Love a man or woman in uniform and want to get married? Find out how to plan a military wedding ceremony, including the customary pageantry of the Guard of Honour with the traditional arch of swords, which venues are best for a military wedding ceremony, including music and etiquette advice on uniforms, seating and the cutting of the cake – with a sword!
Planning a Military Wedding Ceremony
If you or your partner, or both of you, are in the army, navy or air force, you are entitled to have a military wedding, in full unform. Although you are no longer required formally ask your Commanding Officer for permission to get married, you may still be expected to. Once you have been granted permission by your commanding officer, you can go about planning your military wedding ceremony. You should cnsider who to appoint as your ushers, whether you would like them to attend in full unform, whether you would like them to form a Guard of Honour with the sword of arches for you both to walk through, if you want to have any military music, either at your ceremony, reception, or both, and if you want to cut your wedding cake with the customary sword!
The Guards’ Chapel, London
When it comes to choosing your wedding venues, the Guards’ Chapel, or the Royal Military Chapel in London’s St. James Park, seen above, is a stunning venue for a religious military wedding ceremony with its Grecian temple style. Originally built in 1839, the Guards’ Chapel is the religious home of the Household Division at the Wellington Barracks.
If you’re looking for breathtaking interiors then London’s Brompton Oratory, below, is another popular venue for a military wedding ceremony. For civil weddings, London’s Army and Navy Club is ideal, as are many of these city wedding venues across the UK.
Uniforms at Your Military Wedding Ceremony
Authentic military uniforms can be worn by any of the bridal party or wedding guests. It is worth noting that the groom and his best man should not wear gloves at the ceremony because of their handling of the wedding rings, but the ushers are expected to wear white gloves throughout. The men should not wear buttonholes in their unifiorm but should instead wear their military decorations.
Military Wedding Ceremony Etiquette
As it’s likely that many guests will also be in the military, according to etiquette, guests should be seated according to rank. High-ranking officials, such as a colonel, lieutenant or above, must be seated in positions of honour at the ceremony and also at the reception for the wedding breakfast. The commanding officer of the bride and/or groom should have a special place reserved for them towards the front of the ceremony near the parents.
Military music could herald the beginning of your ceremony. You may wish to appoint one of your uniformed ushers to be your master of ceremonies, complete with a trumpet to introduce you. They could also organise a formal recieving line and arrange to have military-themed music played again later at the reception.
The Guard of Honour and the Arch of Swords
It’s not compulsory but you might want to organise a Guard of Honour, where a group of soldiers or other military personnel, all in full unform, officially welcome the newly weds, either by forming an archway or simply standing to attention. To arrange this there should be at least three uniformed people on either side to form a human tunnel for the couple to walk through, with one officer in charge to give the orders.
What could be more dramatic, when you’ve just exchanged your vows than to walk under an archway of swords together? This ancient tradition, also known as an arch of sabres or steel, is only applicable to servicemen and servicewomen not civilians. It used to be that only commissioned officers were afforded the luxury of an arch of swords but in these enlightened times all ranking members of the army, navy, marines or air force are allowed them.
Several popular variations exist including announcing the couple to the assembled guests, ‘Ladies and Gentleman, may I present Mr and Mrs Smith,’ and lowering the final two sabres, blocking the couples way, to demand they kiss – usually to rapturous applause.
Those presenting swords are known as the honour guard and should attend, like the groom, in full dress uniform – their boots polished, their swords shining. Usually there are between six and eight officers used to form the arch. The head usher or senior officer then issues the command, ‘centre face’, causing the honour guard to form two lines facing each other. At the further command, ‘Draw Swords,’ each officer then draws his sword, lifting it in one motion above his head with the blade curved outwards, cutting edge up. In most cases only the bride and groom, not the bridal party, are allowed to walk through the arch of steel towards their new life together.
Etiquette wise, swords could be used in a non-military wedding in certain limited contexts. For example, if the groom and ushers were wearing traditional national dress that is usually or commonly seen with a sword, then they too could adopt the ritual.
Cutting the Cake with a Sword
According to etiquette, if the bride or groom is an officer, they may use a ceremonial military sword to cut their wedding cake – in style. Traditionally, the groom presents the sword over his arm with the blade pointed outward, to his bride. Then, holding his hand over hers, the bride and groom cut the cake together. The sword makes a particularly amazing wedding photo opportunity so be sure to let your guests know in advance that you are planning to do this.
Find out more on how to plan a military wedding ceremony at the Army Families Federation. For wedding venues inspiration, discover where you can’t get married, and some amazing places that are ideal for a military wedding ceremony, where you now can.