Part One - The Preparations
At 12 noon on Tuesday 12th June, The President of The Republic of South Africa, Mr. Thabo Mbeki with Mrs. Zanele Mbeki were welcomed by HM The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh at the start of their State Visit to the UK. The official welcoming ceremony took place in the Home Park and was followed by a procession through the streets of Windsor up to the Castle. Large crowds gathered to extend a warm welcome to Nelson Mandela's successor, Mr Mbeki who had earlier landed at Northolt where he had been greeted by The Duke and Duchess of Gloucester.
A rehearsal had taken place in the early hours of Monday morning which we have also photographed. This article is available here.
Prior to the arrival of the President at noon, there was much activity along the route. From early morning crews had been sanding the route to allow greater grip for the horse, the police were out in force and of course the banners and crush barriers had been in place for several days before hand.
As the crowds gathered, a band played at the top of Peascod Street, and another marched down to River Street and entertained the crowd. A little while before the procession, soldiers had been positioned at eight paces apart to line the route. These 'half companies' were individually commanded, either to 'present arms' as other troops passed by, 'slope arms', 'stand at ease' or 'stand easy' as the situation demanded.
Ceremonial occasions such as these can be very stressful for the forces taking part. It is often hot and as they are wearing full ceremonial dress, it is not surprising that one or two fall by the wayside, as occurred during today's event by the Parish Church. I recall being present at a Garter Service in the Castle many years ago on a blistering hot day in June, yet the guards were required to stand for almost two hours in the intense heat. Several were casualties on that occasion so the regular commands to come to attention and to otherwise move, are welcome, though small, relief.
On occasions such as these not much time passes without something to watch and at this point it was the turn of the 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards to march to the Home Park followed by the Sovereign's Escort, The Household Cavalry.
Equally impressive are The Kings Troop Royal Horse Artillery who were to fire a salute as President Mbeki arrived in the Home Park.
It was interesting to note at close quarters how hard the 'brakeman' had to work as the King's Troop negotiated the hill down past the Curfew Tower. A little while earlier a small group of Troopers had marched to their position at the top of Thames Street. As the King's Troop rode by, it was the task of each of these Troopers to take charge of the brake handle at the back of each gun carriage to slow the heavy gun and ammunition 'limber' to prevent the horses ahead being overrun. As each gun carriage passed you could see the Troopers constantly adjusting the brake as the hill was negotiated. More than once the heavy wheels would lock up momentarily as they slipped on the sand covered road.
The Queen and the Duke with other members of the welcoming party traveled in the royal cars from the castle to the Home Park.
Events such as these are major ceremonial occasions. The route is lined with over 90 flagpoles decorated with banners in the colours of both the South African Republic and the United Kingdom. The Ceremonial Route today began in the Home Park where a Reception Pavilion had been specially constructed, overlooked by the imposing sight of Windsor Castle. The Reception Party, led by the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, also included Michael Trend, newly re-elected as Conservative Member of Parliament for Windsor, and the new Mayor of Windsor, Cllr. John Tryon. Also present were ministers of the South African government.
In front of the Reception Pavilion, a Guard of Honour was provided by the 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards parading the Queen's Company Colour, The Royal Standard of the Regiment and the Band of the Regiment together with the Corps of Drums of the Battalion. One of the most impressive sights during any State occasion such as this is the presence of the Household Cavalry and the Blues and Royals in addition to The King's Troop Royal Horse Artillery who fired a royal salute as the President and his party arrived.
Following the formal greetings, The Queen and President Mbeki took their place in the lead carriage, the 1902 State Landau. The procession was headed by two divisions of the Sovereign's Escort (The Household Cavalry) followed by six further open Landaus carrying other members of the official party. The procession passed the Riverside Station, in Datchet Road, turned left into Thames Street, passed below the castle walls and proceeded up the hill around the Curfew Tower, along the High Street, past the Guildhall and from there to Park Street and into the castle from the Long Walk entrance, the Cambridge Gate. Soldiers and navy sailors lined the route throughout.
the day before the ceremony
If you have any photographs of this, or indeed any event that took place in Windsor, we would be most grateful!