First female infantry captain marks change of the guard in London

A female soldier from Canada has become the first ever woman to captain the UK Queen's guard at Buckingham Palace.
Captain Megan Couto (centre) leads her battalion as the first female infantry officer to command the Queen's Guard on June 26, 2017.
Captain Megan Couto (centre) leads her battalion as the first female infantry officer to command the Queen's Guard on June 26, 2017.PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (AFP) - Captain Megan Couto became the first female infantry officer to command the troops protecting Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace, as a Canadian battalion took over guard duties on Monday.

Based in the central province of Manitoba, The Second Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry has been invited to Britain to mark the 150th anniversary of the founding of modern Canada.

Queen Elizabeth is the head of state of Britain, Canada and 14 other realms including Australia, Jamaica and New Zealand.

Couto, 24, has been given the prestigious role of Captain of The Queen's Guard, responsible for guarding the London palace.

"I'm just focusing on doing my job as best I can and staying humble. Any of my peers would be absolutely delighted to be Captain of The Queen's Guard and I'm equally honoured," she said.

Carrying her sword and wearing a scarlet tunic and white Wolseley helmet, Couto marched her troops to Buckingham Palace from the nearby Wellington Barracks in the historic and colourful ceremony.

The changing of the guard, conducted on four days a week, draws thousands of tourists to Buckingham Palace and Monday was no exception, with large crowds outside the gates in summer sunshine.

"I'm not feeling too nervous," Couto said beforehand.

"We've practised enough and all the guys have been through their paces - I've just to focus on saying the right commands.

"Princess Patricia was granddaughter to queen Victoria and born in Buckingham Palace (in 1886), so it seems to be appropriate for us to be guarding her childhood home." Elite soldiers have protected the monarch since King Henry VII established the Sovereign's Bodyguard in 1509.

The British Army initially said Couto was the first female officer to captain The Queen's Guard, but later corrected this to say she was the first female infantry officer, the role having been performed by non-infantry female officers before.

It blamed the slip-up on "over-enthusiasm".