The terror attacks on September 11, 2001, shook the free world. Americans at home, abroad and our allies mourned the tragic loss of life that day. For American expats in the United Kingdom, London became the focal point of their grief.
On September 12, Queen Elizabeth II made a request that broke a 600-year-old royal tradition. For centuries, the Bands of the Household Division played music during the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace and all the other Royal Palaces and Castles. The music played during the ceremony has always been a mix of traditional British songs and popular music of the day. However, foreign national anthems are played for state visits in honor of foreign dignitaries. In an unprecedented show of solidarity, the Queen requested the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
On September 13, an estimated 5,000 people gathered outside of Buckingham Palace, many of them Americans. The Coldstream Guards, the oldest continuously serving regular regiment in the British Army, conducted the Changing of the Guard. During the ceremony, the Band of the Coldstream Guards played “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Some of the crowd sang along while the American ambassador to Britain, William Farish, stood with his hand over his heart next to Prince Andrew. Many in the crowd waved American flags with tears in their eyes.
The conclusion of the song was met with resounding applause. A two-minute silence was observed before Prince Andrew led the troops in a formal salute. The band then played a selection of somber American music including “Hymn to the Fallen” by John Williams, the song from the final credits of Saving Private Ryan. Any irony of the British Household Band playing not only a foreign national anthem outside of a state visit, but a song whose lyrics highlight American perseverance over the British during the War of 1812, was completely overshadowed by the friendship and support shown between the two nations.
The next day, a memorial service for 9/11 victims was held at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, again at the request of the Queen. Over 2,600 people filled the cathedral including the Queen, the Prince of Wales, Prime Minister Tony Blair, former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Ambassador Farish. At the opening of the service, “The Star-Spangled Banner” was played with the Queen singing along. In addition to the American national anthem, “Battle Hymn of the Republic” was also sung toward the end of the service.
The incredible show of support by the British people in the wake of 9/11 carried into the War on Terror. To this day, British troops stand steadfast alongside Americans to combat those who would do harm to either country or their allies.
Feature Image: Public domain