Soldiers from the Royal Gibraltar Regiment (RG) have been guarding the Crown Jewels at the Tower of London for the last ten days.
The regiment took up ceremonial duties in London for only the second time in their history on Monday 16 April. Since then they have been guarding Buckingham Palace and St James’s Palace, and a third group of troops have been performing the equally important task of guarding the Crown Jewels at the Tower.
Sergeant Major Dean Castrey explained:
As well as providing two sentries throughout the day, our primary role is to provide a Quick Reaction Force 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week.
Every day we carry out clearance patrols where we look for anything out of the ordinary, such as suspicious packages or tourists where they shouldn’t be.
In our time there haven’t been any incidents, but not long ago a unit found a body washed up on the edge of the Thames by the Tower and it isn’t unusual for drunks to try to climb the walls of the Tower during the night.
In addition, the Tower of London’s Yeomen Warders (often referred to as ‘Beefeaters’) asked the soldiers to ‘interact with the tourists’.
In reality this means having their photographs taken several hundred times a day with visitors to this hugely popular venue, which is viewed by up to 15,000 tourists a day!
And the off-duty RG soldiers can barely set foot outside their guardroom before they are asked by tourists to pose for pictures, but it does give them the chance to explain (over and over again) that they are from Gibraltar.
The senior man at the Tower is the ‘Constable’, a post currently filled by General Lord Dannatt:
General Dannatt has taken a massive interest in us,” said Sergeant Major Castrey. “He has stopped to tell us that our drill is fantastic and that our bugler has done well at the evening’s ‘Ceremony of the Keys’.
This is a brilliant experience for our junior soldiers because it’s very rare anywhere else for them to be congratulated face-to-face by a General.
A similar view is held by Corporal Adam Cook:
“I reckon we’ve got the best of the three duties,” he said. “I was on one of the Buckingham Palace parades and I couldn’t wait to get back here. We have more freedom to move around, we get to chat with the tourists and we have an excellent guardroom.”
Corporal Gavin Laine added:
“We even have our own chef and the food is really good. There are no downsides to this job at all - I can’t fault it!”
Every day, Lieutenant Jose White, Sergeant Major Castrey and four soldiers march around the Tower to perform the ‘Ceremony of the Word’ in which they formally collect the passwords for the next 24-hour period.
Then, at 2200hrs every evening, they perform the Ceremony of the Keys to ensure that the Tower is safe for the night. This ceremony has been carried out every single evening for the past 700 years and is watched by a small group of onlookers, many of whom have waited months for the chance to see this small piece of Britain’s history.
The RG soldiers are very aware of their role in this history and they will certainly remember the time they have spent guarding the Crown Jewels.