The Queen’s Birthday Parade in London on Saturday 17 June is the 65th of her reign. Queen Elizabeth II celebrates her Sapphire Jubilee and this year it’s the 1st Battalion Irish Guards which troops its Queen’s Colour in the prestigious Trooping the Colour parade.
Each battalion of infantry regiments in the British Army has two standards: the Regimental Colour and the Queen’s Colour.
A colour is a flag for military and ceremonial use mounted and fixed to a pike, usually with nails, and adorned with different kinds of embroidery, fringes and tassels, often with gold cords, and usually has a guilded ornament at the top of the pike. A colour is proportioned so it can be carried by one man.
The tradition of military units carrying large, colourful and elaborately decorated standards stems from the time when communication on the battlefield couldn’t be done any other way. “Trooping the colour” originally meant to parade the commander’s standard through the ranks of soldiers to let them know what to look for in the heat of battle.
In the UK there are five Foot Guards regiments: the Grenadier Guards, the Coldstream Guards, the Scots Guards, the Irish Guards and the Welsh Guards. The battalions of these five regiments take turns leading the Queen’s Birthday Parade which always takes place on Horse Guards Parade at St. James’s Park in London on a Saturday in June.
At the centre of this year’s Trooping the Colour is the Queen’s Colour of the 1st Battalion Irish Guards. On the crimson silk standard there are 21 woven battle honours. These are the names of battles and campaigns where the regiment has fought with distinction:
Retreat from Mons. Marne 1914. Aisne 1914. Ypres 1914:17. Festubert 1915. Loos. Somme 1916:18. Cambrai 1917-18. Hazebrouck. Hindenberg Line. Norway 1940. Boulogne 1940. Mont Pincon. Neerpelt. Nijmegen. Rhineland. NW Europe 1944-45. Djebel bou Aoukaz 1945. North Africa 1943. Anzio. Iraq 2003.
The Irish Guards was established in 1900 by Queen Victoria and the regiment has fought in both World Wars and other military conflicts. Guardsmen of the Irish Guard carry out guard duty at the royal palaces but also serve as ordinary infantry soldiers, in the UK and abroad.
The central element on the Queen’s Colour of the 1st Battalion Irish Guards is the crowned royal cypher of Queen Elizabeth II, E II R, surrounded by the collar of the Order of Saint Patrick with Irish harps, gold knots and red-white Tudor roses. The order’s badge, suspended from the collar, has a green shamrock on a Saint Patrick’s Cross i.e. a red saltire on white.
The Order of Saint Patrick was established in 1783 for the Kingdom of Ireland as an equivalent to the Order of the Garter in England and the Order of the Thistle in Scotland. The order still exists, but no knights of the order have been created for more than eighty years. Since the partition of Ireland the Order of Saint Patrick has been dormant and there are no plans to revive it.
The Irish Guard keeps the symbols of this order alive, however. Not only on its Queen’s Colour, but also the regimental badge of the Irish Guards is the star of the Order of Saint Patrick and the regimental motto is the same as that of the order: Quis Separabit? Who shall separate us?