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Trooping the Colour

Trooping the Colour is a special ceremony performed by regiments of the British and Commonwealth armies to celebrate the Queen's birthday. The pageantry display involves a parade of 1,400 troops, 200 horses and 400 musicians from ten different bands - the Queen always takes the salute.

Accompanied by an escort from the Household Cavalry's Mounted Regiment, the day begins with the Queen leaving Buckingham Palace at 10am in her carriage - in years gone by, she travelled on horseback but in recent years, she has used a carriage. The Queen travels down the Mall and receives the royal salute, before inspecting the King's Troop Royal Horse Artillery and the Household Division's mounted and foot guards.

The troops always wear their ceremonial uniform of red tunic and bearskin hat for the parade. Together with a Corps of Drums and sometimes pipers, the mounted band of the Household Cavalry and the massed bands of the foot guards provide the music each year.

The flag - the Regimental Colour - is carried down the ranks and the parade marches past the Queen with their ceremonial guns. After the parade, the Queen returns to Buckingham Palace by carriage and assembles with other royal family members on the balcony at 1pm, when the Royal Air Force stages its fly-past.

Steeped in British history, the Trooping of the Colour is a popular tradition and indeed a tourist attraction in its own right. It dates back to the reign of King Charles II who was sovereign between 1660 and 1685. At that time, it was a ceremonial occasion, although not one that was held every year.

Based in wartime Britain, it has great significance. Regimental flags of the British Army (known as their Colours) were displayed alongside the unit's insignia on their uniform, so that they could be easily identified on the battlefield.

In times of war, it was necessary for the troops to be able to recognise their regiment's Colours with ease, so they were regularly displayed - the young troops lined up and held their Colours in the air and officers would march between the ranks and inspect them. This was where the term "Trooping the Colour" originated.

In 1748, during the reign of King George II, it was decided that the Trooping the Colour would celebrate the official birthday of the monarch. When George III became king in 1760, it became an annual ceremony and has been ever since. Queen Elizabeth II has taken the salute every year since the coronation in 1953 - except in 1955, when a national rail strike caused transport chaos.

The ceremony is always paraded alongside St James’s Park in London, on a Saturday in June. Although Queen Elizabeth II's real birthday is on 21st April, it's her "official" birthday in June that is celebrated with the Trooping the Colour parade. It also coincides with the publishing of the monarch's Birthday Honours List and the BBC traditionally broadcasts the whole ceremony live on television.

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