Many people do not realize that when you go to see the changing of the guard or see guards on duty outside Buckingham Palace, these guards are real soldiers in the British Army. And while guns are generally not carried by law enforcement in London, the guns these guards have are real and the soldiers are trained to use them. What we see are their ceremonial duties but these men also do everything else you would expect from trained infantry soldiers.
There are five regiments of foot guards in the household division who provide the queen's guard at Buckingham Palace. The five regiments are the Grenadier Guards, the Coldstream Guards, the Scots Guards, the Irish Guards, and Welsh Guards.
To understand the rank structure of the guards, a lance corporal has two chevrons instead of one. A lance sergeant has three chevrons in white and a gold (grenadier) and a full sergeant (others have four) has three gold chevrons and wears a sash. The household division also includes two regiments of mounted cavalry.
The five regiments have subtle differences with their uniform so this information can help you identify them. The key things to look for are the buttons on the tunic and the plume (also known as a "hackle") on the bearskin.
The Grenadier Guards can trace its lineage back to Lord Wentworth's Regiment in the 1650s, which combined with another regiment to form the current regiment, known as the first regiment of foot guards. Since then, the regiment has filled both a ceremonial and protective role as well as an operational one.
- Buttons: Single buttons, evenly spaced
- Bearskin Plume: White plume on the left of cap
- Decorations: Grenade on collar badge, royal cipher shoulder badge, and the brass belt buckle also has the regimental cipher.
The Coldstream Guard is the oldest regiment in the Regular Army in continuous active service. The guard is named for Coldstream, Scotland, where it was formed in 1650 by General George Monck.
- Buttons: Pairs of buttons
- Bearskin Plume: Red plume on the right of cap
- Decorations: Garter star on collar badge, rose on shoulder badge, and brass belt buckle with the regimental cipher.
The Scots Guards can trace its start back to 1642. The guards were the personal bodyguard of King Charles of England and Scotland. It is also one of the oldest formed regiments in the Regular Army.
- Buttons: Buttons in threes
- Bearskin Plume: No plume
- Decorations Thistle collar badge, thistle star on shoulder badge, and the brass belt buckle also has the regimental cipher.
Combined with the Royal Irish Regiment, it is one of the two Irish infantry regiments in the British Army. This regiment participated in the WWI, WWII, the Iraq War, the War in Afghanistan, and other conflicts throughout history.
- Buttons: Buttons in fours
- Bearskin Plume: Blue plume on the right of cap
- Decorations: Shamrock on collar badge, St. Patrick Star on shoulder badge, and the brass belt buckle also has the regimental cipher.
The Welsh Guard was established in 1915 to serve in WWI as a single-battalion regiment. It served to fight on the Western Front until 1918. During WWII, it was expanded to three battalions. Back to one battalion in the 21st century, it has been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. The Welsh Guard is pictured (center).
- Buttons: Buttons in fives
- Bearskin Plume: White and green plume on left of cap
- Decorations: Leek on collar badge, leek on shoulder badge, and the brass belt buckle also has the regimental cipher.