BELLINGHAM — Two Bellingham bagpipers — part of a world-renowned pipe and drum corps — held their breath at Buckingham Palace on June 13 waiting for an officer of the Queen’s Guard Home Division to decide if they were worthy of participating in the centuries-old Changing the Guard tradition.
They’d traveled as part of the Vancouver (B.C.) Police Pipe Band for the time-honored ritual at the royal residence in London. But first they had to pray for good weather, and then survive the scrutiny of a British “fit for role” inspection.
“The lieutenant colonel didn’t let us know we had passed until halfway through his speech after the inspection,” said Wayne D. Rogers, who with Carter Smith is part of the 100-year-old band that’s known for its musicianship and precision drilling.
“I actually thought he was going to turn us down,” Rogers said via email from Britain last week.
Neither Rogers nor Smith is a police officer or even a British subject, and in the back of their minds they feared a thumbs-down for just those reasons. Both had been deputized as special constables in order to join the police band.
But still, they were Yanks.
“The fit for role inspection was pretty intense. We were on parade for an hour, half of it at attention in the sunshine,” Rogers said. The 350-year-old Changing the Guard ceremony only proceeds in fair weather — and the British Isles could challenge Western Washington with its share of gray skies.
“I’d have to say the best part of the ‘guard mount’ at Buckingham is marching up the mall playing, and when you come around the Queen Victoria Monument seeing the gates of Buckingham open for you, and marching through them,” Rogers said.
In attendance for their performance that day was Prince William, along with ranking military officers.
As far as anyone knows, it was the first time that a non-military band has played for Changing the Guard, and Rogers and Smith were the first non-British subjects to participate. In addition, band member Katie Frye is the first female piper to ever play a guard mount (changing of the guard), and 75-year-old drummer Ed Wagstaff is the oldest person ever to play in one.
In addition to their performance at Buckingham, the band participated in a guard mount ceremony at Windsor Castle — the royal estate in the Berkshire countryside west of London — and at Royal Chelsea Hospital, a home for retired military personnel.
“We did the guard mount and concert at Windsor on Tuesday. It is more beautiful than you can believe,” Rogers said. “We do another guard mount there in the morning after an inspection by the captain of the Coldstream Guards at Victoria Barracks, then a tour of the castle.”
Coldstream Guards is the British Army’s oldest serving military unit, having been formed during the English Civil War of the mid-1600s.
“All of the gigs have gone extremely well and we have received a lot of recognition from the military,” Rogers said. “The concert for the Chelsea pensioners at the Royal Hospital was very moving. As we marched playing around the courtyard the residents lined the edges. Those that could stood up, and those that could saluted as we passed. It was a huge honor to be able to perform for them.”
After their official duties were over, Rogers, Smith and others spent some time touring England and Scotland. They are due home over the Independence Day weekend.