A Canadian soldier has become the first female officer to command troops guarding the Queen at Buckingham Palace.
Capt Megan Couto led about 40 Canadian soldiers through the changing of the guard ceremony at the palace on Monday morning, watched by the usual throng of tourists who saw history being made.
Before the ceremony, Couto said: “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.”
As captain of the guard, she took up a position at nearby St James’s Palace after the ceremony.
Couto’s Canadian unit, the Second Battalion of Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (2PPCLI) – known as the Patricia’s – has been invited to the UK to mark Canada’s 150th anniversary this year.
They are serving as the Queen’s Guard on select dates until 3 July, keeping watch as sentries at Buckingham Palace, St James’s Palace, the Tower of London and Windsor Castle. During the changing of the guard ceremony, they have been accompanied by the 35-piece Royal Canadian Artillery Band.
The role of mounting the Queen’s Guard usually falls to the British army’s household division, which is largely made up of male troops.
Women in the British army have served on frontline duties in a variety of roles but until July last year they were banned from close-combat ground roles, so no female officer has previously served as captain of the Queen’s Guard. By contrast, Canada’s military has allowed women to serve in nearly all roles since 1989.
Couto is second in command in the Patricia’s to Maj Jay Hudson but, having commanded the guard last week, he has stepped aside to allow her the chance to lead in the ceremonial role.
She told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation she did not know until recently that Canadian soldiers could guard the Queen: “It is a big deal because of the tradition and the importance of the ceremony.”
The UK government is opening up combat roles to women over a phased three-year term. Since November last year, some units of the Royal Armoured Corps have been open to women. The Queen’s foot guards will be open to women by the end of next year.
Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, based in Shilo, Manitoba, was named after Princess Patricia of Connaught, daughter of the then governor general of Canada. Princess Patricia had special links with Buckingham Palace, the place of her birth on 17 March 1886. Her father was Prince Arthur, the third son of Queen Victoria.