The following morning was as bright and clear as anyone could wish for in an English summer and once again a crowd of inquisitive and excitable visitors had come to watch the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace.
An officer of the dismounting guard was pacing back and forth between the palace and its railings. The gravel crunched beneath his boots. Patrol finished he positioned himself in front of his company and waited.
Soon enough the stirring strains of ‘British Grenadier’ were heard approaching from Wellington Barracks through the trees that screened Bird Cage Walk.
The band and the new guard swung into view soon afterwards in perfect step; a smart and imposing sight to swell the breast of any drill sergeant.
Watching once again were Albert, Diggory and Hattie. As the Grenadiers passed through the gates Albert nudged Diggory and pointed at the officer at their head.
‘That’s Uncle Henry,’ he whispered, ‘he’s a Grenadier and he’ll show those…’ he paused and then turned to his sister, ‘what regiment did you say they were?’
‘The Irish Guards,’ said little Hattie as fiercely as possible.
‘Oh, that’s right,’ replied Albert with a sniff, ‘he’ll show those Irish Guards how it’s done. Uncle Henry says they’re bog-trotting upstarts,’ he explained airily to Diggory.
‘Albert!’ his nanny snapped, ‘I will not have that sort of language.’
‘Sorry, nanny,’ said Albert, showing what was evidently a family trait of insincerity.
Out in the forecourt meanwhile the two companies were facing one another. The order was given for the dismounting guard to present arms which was then reciprocated by the relief. The officers marched to within a pace of one another and halted.
They saluted and then the officer of the old guard extended his hand.
‘He’s handing over the keys to the Palace,’ Albert whispered to Diggory and then pulled a face at Hattie which was meant to show he still knew the most about the ritual despite her surprise outburst the day before.
‘Uncle Henry’ reached out to take the key, paused and then snapped his hand back to his side. But what happened next surprised spectators and participants alike – all that is, except the officer who had just handed over the key.
From the left sleeve of the Irish Guards officer there suddenly appeared a string of bunting. Red, white and blue flags stretching from his wrist to Uncle Henry’s hand.
There was a pause. Then Uncle Henry’s bearskin twitched as he did a double take at the sight of the decoration. Quite forgetting himself, his composure gone, he lifted his hand to examine the key.
Then his head snapped to face the other officer at what might have been a remark from beneath the shaggy bearskin.
Before he could do anything more however, the dismounting officer saluted, did a smart about turn and marched back to his detail. With each swing of his left arm more and more bunting appeared leaving a brightly coloured and gently fluttering trail behind him. The last flag dropped from his sleeve four paces before he stopped and wheeled round again.
The crowd, already amused by the first appearance of the bunting began to laugh even harder as more of it kept appearing until they were cheering enthusiastically at the expense of the Grenadier who was now standing perfectly alone in front of the palace.
Completely discombobulated by events it took a few crucial seconds for Uncle Henry to realise what was going on and there followed even greater peals of laughter as he dithered between trying to reel the bunting in and turning around to march away.
In the end, now clearly apoplectic with suppressed rage, he did an about turn and marched back to his section, the bunting trailing behind him, which elicited more whoops of delight from the spectators.
Flustered, his voice cracking shrilly as he barked new orders, even his fellow Grenadiers seemed to be trying to hide their enjoyment of the spectacle.
‘Ha!’ said Hattie pointedly at her horrified brother, looking proudly at the detachment of Irish Guards, unconcealed smiles on the face of every man standing opposite them.
The band moved quickly into position to cover Uncle Henry’s retreat and began to play a number of marches but in the background it was still possible to see a corporal scurrying to pick up the bunting and disentangle it from the key, which from the crowd’s point of view was much for fun to watch.
Eventually the handover was complete and, wolfhound once again taking its handler for a walk and the band playing the slow march, the Irish Guards trooped out of the gates to tumultuous cheers.
‘Hurrah!’ cried the crowd, ‘Hurrah! Hurrah!’
Hattie had fought her way to the front of the pack this time and watched the detachment march slowly past.
She looked up at the officer that had made the day so unique and smiled and, it seemed to her anyway, that as he passed her he looked down at her out of the corner of his eye and smiled back.
In Wellington Barracks the returning officers were beset with further cheers, hearty slaps on the back and the welcome pop of a champagne cork by Grenadier and Irish Guards alike.
‘We watched the whole thing!’ cried the delirious officers who’d stayed behind, ‘it was magnificent! Stupendous! How I wish I could have seen his face! Bunting everywhere! He’s been asking for that for a long time!’
A Grenadier major with rosy cheeks leaned forward with a gleam in his eye and said: ‘Wonderful’.
Maurice removed his bearskin and then clapped a hand on the scarlet shoulder of the other figure.
‘Thaddeus,’ he declared, ‘you were superb.’
‘You know?’ said Thaddeus removing his own bearskin and accepting a brimming glass of champagne, ‘perhaps I do have a military calling after all.’
~ THE END ~
Read Thaddeus Watts’ previous caper, The Gower Street Hoax, here.