On the evening of Thursday 15th May 'The Ceremony of The Keys' took place in Casemates Square in Gibraltar. The Royal Gibraltar Regiment in the presence of His Excellency The Governor and Commander-In-Chief, Lieutenant General Sir Robert Fulton KBE performed the ceremony with The Band of The Honourable Artillery Company appearing by kind permission of the Commanding Officer Lt. Col. A.D.C. Caie TD HAC.
With all the pomp and ceremony that the British do so well, this annual event went off without a hitch. The band played martial favourites such as 'High On A Hill', 'Sunset', and 'Voice Of The Guns' and, for some inexplicable reason, the 'Luftwaffe March'. The National Anthem was played in brief three times and in full once. Hundreds of spectators actually drew themselves to a position of attention with no embarrassment, gentlemen removed their hats and all uniformed personnel saluted. It was a fine patriotic sight. A lady from the Home Counties behind me asked with tears in her eyes, 'They don't do this every day do they'? A French family who had stopped off in Gibraltar for some shopping whilst driving a hire car from Tarifa to Málaga watched perplexed as The Governor handed a large bunch of keys to the Port Sergeant to various shouted exhortations. They were then carried under guard to Grand Casemates gate that was then closed and locked. The Keys themselves received a Royal Salute before being handed back to The Governor for safe keeping with the words, 'The Fortress is secure and all's well'. Wonderful stuff.
Since the Rock was captured in 1704 The Keys of Gibraltar, literally the keys to the gates, have symbolised the possession of The Fortress by Great Britain. They are the seals of office of The Governor and are handed from one to the next. During the Great Siege, from 1779 to 1783 The Governor, General Elliot, wore The Keys on his belt except when he handed them to the Port Sergeant for him to open and close the gates to the fortress. In those days there was only one gate from the land, Landport Gate built in 1729. Before closing the gate at night the 'Outpost Platoon' would pay their respects to The Governor before being positioned outside the gates on North Front to act as sentries for the night. The procedure was maintained after the Great Siege for another 140 years. After peace was restored in 1783 the Port Sergeant would use fife and drum to warn aliens to leave the Rock before the gates were closed. The ceremony took place daily until shortly after the First World War when it was discontinued and then revived in 1933 as an annual ceremony. On Saturday mornings the peacetime ceremony is proudly re-enacted by a group dressed in period costume.
Fortress Gibraltar - The King's Bastion
The Sieges of Gibraltar
The Tunnels and Airfield
The Rockbuster, the 100 Ton Gun
The Trafalgar Cemetery
The Treaty of Utrecht 1704
© Nicholas Craig Nutter 2004 - 2012. Nick Nutter asserts his rights as the author of this article and all associated images. This article and images may not be copied or reproduced in any way without written permission of the author.