier’s life is terrible ’ard.’

One of the strengths of this book is that it is an inside job. Commissioned by the Household Division, the authors are themselves former members of the Guards, know them well, and have enjoyed privileged access to many serving and retired officers. They whisk us behind the scenes of major events such as Elizabeth II’s funeral, and capture the atmosphere of institutions such as the now-closed Guards Depot at Pirbright, which were important waypoints in the lives of many Guardsmen.

The accounts of operations may sometimes be rather breathless, but there’s plenty of ground to cover. The care with which the authors have compiled the details of unit deployments and their commanding officers will please those who served. So will the large collection of mess-night tales, although as an outsider I confess that some of the anecdotes might have appeared more ‘life-enhancing’ had I been listening to them in distinguished company with a bottle of ’63 Graham’s, as Bruce Anderson did in these pages ten years ago (‘A military funeral for a heroic vintage’, 10 May 2014).

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