Soldiers of the Queen’s Guard have been pulled back from public positions at many landmarks in response to possible threats from Islamic extremists.
And for the first time since the height of the IRA’s terror campaign in the 1980s, the elite soldiers are no longer allowed on sentry duty alone and are being shadowed by armed police.
The drastic move is thought to have come in response to the killing of Fusilier Lee Rigby and the recent shooting of a Canadian forces sentry by a lone gunman at the country’s National War Memorial.
Last month the police and intelligence services revealed they had foiled an Islamist plot to mount a possible attack on serviceman and civilians on Remembrance Sunday.
The national terror threat level in the UK was raised from substantial to severe earlier this year, meaning a terrorist attack is “highly likely.”
But the move to put the Guards, famed for their bearskin hats, out of public reach have been described as a “retreat.”
Major Iain Dalzel-Job, a retired Scots Guards officer, said that the repositioning of soldiers at Clarence House and St James’s Palace was “a big shame”.
He said: “The reason people know we’re around is because they can see us. But I suppose the changes are necessary as there is a significant threat.”
Former Welsh guardsman and ex-Met police officer Terry O’Shea said: “Moving the Guardsmen back to a more secure area seems an honourable retreat given the danger posed by the terrorists. We have got to strike a balance between not compromising our traditions and protecting our soldiers. Unfortunately this is a sign of the times. We’ve seen horrific incidents across the world and in our capital city, so some action had to be taken to reduce the risk, even if it can never be eliminated.
“The terrorists are looking for something spectacular, so the Guards would suit their agenda.”
Lord Carlile, the former Government watchdog on counter-terrorism, called the changes “measured and not an over-reaction.”
The repositioning of members of the Coldstream, Welsh and Scots Guards–which provide all the Royal Guards–has happened across the capital and Windsor Castle
At Prince Charles’ official residence, Clarence House, the sentry boxes which once stood in front of the gates on The Mall have now been repositioned, along with their occupants, behind metal gates.
While at St James’s Palace, the London home of Princesses Anne, Beatrice and Eugenie, two Guardsmen have now been moved into a secluded courtyard inside the perimeter, leaving no visible presence at its famous clock tower gate.
At Horse Guards Parade members of the Household Cavalry, armed only with ceremonial swords, still occupy their usual posts in Whitehall but they are being protected by up to four Scotland Yard officers.
Armed police have also been on duty outside Windsor Castle alongside the traditional guardsmen.
The tightening of security to levels unseen since the height of the IRA terror campaign comes in the wake of fanatics from the Islamic State based in Iraq and Syria threatening Britain.
Al-Qaeda groups have also called on would-be terrorists to launch “lone wolf” attacks against UK soldiers and police.
Buckingham Palace and the Met Police would not comment on security matters, but the Ministry of Defence said: “We routinely review security arrangements.”