BELLINGHAM — Two Bellingham bagpipers — part of a world-renowned pipe and drum corps — held their breath at Buckingham Palace as they waited for an officer of the Queen’s Guard Home Division to decide if they were worthy of participating in the centuries-old Changing the Guard tradition.
They’d traveled as part of the Vancouver Police Pipe Band for the time-honored ritual at the royal residence in London. But first they had to pray for good weather, and then survive the scrutiny of a British “fit for role” inspection.
“The lieutenant colonel didn’t let us know we had passed until halfway through his speech after the inspection,” said Wayne D. Rogers, who with Carter Smith is part of the 100-year-old band known for its musicianship and precision drilling.
“I actually thought he was going to turn us down,” Rogers recently said via email from Britain.
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Neither Rogers nor Smith is a police officer or even a British subject, and in the back of their minds they feared a thumbs-down for just those reasons. Both had been deputized as special constables in order to join the police band.
Still, they were Yanks.
“The fit-for-role inspection was pretty intense. We were on parade for an hour, half of it at attention in the sunshine,” Rogers said. The 350-year-old Changing the Guard ceremony proceeds only in fair weather.
As far as anyone knows, the June 13 performance was the first time a nonmilitary band played for Changing the Guard, and Rogers and Smith were the first non-British subjects to participate. In addition, band member Katie Frye is the first female piper to ever play a guard mount (changing of the guard), and 75-year-old drummer Ed Wagstaff is the oldest person ever to play in one.
“I’d have to say the best part of the guard mount at Buckingham is marching up the mall playing, and when you come around the Queen Victoria Monument seeing the gates of Buckingham open for you, and marching through them,” Rogers said.
Prince William and ranking military officers attended the performance.
In addition to their performance at Buckingham, the band participated in a guard mount ceremony at Windsor Castle — the royal estate in the Berkshire countryside west of London — and at Royal Chelsea Hospital, a home for retired military personnel.
“The concert for the Chelsea pensioners at the Royal Hospital was very moving,” Rogers said. “As we marched playing around the courtyard, the residents lined the edges. Those that could, stood up, and those that could, saluted as we passed. It was a huge honor to be able to perform for them.”