Keeping The Pace

Scarlett Tunics marching

In the 1970/80s I had a great idea; I was going to make a record (yes vinyl) that would also be on cassette tape for insertion into a Walkman (portable tape recorder). The music would accompany people (marching) as they walked, ran, jogged etc. Music would be played strictly to match time and distance (with measured steps) for easy reference for the person ‘keeping fit’. I spent so long planning the dratted thing, someone else beat me to it; but it was never as scientific as mine!

However, this is not about me but our Armed Forces’ marching tempi. Setting a tempo is essential to instil fundamental discipline on the parade ground where a person is taught to react individually to an order, similarly in a group, but as one and in a set tempo. Recruits march at 120 paces to the minute in the Army and RAF. For trained personnel the quick marching tempo is uniformly 116, and slow march at 65; these tempi are used from the onset of training by the Royal Navy and Royal Marines.

Fleet of Foot

The Quick march tempo of the Rifle Regiments, Light Infantry and Gurkhas (all of whom do not slow march) is 140. During the development of the war role of these regiments it was found that heavy Infantry drill was cumbersome; the need to move quickly in reconnaissance or rearguard actions, or to form a screen, required fast marching and occasionally double marching. Preserving the element of surprise was desirable too so as not to give a position away to the enemy. On ceremonial parades, march pasts are done in both quick and double time, the latter 180 paces to the minute, which derived from the Peninsular wars, where they routinely carried out marches over long distances – at a pace far quicker than the rest of the Army.  By doubling five paces and then marching five paces, it was found that distances were more easily managed.  The Light Division was famous for its march to Talevera in 1809 – covering 250 miles in 6 days. As time passed the more reckless commanding officers have moved their battalions along at increasing speeds. The 60th Rifles favored 160 for obvious reasons and today’s Light Division band loves to finish off a display at a cracking pace – as do the Gurkhas.


Investitures in Buckingham Palace have the Yeoman of the Guard march to their Guarding positions in to the State Ballroom at a sedate 100, but this can be flexible, let’s just call it Tempo Comodo, that is set by the Messenger Sergeant Major tapping his Staff to coincide with the left foot striking the ground.

Mounted troops, dis-mounted

When marching on foot, or ‘on the hoof’ as it is called, the Cavalry share the same official marching paces as those in the rest of the Army i.e. 120 and 65. This will raise some eyebrows no doubt, but you will find that most cavalry regiments take a steadier pace through tradition, the throw back being to when they were mounted and paraded past inspecting officers at the ‘walk’ and ‘trot’, the ‘walk’ tempo falling in between quick and slow time at around 96. The Household Cavalry functions still as a mounted regiment which, on occasion; parades in dismounted orders of dress, requiring a slight variation of tempo according to their foot wear. The mounted Jack Boot, that comes up to the knee, requires 90 and at times, even slower.

Soldier march

Mixed marching

Here then are some snippets on differing tempos seen on State ceremonial occasions in British life. Those who watched the funeral cortège of Diana, Princess of Wales, witnessed a horse draw gun carriage bearing her coffin, escorted by Welsh Guardsmen at 70 paces to the minute. Interestingly, had the carriage been pulled by Naval ratings instead of horses the pace would have been 75.

Old Comrades at the Cenotaph and those grand old gentlemen of the Royal Hospital, the Chelsea Pensioners, all march past at 100. You may have seen the Chelsea Pensioners marching at the Festival of Remembrance in the Royal Albert Hall where the pace is much slower to allow for the negotiation of the steps descending into the Arena, hence another tempo Comodo.

Bonus miscellany

Here’s an anomaly peculiar to the Royal Hospital, Chelsea. When the companies of In Pensioners march past the reviewing officer on Founders’ day, they come from both sides of the parade area due to the lack of space and those who pass with their right shoulders facing the dais, salute with their left hands, why? Because the pre first world war Soldiers’ Rule Book  stated,  “……..the salute, except when swords are worn, will always be with the hand furthest from the person saluted…..” . This was done to demonstrate that the unseen hand did not possess a weapon. When the rules were modified to ‘always saluting with the right hand’ the Chelsea Pensioners uniquely claimed the right to retain the old rule – Tradition! Unbeatable!

Cyril Foster

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