The free world was shaken by the 9/11 terrorist strikes. Americans mourned the sad loss of life that day in our country, abroad, and with our allies. London became the focal point of the sorrow for American immigrants living in the United Kingdom.
A 600-year-old royal custom was broken by request made by Queen Elizabeth II on September 12. The Bands of the Household Division have performed music at the Changing of the Guard ceremonies at Buckingham Palace and all other Royal Palaces and Castles for centuries.
Traditional British melodies and current popular music have usually been played at the ceremony. But during state visits in honor of foreign dignitaries, foreign national anthems are played. The Queen asked for the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” in an extraordinary act of unity.
Around 5,000 people, many of them Americans, assembled in front of Buckingham Palace on September 13. The British Army’s longest continually operating regular regiment, the Coldstream Guards, oversaw the Changing of the Guard.
The American ambassador to Britain, William Farish, stood with his hand over his heart next to Prince Andrew while the Band of the Coldstream Guards performed “The Star-Spangled Banner” during the event. Many people in the crowd had tears in their eyes and waved American flags.
There was thunderous applause after the song ended. After two minutes of silence, Prince Andrew led the troops in a respectful salute. The band then performed a variety of solemn American songs, including “Hymn to the Fallen” by John Williams, which is included in Saving Private Ryan’s closing credits.
Any irony in the British Household Band performing not just a foreign national anthem outside of a state visit but also a song whose lyrics celebrate American victory over the British in the War of 1812 was fully overcome by the love and solidarity between the two countries.
A memorial ceremony for 9/11 victims was held at London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral the next day, once more at the Queen’s request. The Queen, the Prince of Wales, Tony Blair, Margaret Thatcher, and Ambassador Farish were among the almost 2,600 individuals that filled the church.
The “Star-Spangled Banner” was performed and sung by the Queen to start the service. The “Battle Hymn of the Republic” was sung at the conclusion of the service in addition to the American national song.
The British people continued their extraordinary outpouring of support after 9/11 throughout the War on Terror. British and American forces continue to stand firmly side by side to defeat enemies of both nations and their friends.