In its 350-year history, the changing of the guard ceremony in England has never included a non-military pipe band — until now, says the Vancouver Police Department.
This June, the force's 34-member pipe band will accompany members of the Household Division, British soldiers who guard the Queen, during ceremonies at Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle.
Pipe Sgt. Bob Murphie said Monday the trip has been about two years in the making and is meant to celebrate the band's centennial year.
"It's very significant," said Murphie. "We're going to London in the first instance to perform in the changing of the Queen's guard."
"That's been done by the military for 350 years, the military and the Commonwealth, so Commonwealth regiments from around the world have gone to participate in it. But it's always been done by the military, so we're the first, the very first, non-military band to do this."
The band is scheduled to participate in four daily ceremonies at Buckingham Palace and two at Windsor Castle, starting June 16.
It will also play at the Royal Chelsea Hospital, a residence for retired army pensioners, and take part in a ceremony known as the beating retreat at a parade ground near Buckingham Palace.
The beating retreat is a historic military tradition, which saw drums beaten, camp gates closed and flags lowered at the end of the day.
Practice makes perfect
Murphie said all the band's current members are sworn members of the police department and have done a lot of work getting ready for the trip.
He said the British military regiments that guard the Queen are the best in the world at what they do, are phenomenal in drill, are wonderful musicians and are the epitome of perfection.
"So we've had to raise the standard of our band in terms of drill and deportment and music as well."
The pipe band was formed in 1914 under the authorization of then Chief Const. Malcolm MacLennan.
Current Deputy Chief Const. Warren Lemcke said most of the 10 constables who gathered in 1914 to form the band had no experience with the pipes and drums.
The band has since played around the globe -- including in Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, the United States and Switzerland — and for royalty, heads of state and dignitaries.
The department says it's the oldest non-military pipe band in British Columbia and the longest continually serving police pipe band in the world.