A military wedding - history & tradition
Permission to marry
While on the one hand, soldiers in the British Army were discouraged from marrying and were required to ask permission before doing so, the army also recognised that women were useful when it came to doing the men’s laundry and sewing and that married men were often less likely to be drunk, delinquent and disorderly. Prostitution often followed military camps, and in the Victorian era, venereal disease was rampant in the larger camps. After the Crimean war, nearly half of the men had to be admitted to hospital for treatment but married soldiers were seldom affected. Still, the army took little interest in the wellbeing of the wives and children of those selected soldiers who were reluctantly given permission to marry and mostly considered them a burden to the establishment.
The number of married soldiers per regiment was limited. No soldier could marry without the permission of their commanding officer and then only if he was of good character, had served for at least seven years and had savings set aside. Of every hundred soldiers, only six would be granted permission to marry, although another nine would marry without leave.
The following information is quoted from Grierson (1899): "Marriage is allowed to all the staff-sergeants, to 50% of the other sergeants, 4% of the corporals and privates in the cavalry, artillery and engineers, and 3% in the infantry.+ Corporals and men have this concession made them on condition of their having served seven years, and that they have two good conduct badges, and prove that they have 5 Pounds in the savings bank. Married soldiers may receive rations separately, and uncooked, and if the man is engaged on duty away from his family, he is paid 4.d. a day for his wife and 1-1/2d a day for each child.
Since 2005, you no longer have to ask for formal permission to get married but some units do retain the tradition of asking the Commanding Officer for permission. It is probably best the soldier checks the form at their unit. The soldier does have to ensure that they update their details on JPA to let the Army know they are married and any change of address. They should also update their Next of Kin details.
Wearing a rank above
As for asking permission this tradition is of a by gone era, part of the formal request was to formally invite the officer commanding / commanding officer to witness the impending nuptials.
In return the soldier was granted pay of the higher rank for the day as a wedding gift. On occasion a full promotion was granted. in later years it became more a symbolic gesture. Since 00's this tradition has now ceased.
Cutting the cake
The sword cake-cutting is perhaps one of the most recognizable military wedding traditions. If the bride or groom is an officer, they will use a ceremonial military sword to cut their wedding cake instead of a knife or cake server.
Traditionally, the military spouse presents the sword to their partner before they cut the cake. Then, customarily, the bride places a hand underneath the groom's on the handle of the sword, and they cut through the cake together; however, this can be updated according to the couple's preferences.
Swords & Honour guards
- Check with the officiating clergy to see if swords or sabers may be worn inside of the sanctuary. Etiquette dictates service personnel should never draw the sword or saber inside the sanctuary or a place of worship.
The sword arch (crossed swords):
- Again, check with your clergy if you wish to perform the sword arch just outside outside the church or synagogue, keeping in mind that some clergy may not allow drawn swords on the grounds and may prefer it to be done at a reception site.
- If there is a possibility of rain, and you have planned to have the sword arch outside the entrance (which is a popular location for an arch), you will likely want to move the arch inside to the foyer (but not the sanctuary). Again, check with the clergy ahead of time for this rain contingency.
- Tradition dictates that as the bride and groom pass through the arch, the last two bearers drop their sabers or swords, forming a cross to block the path of the couple. The groom then kisses his bride. The crossed swords are raised for the couple to pass through. Keep in mind that a male Soldier should always escort a woman on his left arm when given a choice, allowing his right hand to remain free to render salutes.