A Canadian soldier, Megan Couto, has become the first woman to lead the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace.
Leading 40 of her fellow soldiers, the 24-year-old commanded the Queen’s Guard during the centuries-old ceremony Monday, which normally takes place about four times a week outside Queen Elizabeth’s official London residence and attracts thousands of onlookers.
“It is just another day on the job,” Couto told reporters before ceremony. “But it is a pretty special one for me.”
Canada is one of 15 Commonwealth countries where Queen Elizabeth is the head of state. Couto and her unit, the Second Battalion of Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, is serving as the Queen’s Guard in honor of Canada’s 150th anniversary.
“I know certainly for myself, it’s a great pleasure to be considered an equal of my peers, and any one of my peers would be absolutely delighted to be the captain of the guard here,” Couto said. “So I feel equally honored to be given the opportunity regardless of my gender.”
The ceremony takes place at 11:00 a.m. sharp on any given change day, in front of Buckingham Palace in central London. Music accompanies the marches of both the old guards out and the new guards in.
The soldiers, who don iconic red tunics and tall black bearskin caps, are not just accessories to provide tourists with a photo opportunity. They are a highly skilled troop prepared to assume combat duty. Until now, the honor of captain has been filled solely by men.
“Back when we were training at my home base in Shilo [Manitoba], two of the UK drill instructors that came over from the Coldstream Guards had mentioned that they’d never seen a female captain guard,” said Couto, who graduated from the Royal Military College of Canada in 2014. “I was surprised.”
Canada’s armed forces were one of the first to allow women to serve in all military occupations. The British have only allowed women to take up close combat roles since 2016.