Legend has it that the first catafalque (cat-a-falk) parties guarded important and wealthy people’s coffins from thieves and vandals.
A catafalque party is a guard of four service personnel who are posted by their commander as sentries at the four corners of the catafalque. They are posted facing outwards with their rifles reversed (reversed arms) to show that the dead are now at peace.
The catafalque party is posted at the commencement of the ceremony and dismounted after the National Anthem has been played at the end.
A catafalque is a structure on which a coffin is drawn in a procession. It is usually symbolised when located near a memorial, by a raised platform often made of stone.
A catafalque party may also be mounted on any of the following occasions:
- At a memorial or special occasion such as Anzac Day or Remembrance Day,
- During a period of lying in state,
- During a military funeral in a church, and
- During a memorial service in a church for a recently deceased distinguished personage.
If a catafalque party is requested to be mounted for an extended period of e.g. “Lying In State” then a series of “Watches” divided into “Vigil” periods will be provided.
When mounted for a person lying in state or during a military funeral, members of the catafalque party must not be senior in rank to the deceased over whom it is mounted.
Reversed Arms – The tradition of reversing and resting on arms as a mark of respect or mourning has been observed for centuries and is said to have originated with the ancient Greeks.
The earliest documented instances of carrying arms reversed in more recent times are in descriptions of sixteenth-century military funerals. Although Australian soldiers still rest on arms as a mark of respect for the dead, the Steyr rifle they use is difficult to carry reversed.