Queen Elizabeth II turned 94 this year, but she couldn’t celebrate with the traditional Trooping the Colour parade. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the queen instead celebrated with a scaled-down, socially distanced ceremony at Windsor Castle.
On Saturday morning, the queen watched a performance by a small number of Welsh Guardsmen and the band of the Household Division in what was called a “mini-trooping.” Normally surrounded by family, the queen watched the ceremony alone, flanked by just a few officials.
The queen received a royal salute, followed by a display of marching, with guardsmen following government-mandated social distancing measures. It marked a distinct contrast to usual ceremonies, in which guardsmen typically stand shoulder-to-shoulder.
“More spacing between individuals means that there is also no room for errors and so the soldier has to really concentrate on their own personal drill, reaction to orders, dressing and social distancing,” Garrison Seargent Major Warrant Officer Class 1 Andrew Stokes told BBC News.
The traditional Trooping the Colour in London was canceled due to the pandemic — marking only the second time during the queen’s 68-year reign that the parade has not been held. The last time the event was canceled was in 1995, just three year’s after the queen’s coronation, due to a national rail strike.
“The Welsh Guards and many of those on parade have recently been deployed within the United Kingdom as part of the nation’s response to the virus and so the context of the ceremony is particularly poignant,” Major General Christopher Ghika, who commands the Household Division, told the BBC, noting the decision to scale back the ceremony was “clouded in tragedy.”
Windsor Castle has not held a sovereign’s birthday celebration since 1895, under the reign of Queen Victoria. Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh have been at the castle since coronavirus lockdowns began.
While the queen’s actual birthday is in April, it is officially and publicly celebrated each year on the second Saturday of June. Saturday’s ceremony marked the queen’s first official public appearance during the pandemic.
“We know that coronavirus will not overcome us,” the Queen said during a rare public address in April. “As dark as death can be, particularly for those suffering with grief, light and life are greater…When we gather happily around a source of light, it unites us.”