How do you celebrate your birthday? There will probably be cake, candles, gifts and maybe some silly party games and a celebratory glass of something sparkly. Now imagine you were Queen. And you have two birthdays.
Yes, two. A proper anniversary of one’s birth (in Elizabeth II’s case that’s April 21st) and an official state one that is held in the summer so that all one’s subjects can enjoy the celebrations with some hope of sunshine. And there’s a touch more than cake and silly party games involved.
Like, men in uniform. On galloping horses. And big guns going off in a traditional military gesture of respect and honour.
Fortunately us mere commoners can watch all of this. It’s not going to happen on the Queen’s birthday itself this year as it falls on a Sunday and the big guns are not allowed to go off on a Sunday. But if you’re in London on Monday, April 22nd, 2013 and happen to be in the vicinity of Hyde Park at midday, the King’s Troop, Royal House Artillery, will be donning their smartest kits and bringing out the First World War 13-pounder field guns.
“Hang on there!” I hear you cry. “Why the King’s Troop?! There’s been a Queen in charge for 60 years and counting.” Hold on to your horses … it’s all because Elizabeth’s father, George VI, established the Troop in 1947. Noting that mechanization spelt the end of horse-drawn artillery in battle he decided to keep a ceremonial troop going for, well, ceremonial purposes. Like royal birthdays.
And at 12pm on the Queen’s proper day of birth anniversary (unless it’s a Sunday … keep up, keep up) the King’s Troop sound a rousing a 41-gun salute. That’s 21 guns to make up the standard Royal salute with an additional 20 on top of that because Hyde Park is a Royal Park. Fancy!
If you’re out Windsor way at 1pm there’s a 21-gun salute in Windsor Great Park whilst at the Tower of London there’s a whopping 62-gun salute at 1pm as well. 21 for the standard Royal Salute, 20 because the Tower of London is a Royal Palace and Fortress and an extra super special 20 guns on top of that because the City of London is an extra super special place.
Phew! That’s a lot of guns going off. And some mental arithmetic and a good working knowledge of military and royal protocol to make sure it’s the right number of guns in the right place on the right day. Imagine the mortification if it all went wrong.
For those of you unable to attend, here’s a Youtube clip of a Gun Salute in honour of HRH Prince Charles’ birthday, which should give you a flavor of what you’re missing. For those in London on Monday, I’ll see you there!
Zoë F. Willis is a writer and enthusiastic London resident. You can read more about her adventures and creative exploits at http://thingswotihavemade.blogspot.co.uk/