In his new book ‘Under the Bearskin – the naked truth about the Queen’s Guard’, Historian Dayan Yearspass reveals some shocking secrets behind the ancient ceremony of Changing the Guard at Buckingham Palace.
The responsibility of guarding the Sovereign by the Household Troops (as they were known at the time) dates back to the time of Henry VII (1485-1509). Surprisingly, during Henry’s reign Changing of the Guard was actually called the Changing of the Gourd, a title referring to the large marrows or gourds that the watchmen originally wore as protection on their heads. Of course the gourds being vegetables, they would only last a few days before they would begin to rot and so needed changing.
At the time having a rotting vegetable on your head was a great test for you manliness and so the guards would remain as still as possible despite being covered in stinking marrow and flies. The soldiers therefore gained a reputation for being fantastic at standing still and ignoring annoying pests – hence their descendents can easily ignore a coach load of tourists.
Over the years the gourd was replaced by the now traditional bearskin cap. Nowadays the standard bearskin of the British Foot Guards is 18 inches tall, weighs one and a half pounds and is made from the fur of a defenseless Canadian black bear.
The Queen’s Guard customarily wear a full-dress uniform consisting of a red tunic, black bearskins cap and black military trousers. The trousers or pants of the modern guards still hide one secret, one which allows them to remain as still as possible during their many hours standing on guard. The army have equipped each guardsman with a device they call a Disposable, Individually-wrapped, Army Personnel Excretion Receptacle or D.I.A.P.E.R.
Dayan Yearspass has created a great book, full of interesting tit bits and strange facts. Open the pages and the imagery is so evocative that you can almost catch the smell of the rotting gourds and disposable, individually-wrapped, army personnel excretion receptacles.