King Charles has laid a wreath at the Cenotaph in honour of the nation’s dead for the first time as the British monarch.
The king placed his floral tribute at the base of the memorial on Whitehall during the annual Remembrance Sunday ceremony, watched by thousands of veterans wearing their medals, military families and members of the public.
The monarch had performed the role on behalf of the queen as the Prince of Wales in recent years but, as the first chimes of Big Ben rang out at 11am and a two-minute silence began, he stood before the Cenotaph in his role as head of state for the first time.
A volley from a gun fired by the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery from nearby Horse Guards Parade rang out to signal the start of the moment of silent reflection and another loud blast marked its end.
The start of the two-minute silence was also marked by Big Ben tolling 11 times, representing a resumption of full operations for the newly restored great clock in the nearby Houses of Parliament.
After buglers from the Royal Marines played the last post, the king laid his wreath. Its design was a tribute to ones used by his late mother and grandfather George VI, featuring a ring of red artificial poppies mounted on black leaves, with a ribbon in the king’s scarlet, purple and gold horseracing colours.
The prime minister, Rishi Sunak, the Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer, other party leaders, senior members of the cabinet, military chiefs of staff and high commissioners also paid tribute by laying wreaths.
In a statement, Sunak, attending his first Remembrance Sunday ceremony as prime minister, said that as people fell silent they would “honour the memories of the men and women we have lost, and pay tribute to the brave soldiers of Ukraine as they continue their fight for freedom”.
The ceremony was attended by seven former prime ministers, including Liz Truss. A short service followed the laying of the main wreaths, with the bishop of London, Dame Sarah Mullally, delivering a prayer.
She told those gathered: “O Almighty God, grant, we beseech thee, that we who here do honour to the memory of those who have died in the service of their country and of the crown may be so inspired by the spirit of their love and fortitude that, forgetting all selfish and unworthy motives, we may live only to thy glory and to the service of mankind through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
The king and members of the royal family sang the hymn O God, Our Help in Ages Past.
This year’s Remembrance Sunday ceremony came on the 40th anniversary of the Falklands war. The 10,000 veterans who marched past the Cenotaph included 400 who fought in the 1982 conflict.
One of them, the retired brigadier Jon Mullin, who served as a lieutenant in the 9 Parachute Squadron Royal Engineers, said: “I wanted to be part of a national commemoration to commemorate all those people who did this wonderful feat of arms and put it all together, and many have passed on in the intervening years. I think it’s important that the nation doesn’t forget the sacrifices.”
The chief of the defence staff, Admiral Sir Tony Radakin, told Sky’s Sophy Ridge that Remembrance Sunday was always poignant but especially so this year. “I think there’s a special poignancy this year with both the loss of her majesty, another loss of a second world war veteran,” he said.
“I also think it’s poignant when we have once again the spectre of war in Europe and all that that entails, and a country that’s been invaded and is fighting for its freedom.”
King Charles, who served in the Royal Navy in the 1970s, had represented the queen and laid wreaths on behalf of his mother since 2017, while she had watched from a balcony of the Foreign Office overlooking the Cenotaph in central London.