Washington bagpipers perform at Buckingham Palace changing of guard

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BELLINGHAM — Two Bellingham bagpipers, part of a world-renowned pipe and drum corps, held their breath at Buckingham Palace on Friday, June 13, waiting for an officer of the Queen's Guard Home Division to decide if they were worthy of participating in the centuries-old Changing the Guard tradition.

They'd traveled as part of the Vancouver Police Pipe Band for the time-honored ritual at the royal residence in London. But first they had to pray for good weather, and then survive the scrutiny of a British "fit for role" inspection.

"The lieutenant colonel didn't let us know we had passed until halfway through his speech after the inspection," said Wayne D. Rogers, who with Carter Smith is part of the 100-year-old band that's known for its musicianship and precision drilling.

"I actually thought he was going to turn us down," Rogers said via email from Britain last week.

Neither Rogers nor Smith is a police officer or even a British subject, and in the back of their minds they feared a thumbs-down for just those reasons. Both had been deputized as special constables in order to join the police band.

But still, they were Yanks.

"The fit for role inspection was pretty intense. We were on parade for an hour, half of it at attention in the sunshine," Rogers said. The 350-year-old Changing the Guard ceremony only proceeds in fair weather — and the British Isles could challenge Western Washington with its share of gray skies.

"I'd have to say the best part of the 'guard mount' at Buckingham is marching up the mall playing, and when you come around the Queen Victoria Monument seeing the gates of Buckingham open for you, and marching through them," Rogers said.

In attendance for their performance that day was Prince William, along with ranking military officers.

As far as anyone knows, it was the first time that a non-military band has played for Changing the Guard, and Rogers and Smith were the first non-British subjects to participate. In addition, band member Katie Frye is the first female piper to ever play a guard mount (changing of the guard), and 75-year-old drummer Ed Wagstaff is the oldest person ever to play in one.