The Bearer Party

Oliver Webb-Carter

The most recent royal Bearer Parties represent regiments that have a deep connection.
The Queen's cortege makes its way to Westminster Hall. Credit: Creative Commons
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On Wednesday 14th September, and again for the funeral, we saw the Queen’s Company, 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards form the Bearer Party, in a highly emotive scene as the monarch was carried into Westminster Hall to lie in state, to the sound of Psalm 139 sung by the choirs of the Chapel Royal and Westminster Abbey. It was performed impeccably by the ten young men involved – eight pall-bearers, Company Sergeant Major and Ensign. One can only imagine the amount of hard work that went into the procedure, and the pressure on them as the King – and many millions watched. The procession was then repeated for the journey to Westminster Abbey for the funeral, Hyde Park Corner for the transfer to the hearse, and then finally at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle.

The colour placed at the base of the Queen’s coffin will be removed and placed with other colours at Windsor, each of which are specific to their monarch. A smaller, 18”x 24” ‘camp’ colour was buried with the Sovereign. The Grenadiers are the most devoted of regiments, and never participate in the Loyal Toast as their loyalty is beyond question. Now that we have a new monarch a new colour will be produced. The company was due to be renamed, but that will not now happen, according to the BBC.

The Battle of Fontenoy, 11th May 1745

Whilst the Grenadiers are not the oldest regiment in the Foot Guards, that accolade sits with the Coldstream, they can trace their history back to the War of Spanish Succession and beyond. It is in a battle during the War of Austrian Succession, at Fontenoy, that they faced the previous regiment to participate in a member of the royal family lying in state.

On the 9th April 2002, the Irish Guards formed the Bearer Party for Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, and carried the coffin to Westminster Hall and then subsequently to Westminster Abbey. The Queen Mother was hugely fond of the regiment, and they of her. Whilst she did not hold a formal role, she continued a tradition that began on St. Patrick’s Day 1901, when Queen Alexandra gifted the Irish Guards with their shamrock.

Though it is true that the Irish Guards were officially formed in 1900 from Irish regiments that had performed so bravely in the Boer War, and including, interestingly, a number from the Grenadiers, they too can trace their lineage back further to Fontenoy on the 11th May 1745. At this key battle, the Irish Brigade within Louis XV’s army had great success against the third son of George II, the Duke of Cumberland (he of Culloden). Among the regiments under the command of Cumberland that day were the Grenadiers.

Unlike their counterparts at Fontenoy, the Irish Guards are required to raise their glasses at the Loyal Toast because they remain a Household Division Regiment that has taken up arms against the Crown. The “Micks” are rather proud of this fact since it highlights their military record from well before their creation on the 1st April 1900.

Rudyard Kipling’s poem, The Irish Guards, mentioning Fontenoy, is below, and Kipling’s son, John, was killed in action whilst serving in the Irish Guards at the Battle of Loos in 1915. In 1995 the Lieutenant Colonels for the two regiments were brothers, Brigadier David Webb-Carter for the Irish Guards, and Brigadier Evelyn Webb-Carter of the Grenadiers.

The Irish and Grenadier Guards therefore have a strong link, from battle, formation and as recent Bearer Parties. Quis Separabit?

The Irish Guards

We’re not so old in the Army List,
But we’re not so young at our trade.
For we had the honour at Fontenoy
Of meeting the Guards’ Brigade.
‘Twas Lally, Dillon, Bulkeley, Clare,
And Lee that led us then,
And after a hundred and seventy years
We’re fighting for France again!

 Old Days! The wild geese are flighting,
Head to the storm as they faced it before!
For where there are Irish there’s bound to be fighting,
And when there’s no fighting, it’s Ireland no more!
Ireland no more!

The fashion’s all for khaki now,
But once through France we went
Full-dressed in scarlet Army cloth,
The English – left at Ghent.
They’re fighting on our side today
But, before they changed their clothes,
The half of Europe knew our fame,
As all of Ireland knows!

Old Days! The wild geese are flying,
Head to the storm as they faced it before!
For where there are Irish there’s memory undying.
And when we forget, it is Ireland no more!
Ireland no more!

From Barry Wood to Gouzeaucourt,
From Boyne to Pilkem Ridge,
The ancient days come back no more
Than water under the bridge.
But the bridge it stands and the water runs
As red as yesterday,
And the Irish move to the sound of the guns
Like salmon to the sea.

 Old Days! The wild geese are ranging.
Head to the storm as they faced it before!
For where there are Irish their hearts are unchanging,
And when they are changed, it is Ireland no more!
Ireland no more!

We’re not so old in the Army List,
But we’re not so new in the ring,
For we carried our packs with Marshal Saxe
When Louis was our King.
But Douglas Haig’s our Marshal now
And we’re King George’s men,
And after one hundred and seventy years
We’re fighting for France again!

 Ah, France! And did we stand by you,
When life was made splendid with gifts and rewards?
Ah, France! And will we deny you
In the hour of your agony, Mother of Swords?
Old Days! The wild geese are flighting,
Head to the storm as they faced it before!
For where there are Irish there’s loving and fighting,
And when we stop either, it’s Ireland no more!
Ireland no more!

 Rudyard Kipling


Oliver Webb-Carter is the Editor of Aspects of History.