Since the earliest days of warfare soldiers in battle have needed a symbol with which they could identify themselves with their sovereign, their corps, and those who had in past days fallen in battle fighting for the same cause.
These symbols have usually taken the form of flags of various kinds which in addition to their symbolic significance had a practical value as well. They marked the site, of a Headquarters; they indicated the location of the leader in battle and they served as a rallying point for soldiers who had become lost or disorganised in the confusion of the fight. Since the early days of the standing British Army, Infantry regiments (except Light Infantry) have had colours, Household Cavalry and Dragoon Guards Standards, and Dragoons Guidons .
The term Guidon is derived from the old French “Guyd homme” the flag carried by the leader of horse. It has always been swallow-tailed in shape. In 1751 it was realised that regulations governing the use of guidons were vague and depended most likely on the whims of individual commanding officers. An Army Council Instruction, or Royal Warrant as it was called in those days, was issued which gave detailed instructions as to the number, size, and colour of guidons, and what badges and insignia they should carry. Dragoon regiments normally had three Guidons. Firstly, the King’s Guidon in scarlet with the Royal insignia on it and the Second and Third Guidons in regimental colour with the regimental badge in the middle.
All Guidons included the rank or number of the regiment and in two corners the White Horse of Hannover, the state from which the British Royal Family came in 1714. In later years regiments were permitted to wear Battle Honours on Guidons and this continued until 1834 when they ceased being carried by Light Cavalry regiments. Battle Honours were then carried on drum cloths of mounted bands until after the second world war when Her Majesty decided that new Guidons should be presented to regiments with the Battle Honours emblazoned on them.
The Trooping ceremony goes back to the earliest days of the seventeenth century. The Guidon was “trooped” by being marched in front of the troops so that it could be recognised by every man as a rallying point in battle. In the early period in our history this was probably done every evening, when circumstances permitted, before the Guidon was lodged for the night with its escort in some secure place. It was certainly done when a regiment saluted and bade farewell to an old Guidon before the presentation of a new one, as on 10th June 1961.
Guidons were originally carried by Cornets (2 Lt’s), but perhaps they were too heavy for these youths who were probably only in their early teens. Since 1822 senior Warrant Officers have had the responsibility for carrying them and defending them in battle, if necessary, with their lives. Indeed, the long and bloody history of the British Army abounds with stories of how colours, standards or guidons were defended to the last man to prevent them falling into the hands of the enemy.