Sailors replace soldiers at royal palaces to celebrate navy

Members of the Royal Navy marching band perform during the Changing of the Guard outside Buckingham Palace in London, Britain on Nov 26, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS
Members off the Royal Navy march during the Changing of the Guard outside Buckingham Palace in London, Britain on Nov 26, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (AFP) - Sailors from Britain's Royal Navy performed the changing of the guard ceremony outside Buckingham Palace on Sunday (Nov 26) for the first time in the famous drill's 357-year history.

They have temporarily taken over the role - which dates back to the restoration of the monarchy under Charles II in 1660 - as part of "year of the navy" celebrations in 2017.

A favourite of tourists from around the world, the changing of the guard is normally carried out between Foot Guards from the Army's Household Division regiments, wearing their signature red tunics.

The 48 sailors selected for this first naval ceremonial handover, dressed in the Royal Navy's traditional blue uniforms, are among 86 seamen set to serve as guards at Windsor Castle, The Tower of London and St James's Palace over the next few weeks.

They will next mount guard for the first time at Windsor on Monday (Nov 27).

They have spent a month at the navy's headquarters learning the intricate routines required for their new roles from drill instructors.

It is the first time in more than 400 years that sailors instead of soldiers are standing guard at Buckingham Palace.

They marched through its famous gates to the theme tune of Game Of Thrones, watched by thousands of people, many of them tourists.

The celebration of the navy coincides with the arrival of several new ships to its fleet, including a long-awaited aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth.

But it also comes amid ongoing funding cuts which critics have said could leave the country's armed forces perilously depleted.

The most senior officer in the Royal Navy, Admiral Sir Philip Jones, struck an optimistic tone in welcoming the deployment.

"The sight of sailors undertaking public duties in our capital city is a sign that the Royal Navy is back where it belongs, at the very heart of national life," he said.

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