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Coronavirus: Queen’s official birthday to be marked with new ceremony

The Queen’s official birthday will be marked later with a new ceremony instead of the annual Trooping the Colour parade, as the coronavirus lockdown continues.

It is only the second time in her 68-year reign that the parade in London has not gone ahead.

Instead, Windsor Castle will host a ceremony with a small number of Welsh Guardsmen and military musicians.

Social distancing rules will be in place for those who are marching.

The Queen celebrated her 94th birthday in April, but it is officially celebrated on the second Saturday of June every year.

The Trooping the Colour parade in Whitehall is usually watched by thousands of spectators and senior members of the Royal Family.

The last time the event was cancelled was in 1955, three years after the Queen’s coronation, due to a national rail strike.

The Queen and other family members gathered to witness the Red Arrows perform a flypastLast year’s parade: The Queen and other royals gather to witness the Red Arrows perform a flypast

An event for a sovereign’s birthday has not been staged at Windsor since 1895, during the reign of Queen Victoria.

The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh have spent the lockdown at Windsor Castle, and were photographed there earlier this month to mark Prince Philip’s 99th birthday.

Social distancing means ‘no hiding place’

Maj Gen Christopher Ghika, who commands the Household Division, said the circumstances surrounding the decision to host the tribute in Windsor were “clouded in tragedy”.

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“The effects of Covid-19 have been devastating in terms of loss of life and the threatening of livelihoods of so many across the country,” he said.

“People have had to endure separation from loved ones, great uncertainty and the suspension of so much of what is special about our national life.”

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Analysis box by Nicholas Witchell, royal correspondent

There’ll be no massed ranks of the footguards, no carriage ride along the Mall escorted by the Household Cavalry and no appearance on the balcony of Buckingham Palace to watch a flypast by the RAF.

This year’s Trooping the Colour has been cancelled – but there will be a military celebration of sorts for the Queen, on a limited scale inside Windsor Castle.

A detachment of Welsh Guards will form up in carefully socially-distanced ranks – 2.2 metres apart – on the castle quadrangle and there, accompanied by a rather less than Massed Band of the Household Division, they’ll go through a carefully spaced programme of drill.

The Queen will be there to watch: a birthday parade with a difference but a sign that, very carefully, familiar events can be staged, albeit in very modified form.

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The ceremony – which will be broadcast by the BBC – will see personnel take part in a display in the castle’s quadrangle. The Queen will receive a royal salute followed by a set of military drills.

With fewer people on parade because of social distancing rules, “there is no hiding place” said Garrison Sgt Maj Warrant Officer Class 1 Andrew Stokes, who created the display.

“But more spacing between individuals means that there is also no room for errors and so the soldier has to really concentrate on their own personal drill, reaction to orders, dressing and social distancing,” he said.

Normally, Guardsmen stand shoulder-to-shoulder during their drills or when formed up on the parade ground, but they will have to stand 2.2m apart to follow the guidelines.

Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh pictured 1/6/2020 in the quadrangle of Windsor Castle ahead of his 99th birthday on Wednesday.A new photo of the Queen and Prince Philip was released to mark his 99th birthday

Gen Ghika added: “The Welsh Guards and many of those on parade have recently been deployed within the United Kingdom as part of the nation’s response to the virus and so the context of the ceremony is particularly poignant.”

The Welsh Guards, along with the rest of the Household Division, have been among the soldiers helping with the coronavirus response, for example at test centres.

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The event will be broadcast on BBC One with a special programme beginning at 10.15 BST.

www.bbc.com

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