It's Armed Forces Day on 26 June which is a chance is a chance for us to show our support for the men and women who make up the Armed Forces community.
We couldn't think of a better way to commemorate the day than an interview with Moira Cameron, serving member of the Yeoman of the Guard (or Beefeaters) at the Tower of London and the first woman to join this elite armed forces corps since it's creation by Henry VII in 1485. It is the oldest military corps in existence in Britain and they have continuously served the monarch since then.
I met Moira a few years ago when we were at the Tower of London doing some research for Matilda's Keepsakes and Secrets activity book - she could not have been more enthused about what we were doing at AGAT and we had a lovely chat about the Tower and about her role as a Beefeater at the historic Tower of London.
So without further ado, let's have a chat with Moira!
A Girl for All Time: Hi Moira! I am so excited to have you here for a chat. You are the perfect intersection of things we love here at AGAT - female barrier-breaker and history. You have what can only be described as a pretty fabulous job! Officially your job description is a ‘ Yeoman Warder’ - can you tell us exactly what that is and a little bit about the history behind it?
Moira Cameron: The Yeoman Warders are the historic guardians of the Tower and there have been people looking after it on behalf of the Monarch right from its beginning. The Warders would be under the Command of the Constable who who is appointed by The Sovereign of the time but nowadays we are employed by Historic Royal Palaces and we look after our visitors and share the history of one of the most iconic buildings in the World. We have the nickname of Beefeaters and we actually don’t know where it comes from but we were paid a ration of meat as part of our wages…….
AGAT: I always wondered about the 'Beefeater' nickname! Not everyone can even apply to be a Beefeater, is that correct? Do you have to have any special qualifications in order be a Beefeater?
MC: You do need special qualifications to apply for the position. You must have completed 22 years in the Armed Forces, be in receipt of the Long Service & Good Conduct medal and have your Royal Warrant. A Royal Warrant is what you receive when you become a Warrant Officer or Sergeant Major if that is easier to understand, and that is the pre requisite before you even apply and that is difficult in its own way as there are many people who want the job so a lot of competition.
AGAT: Wow - so just to being qualified to apply is a quite an achievement, let alone getting the job! And of course historically every single Yeoman Warder has been male... until you! So you really are a trail-blazer and by breaking down that long established barrier, you have now opened up a new path for other women. Do you think that it’s getting easier for girls and women to pursue careers in the armed forces?
MC: I am the first female to be appointed as a Yeoman but I am not the only one, there are two women now and we have two vacancies so I am really hoping another female gets one of the positions. I think it has been made a lot easier for women to have a full career over the last few decades as they can serve in every facet of the Military now. It didn’t seem difficult when I first joined the Army way back in 1985, but then we didn’t know any different!
AGAT: At AGAT we love history and historical buildings - they have so many stories to tell. You work in one of the most famous historical buildings in the world (at least in my opinion!) I can’t imagine how fabulous it is to work at the Tower of London - can you tell us what a typical day is like for you and what your duties are?
MC: I have to agree that it is one of the most fabulous buildings in the World, when children draw a castle they draw the Tower of London and we are incredibly privileged to work and live here. Daily we have to make sure that the Tower is opened and made safe for our visitors and that has to happen well before we open to allow for any major maintenance to take place if need be. During the day we ensure that the visitors are kept safe and enjoy hearing about our history. At the end of the day we put the Tower to bed and close it down sweeping any visitors out of the gates and then every evening we carry out the Ceremony of the Keys locking the Tower by 2200(10pm). This was done even during lockdown, maintaining social distancing of course.
AGAT: One of my favourite things at the tower is the Ravens! I recently read that you have a new Raven named Branwen - can you tell us a little about why ravens are at the tower and who takes care of them?
MC: We must keep 6 ravens at the Tower at all times to ensure an ancient legend remains untested, for if they ever leave the Tower will crumble and a disaster will befall our Monarchy. The tale of the ravens stems back to William the Conqueror, who ordered the building of the Fortress and Palace, as he had Nordic ancestors and he believed that England would be protected as long as the Ravens remained. They are looked after very well by one of my colleagues who has the title Ravenmaster, and he has some assistants to help him.
AGAT: If you could meet any of the historical figures from the Tower’s past, who would it be?
MC: I would like to talk to many of the prisoners of the Tower if I had the chance. Anne Boleyn to find out the real truth behind the charges against her, Lady Jane Grey and find out what her background was really like and was she forced by her parents to take the throne, but I would really like to hear the stories from Sir Walter Raleigh about his travels and did he really lay his cape across a puddle for Queen Elizabeth I?
A huge thank you to Moira for taking the time to speak to us this week and thank you to all of the men and women who have served in Armed Forces across the globe.
For more info on the Tower of London, check out Matilda's collection here.
Want to read what life might have been like in Tudor times? You can read Matilda's blog or check out some of our Tudor themed activities here.