The Queen was absent from Remembrance Sunday commemorations on Sunday after spraining her back, leaving other members of the royal family to honour the UK’s war dead in public.
The monarch, 95, had been under doctors’ orders to rest for almost a month after spending a night in hospital in October, but, until the last minute, was expected to attend a service at the Cenotaph in London on Sunday.
Buckingham Palace said there was a late change of plans following her injury. A wreath was laid on her behalf by her son, Charles, the Prince of Wales.
Boris Johnson, who left his own wreath, said it was a moment to “come together to remember those who sacrificed everything in service of our country”.
The remembrance service in Whitehall returned to normal this year, after the coronavirus pandemic limited the number of veterans and military and closed the 2020 ceremony to the public.
Hundreds of forces personnel lined up around the Cenotaph, and nearly 10,000 veterans marched past the war memorial, watched by large crowds. Only the rustling of leaves and the chirping of birds could be heard as thousands of people held the two-minute silence at 11am in honour of all those who have died in conflict.
The Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer, stood beside the prime minister and former prime ministers lined up behind Johnson, with John Major, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Theresa May all paying their respects.
The Duke of Kent, 86, with his sister Princess Alexandra at his side, stood on the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office balcony, leaving a space for the absent Queen.
The Duke of Cambridge, the Earl of Wessex and the Princess Royal also laid wreaths at the memorial. The Duchess of Cornwall, Duchess of Cambridge and Countess of Wessex looked on from another balcony of the FCDO building.
The palace said the Queen had made the decision not to attend “with great regret” and was “disappointed” to miss it. The rendition of God Save the Queen during the service was notably loud as the crowds of spectators joined in with gusto.
On Saturday, Buckingham Palace had said it was the Queen’s “firm intention” to attend the annual wreath-laying service in Whitehall. She has missed only six other Cenotaph ceremonies during her reign: on four occasions when she was on overseas visits – to Ghana in 1961, Brazil in 1968, Kenya in 1983 and South Africa in 1999 – and in 1959 and 1963, when she was pregnant with her two youngest children.
The Queen, who lived through the second world war, is head of the armed forces and attaches great importance to the service and to commemorating the sacrifices made by servicemen and women.
She has missed several other events, including Saturday’s Festival of Remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall, after being told to rest by royal doctors just over three weeks ago.
Meanwhile, the Scottish first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, laid a wreath to remember the fallen in war in a ceremony at Edinburgh’s Stone of Remembrance on the Royal Mile.
The Lord Provost’s wreath-laying party joined the military parade before a gun was fired at Edinburgh Castle on the dot of 11am to mark the start of the two-minute silence.
In Northern Ireland, the Irish taoiseach, Micheál Martin, laid a wreath to mark Remembrance Day at a service in Enniskillen, continuing a tradition begun by a predecessor, Enda Kenny, in 2012. Eleven people died in the Poppy Day Massacre in Enniskillen when an IRA bomb exploded near the town’s war memorial during a Remembrance Sunday ceremony in 1987.