Remembrance Sunday: Queen leads tributes as services held across UK

Monarch marks 70th year of wreath-laying at the Cenotaph, while Jeremy Corbyn urges mourning the dead but also ‘supporting the living’

It may now be more than a century since the start of the first world war, but the years show little sign of sating the appetite of Britain and its wartime allies for honouring those who have died in conflict.

As crowds packed into central London for the annual Remembrance Sunday tributes to those who have fallen, hundreds of more modest ceremonies were taking place in villages, towns and cities across the UK.

The Royal British Legion says half the population observes the traditional two-minute silence and 80% wear a poppy. Many no doubt will have family histories of loss stretching from the first world war, whose slaughter first prompted such a national commemoration, to the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

As she has for more than five decades, the Queen led other royals, leading politicians, senior members of the armed forces and high commissioners from across the Commonwealth in laying wreaths at the foot of the Cenotaph in London.

In Edinburgh, Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon laid a wreath at St Giles’s Cathedral, where the Scotland Office minister Andrew Dunlop represented the UK government.

In Cardiff, the Welsh secretary, Stephen Crabb, and the first minister, Carwyn Jones, joined others at the Welsh National War Memorial, and in Belfast, the Northern Ireland secretary, Theresa Villiers, and the first minister, Peter Robinson, attended a ceremony at City Hall.

Veterans observe Remembrance Sunday at Spean Bridge, Scotland.
Veterans observe Remembrance Sunday at Spean Bridge, Scotland. Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

The Irish leader, Enda Kenny, laid a wreath at the war memorial in Enniskillen, 28 years to the day after the IRA bombed a Remembrance Sunday event without warning, killing 11 and injuring dozens. A 12th victim of the attack died 13 years later without having woken from a coma.

Kenny’s annual presence there reflects greater recognition in the Republic of Ireland of Irish soldiers who served – and died – in the British army during the first world war.

The Queen, on the 70th anniversary of when, as Princess Elizabeth, she first left a tribute of poppies at the Cenotaph, as always laid the first wreath. She was followed by King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands, invited by her to mark the 70th year since his country was liberated by allied forces from Nazi occupation.

The 94-year-old Duke of Edinburgh then laid his wreath, before the Duke of Cambridge, Prince Harry and the Duke of York together left theirs.

David Cameron led the political tributes for the government, carefully smoothing part of his wreath after laying it down, followed by the closely scrutinised Jeremy Corbyn, who was widely criticised for not singing the national anthem at the Battle of Britain anniversary service in September.

The Labour leader, in a dark suit and wearing a red poppy, made a slight bow after leaving his tribute with a message reading: “In memory of the fallen in all wars, let us resolve to create a world of peace.” He also later sang the anthem.

Remembrance Sunday wreath-laying at the war memorial at Royal Wootton Bassett, in Wiltshire,
Remembrance Sunday wreath-laying at the war memorial at Royal Wootton Bassett, in Wiltshire, Photograph: Ben Birchall/PA

Other party leaders followed singly, after an earlier proposal to have them approach the Cenotaph as a group was dropped. Gordon Brown, Tony Blair and John Major were also at the service, which followed the traditional 11am two-minute silence.

The Queen has missed only five such services since she ascended the throne in 1952 – when she was pregnant before the births of Princes Andrew and Edward, and when she was on state visits to Ghana, Brazil and Kenya. Her unbroken run stretches back to 1984.

After the 20-minute service, about 8,800 former servicemen and women and 1,600 civilians marched past the Cenotaph in their own tributes to former comrades and friends.

Among those watching was Captain Makand Singh, 55, from Coventry, whose father was the first Sikh person with turban and beard to serve in British army, although many had done so in the now defunct British Indian Army. Now there are 130 serving in the army and about 225 across the armed forces.

“The act of remembrance is a very personal one. It is very important we remember those who gave their everything so we are able to tread on the beautiful path they have made for us,” Singh said.

He remembers vividly being the officer who informed the parents of Rifleman Joe Murphy of their son’s death in Helmand province , Afghanistan, in July 2009.

“No matter what training you have have had, nothing prepares you for looking parents in the eye and giving them the bad news. He was just 18, with a whole life before him.”

Jeremy Corbyn lays a wreath at the war memorial in Manor Gardens, Islington.
Jeremy Corbyn lays a wreath at the war memorial in Manor Gardens, Islington. Photograph: Chris Ratcliffe/Getty Images

Corbyn later laid a wreath at the war memorial in his North Islington constituency. He said: “The problem of war is the trauma goes on and on, for decades and decades and for a whole lifetime for some people.

“We have to mourn the dead and support the living, but also … let us mourn all those that have fallen but genuinely resolve to build a world of peace.

“The world is not at peace, the world is insecure. There are dangers, there are threats and there are sadly millions of people who are displaced and desperate, seeking refuge.”

Corbyn said it was fitting that commemorations were not just about the military’s involvement in conflicts.

He said: “It was also about those who have dealt with the Ebola crisis, those who have helped refugees in the military, and the positive work that can be done to build peace by people in uniform.”


James Meikle

The GuardianTramp

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