Book Review: Horse Guards

Horse Guards, by Barney White-Spunner (Macmillan, £30)

The manner of the launch of this book earlier this month demonstrated that even after three and half centuries, the spirit and character of the Household Cavalry is little changed. The Princess Royal was there to congratulate author Barney White-Spunner. As Goldstick of the Blues and Royals (and thus Colonel of that regiment), she represents the continuity of Royal patronage that has existed ever since Charles II formed a close personal bodyguard of Life Guards, so that the unfortunate fate that befell his father did not also befall him.

Still a serving Major-General, the author has brought military experience to bear on this potentially complex subject, but his breezy style and inclusion of telling anecdotes ensure the 600 pages give genuine insight into what life has been like in the regiments through the centuries. Indeed, the author was delighted that so much archive material still existed. Such as the story of the Bishop of Winchester, who, visiting the troops drawing up for the Battle of Sedgemoor in 1685, attached his own coach horses to the guns, dragged them to the front, and directed their fire.

A member of the modern clergy might not be quite so hands on, but the regiment’s recent experiences in Afghanistan are an example of how it is still at the forefront of operations, and making history now as it did then. It is still present at every state visit by a foreign head of state, but there is now little call for restoring order on these occasions, as when they had to break up the escorts of the French and Spanish ambassadors, who had set about each other as they escorted their respective dignitaries towards Westminster to present themselves to the restored Charles II.

Horse Guards is enjoyable for anyone interested in military history, as one or more of the regiments that make up the Household Cavalry (The Life Guards and The Blues and Royals) have been involved in most military campaigns from the origins of this country’s standing army to Waterloo, through the Crimea, the Boer War and the two World Wars, as well as the huge numberof operations in recent years.

The beautifully reproduced book is stuffed full of wonderful illustrations, maps and photographs. Indeed, one of the picture researchers, Sarah Jackson, has impeccable military connections. Her husband, Gen Sir Mike Jackson, has just retired as Chief of the General Staff.

The book is a precursor to the opening of the Household Cavalry museum by the regiment’s Colonel-in-Chief, The Queen, at Horse Guards next year. It will be a living museum with windows onto the stables where The Queen’s Life Guard is stationed every day of the year. But the museum will also be a reminder, like the book, that the regiment has always been, and is still, at the forefront of operations worldwide.