November 21, 2014
“Pro Rege et Grege” (translation: “for the king and the people”)
– Royal Danish Guard motto
In 1890, twelve women, including Danish immigrant Emma Thorsen, were in the final stages of facilitating the opening of The Danish Old People’s Home in Chicago. Together, this society of women organized a revolutionary establishment for that time, which emphasized dignified care for elderly Danes. Although optimistic, I’m sure none of them realized that The Home would go on to have such an extensive history here in America, exemplifying Danish tradition and pride for over 123 years.
That same year, and nearly 7,000 miles away in Copenhagen, a baby was born with the wonderful talent of song. His name was Lauritz Melchior and, like the ladies of The Danish Old People’s Society, he would go on to lead a successful life as a proud and influential Dane.
Lauritz Melchior would grow up to become a famous opera singer. He would travel all over the world, inspiring people with his performances on radio, stage and screen. His handprints are even immortalized between those of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jimmy Stewart outside of the famed Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood! There’s no doubt that Mr. Melchior was a star.
However, perhaps even more fulfilling and gratifying to him as a Dane was his role as a member of The Royal Danish Guard.
Den Kongelige Livgarde (The Royal Guard, also called Royal Life Guards) is an infantry regiment of The Royal Danish Army. Founded by King Frederik III in 1658, it serves two important purposes: as a front line combat unit and to guard The Danish Monarchy. Being a member of the largest alumni club in Denmark (there are around 15,000 members around the world, 90% of them in the home country) brings both honor and prestige due to the history and tradition it embodies. The Danish Royal Guard is one of the oldest standing regiments in the world, at 356 years.
In 1885 the very first Royal Guard Association began in Copenhagen, and in 1928 the first association outside of Denmark was started in New York. At the annual meeting in 1941, already a member himself since 1936 and now a famous singer, Laurtiz Melchior was elected chairman (and later president of DGU – what Danish Royal Guard Societies are called in Foreign Countries). He had hoped to use his celebrity to get people talking about the Royal Guards associations, and he succeeded.
“He started it all,” says Chicago Guards member Peter Diessel, and many other Guards would agree. Melchior opened the Los Angeles club in 1942, and then Chicago started the following year. He also began the customary “Fugleskydning” (bird shoot) events, annual meetings and customary celebrations that The Royal Guard Associations have come to be known for.
Peter Diessel and the various other members and supporters of The Royal Danish Guard Society over the years have sustained the Chicago area unit for the past 71 years. As Mr. Diessel describes, “we are a very proud club.” They hold an annual bird shoot (no actual birds are hurt) and he says the event is a great way for people to learn more about The Danish Royal Guard. This week, The Royal Guard visited The Danish Home in the traditional full uniform, bearskin hat, sabre and all, which hasn’t changed much since the late 1800s. The residents, including my Mormor, were excited to see The Royal Guards. As Mormor explained, so many residents of The Danish Home have served their country, and seeing The Royal Guards made her remember once again about the honor and sacrifice so many of her family members and friends gave. Hopefully I’ll be able to post a picture of The Royal Guards visiting The Home soon!
You can learn more about the Royal Danish Guard (and harrowing stories from actual members) here at the Museum of Danish America. Also, visit these Pinterest boards here and here for more about this post.