Janna Scantlebury Biography
England's Janna Scantlebury became the first black woman to serve in an elite mounted regiment attached to the royal household. As a member of the King's Troop of the Royal Horse Artillery, Scantlebury participates in the lavish, colorful pageants such as the Trooping of the Colours every June in honor of Queen Elizabeth II's birthday. The London-born nineteen-year-old made headlines in 2003 when she became one of the historic ceremonial guards, who have guarded the royal family since the 1600s.
Scantlebury grew up in the neighborhood of Bow, part of the Tower Hamlets borough in East London. Tower Hamlets, named because of its proximity to the famed Tower of London, is a part of the city known to have been continually inhabited since the Bronze Age (c. 2500-600 B.C.E.). Her mother, Jennifer, was a local official at the borough office, and her father, Sherwin, came from Barbados. Sherwin Scantlebury had served in the British Army as well, and had been a member of the Queen's Royal Irish Hussars until 1976.
Scantlebury was the second of four children in her family, and was an outstanding athlete during her youth. She took karate and represented Tower Hamlets in a citywide track and field competition for the shot-put and discus-throwing events. Her older brother, Kenton, joined the school Cadets, Britain's version of the Reserve Officers' Training Corps, and she followed him into it. When she finished school at the age of 16, she was unsure of her career direction. She worked in an office, which she found dull, but had liked her Cadets' training, and so decided to enlist in the British Army. "I wasn't sure what else I wanted to do," she told Wayne Veysey of London's Evening Standard. "I thought that if I didn't like it I could always leave."
Scantlebury's first experience with a horse came when she mounted one at the Army Foundation College in Harrogate during her basic-training stint. She was wary of the animal, but liked it anyway. As she told the Evening Standard's Elizabeth Hopkirk, "I just sat on them while they held them. I was even too scared to get them out of the stables. But then I just thought 'if you don't try you don't know, so I am going to do it.'"
In May of 2002, Scantlebury began training for the King's Troop, one of the ceremonial regiments in London. The tradition of a mounted regiment to guard the king or queen dated back to 1660, during a time when intrigues and plots landed some regents or heirs to the throne in prison or even in the grave. The King's Troop dated back to 1947, when the father of Queen Elizabeth II, King George VI, revived the idea of using a mounted guard for ceremonies of state. It retains the "King" name in his honor.
Scantlebury officially joined the King's Troop in August of 2003 as one of its ten gunners, becoming the first black woman in British history to serve in a ceremonial mounted regiment. Her regiment was based in stables and barracks located in St. John's Wood, an affluent and leafy area of northwest London. She was given her own "mount," or horse, named Hackney. Many of the horses in the prestigious regiment are bred in Ireland, and arrive as five-year-olds for training. Scantlebury and her colleagues then train them to pull a heavy artillery gun and the two-wheeled cart, called a limber, on which it sits, which together weigh one and one-half tons. By tradition, the horses must pull them at a full gallop in parade events.
Some of those parades are magnificent spectacles of pomp and British pageantry held on official holidays or anniversaries. The King's Troop cannons of Scantlebury's regiment are fired for official salutes to the queen—21 rounds by custom—on days that include the Queen's birthday in April, her official birthday in June, the anniversary of her coronation, the state opening of Parliament, and when a royal birth is announced. The Queen's June birthday event is known as the Trooping of the Colours, and dates back to the 1700s. Its name comes from a tradition in which regiments are supposed to show their flags, or "colors," annually so that other regiments will recognize them in battle. Their official uniform consists of an ornate jacket with a plumed busby-style hat. The busby has a red flap that traditionally was to be filled with sand, to protect against enemy sabers. Scantlebury carries no gun, but does carry a special saber.
On occasion, Scantlebury and others in the King's Troop are posted at Buckingham Palace, the official residence of Queen Elizabeth, as ceremonial guards. Though the regiment traditionally recruits its members from the countryside, where many youth grow up riding horses, such experience is not a necessary requirement to be admitted. Scantlebury is one of just a few who come from London proper, however. She still lives at home with her parents in Bow, and commutes to the St. John's Wood barracks in time for morning reveille. Her day includes exercising Hackney and the other horses. She hopes to become a show jumper for the Army, as many in her regiment are encouraged to do, and she is certainly no longer wary of horses. "Hackney threw me off three times at first but I kept getting back on," she told Veysey. "Now I feel comfortable on most horses, apart from the really big ones."
Scantlebury's mother was proud of her achievement, but not surprised. "She's always been very strongwilled and if she sets her sights on something, she's determined to succeed," Jennifer Scantlebury told Daily Mail journalist Sam Greenhill. "I'm so proud of her, not because she's the first black woman to do it but because she's my daughter."
Daily Mail (London), August 27, 2003, p. 7.
Daily Post (Liverpool), July 23, 2004, p. 5.
Daily Telegraph (London), June 16, 2001.
Evening Standard (London), August 26, 2003, p. 9; August 27, 2003, p. 7.
The Royal Artillery Kings Troop, www.army.mod.uk/kingstprha (August 2, 2004).
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