White Noise: The Overlooked Imperial Statues of Horse Guards Parade

Trooping the Colour, Horseguards Parade, Central London, June 2013

Horse Guards Parade occupies a prestigious location at the core of Royal London. Famous for hosting Trooping the Colour, the resplendent annual event that commemorates the monarch’s official birthday, it draws the attention of countless visitors and Londoners alike. Yet, the two grand equestrian statues that flanked the parade grounds often remain conspicuously unnoticed. Marking pivotal figures in Britain’s imperial past, these statues are more than mere decorative elements; they are relics that speak of an empire that once held sway over vast regions across the globe.


The Men Behind the Names: Wolseley and Roberts

Adorning the parade ground, the statues bear simplistic inscriptions—Wolseley and Roberts—almost as if veiling the elaborate histories they represent. However, a closer look at the rear of the statues’ plinths reveals an extensive list of military campaigns that span continents and decades.


Garnet Wolseley: The General Who Almost Was

Garnet Wolseley, 1st Viscount Wolseley, gained prominence for his roles in various military campaigns, including the Crimean War and the events formerly known as the Indian Mutiny. His contributions were especially noteworthy in Africa, where his Ashanti campaign culminated in the destruction of the Ashanti capital in 1874. Though he arrived two days too late to save General Gordon of Khartoum, Wolseley remains one of Britain’s most celebrated military figures.


Field Marshal Roberts: A Legacy Etched in Stone and Memory

Adjacent to Wolseley stands the statue of Field Marshal Roberts, another stalwart in British military history. Roberts gained his Victoria Cross in the conflict known to some as the Indian Mutiny and to others as the First War of Independence. His military career ended in the harsh landscapes of South Africa, where, along with General Kitchener, he conducted campaigns that led to the unfortunate loss of civilian lives in poorly managed concentration camps. His role in the British Expedition to Abyssinia against Emperor Tewodros in 1868 was also significant, as it demonstrated the potential of emerging technologies like the telegraph in extending Britain’s imperial reach.


Horse Guards Parade and the Empire’s Footprints

The campaigns mentioned on the plinths of these statues are, in many ways, historical milestones that mark Britain’s imperial ambitions. From the looting of artefacts that still reside in the British Museum to the impact of military campaigns on indigenous populations, these statues open a dialogue on Britain’s role in shaping—and in some instances, disrupting—the world order.


Unlocking Imperial Narratives: The White Noise Tour

These statues feature prominently in the White Noise tour, an exploration of Britain’s imperial history through the statues that populate Whitehall. Often disregarded as mere “white noise”—unnoticed elements against London’s bustling backdrop—each statue carries a legacy worth revisiting. A casual stroll through Whitehall helps us unravel not just the personal stories behind these statues but also the broader narrative of Britain’s imperial past.


Conclusion: More Than Just Statues

What may initially appear as mere ornamental features in the landscape of Horse Guards Parade are, in fact, monumental records of Britain’s complex imperial history. These statues serve as silent witnesses to an era of grand ambitions and sobering realities, inviting us to delve deeper into the many-layered tapestry of British history.


In sum, as you make your way through the parade ground or consider participating in the White Noise tour, give these statues more than just a cursory glance. You might find that they have compelling stories to tell, stories that have been waiting patiently for someone to listen.


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