To mark Armed Forces Day on 29 June, Jack Davies — a Guardsman in 1st Battalion the Welsh Guards — talks about his career protecting the Queen and serving in Afghanistan.
"I wake up around 5am... we’re expected to be on parade by half-past"
Mounting the guard at Buckingham Palace always means an early start. Most of the work is done before we even get to the palace.
I wake up around 5am and we’re expected to be on parade at the barracks by half-past. Senior officers check that we’re in position and looking smart enough to represent the Army and the United Kingdom to thousands of visitors to London.
We then have a rehearsal at our barracks in London before heading out to mount the guard for the rest of the day.
"Your neck starts to ache from the weight of the bearskin cap"
I’m always aware that people are looking at us closely and taking lots of photos, so I put a lot of work into looking after the uniform. Our red tunic, bearskin cap and bright white belt all need to be cleaned and polished, and our heavy black boots and brass buttons require constant care and attention.
The diligence, hard work and attention to detail we show on parade also serves us well on the battlefield.
It can be a long day and your neck starts to ache from the weight of the bearskin cap after a few hours. No concessions are made for the weather — we’re allowed to wear a cape on our way to the palace if it’s raining, but apart from that you’re exposed to the elements.
"The tourists just keep coming"
It’s a great job if you like people watching. I was taken aback by how many people there were at first. I expected the numbers of tourists to wane over time, but they just keep coming.
As well as mounting the guard at Buckingham Palace, I also have duties at Windsor Castle and the Tower of London. My first Trooping the Colour was a highlight for me — marching down the Mall in front of the huge crowds was an amazing experience.
"The hardest thing about Afghanistan was missing last summer's heatwave"
We couldn’t take part last year because we were deployed to Afghanistan. We’re trained for both operational roles and ceremonial duties and it can be a challenge to ensure you’re always prepared for both.
During our seven months in Kabul our primary role was force protection — keeping mentors at the Afghan National Army Officer Academy safe from harm. We also provided the Quick Reaction Force for any incidents within the city.
The hardest thing about our tour to Afghanistan was missing last year’s heatwave at home and not being able to follow England in the World Cup.
But it’s great to know that our work in Afghanistan helped keep people safe and reduce the threat of terrorism in the UK, too.
"You can go from formal occasions at the palace to front line operations almost overnight"
This week we swapped the palaces of London for the hills of the Brecon Beacons, where we’re practicing our operational skills ready for the next deployment. I’m currently training as an anti-tank specialist.
It’s strange to think you can go from formal occasions at the palace to front line operations almost overnight, but everyone’s resilient and the intense training helps you get used to the mix of demanding roles.
It’s a far cry from my previous job in a supermarket and I’m glad I followed in my brothers’ footsteps to follow a career which can offer me a new adventure every day. I was a semi-professional footballer as a teenager, so keeping my fitness level high is a bonus too.
By Guardsman Jack Davies.