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Her visit to Westminster Abbey came as son Prince Charles paid tribute to the “heroes and heroines all around us” by drawing parallels between the World Wars and the current pandemic. With no end in sight to the Covid-19 crisis, Her Majesty returned to London for the first time since March, to attend a special service. Standing beside the tomb, she paid tribute to the fallen and acknowledged her own family’s close associations with the memorial.
It was the first of many unique acts of remembrance by members of the Royal Family and of Parliament to commemorate Armistice Day, including Prime Minister Boris Johnson who said that “no virus can stop us from honouring their memory”.
In a pre-recorded address for the Royal British Legion’s Annual Festival of Remembrance, aired last night on BBC One, Charles and wife Camilla paid tribute to today’s frontline workers, likening the sacrifices they make to those made by wartime generations.
He said: “In this challenging year, we have perhaps come to realise that the freedoms for which they fought are more precious than we knew, and that the debt we owe them is even greater than we imagined.
“Through all this, just as in wartime, the very best of our country has been on conspicuous display. We have reaffirmed our faith in each other and in our communities, and seen afresh that service to others underpins our society.
“We have been reminded that heroes and heroines are all around us and take many forms.”
Charles, 71, added: “This current crisis has afforded us a keener perspective on the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War.
“We could not come together for VE Day or VJ Day as we had so dearly hoped but they were nonetheless cherished occasions to remember the sacrifice of those who served, in whichever theatre of war, and to restate our gratitude for all that their generation, and the generation before, have given us.”
During her visit to the Abbey last Wednesday, the Queen, 94, was joined by her equerry Lt Col Nana Kofi Twumasi-Ankrah at the west end of the nave, and listened quietly to an address by the Dean of Westminster, The Very Reverend Dr David Hoyle.
The Queen then laid a small bouquet of white and lilac orchids, myrtle and greens on the tomb. In doing so, she continued a royal tradition begun by her mother.
In 1923, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon laid her wedding bouquet on the warrior’s grave in memory of her brother Fergus, who died at the Battle of Loos in 1915.
Today, the Queen is expected to watch the Remembrance Sunday service from a balcony at the Foreign Office. She had been due to attend Wednesday’s larger Armistice Day service but advisers feared there would too many people there, raising the risk of potential infection.
Last Wednesday’s service at the Abbey, which followed Covid guidelines, was held with clearance from royal doctors who advised limiting those in attendance. Not even a lady-in-waiting was allowed to join the Queen.
Last night, a royal source said: “The grave of the Unknown Warrior is as relevant and poignant today as it was when Her Majesty’s grandfather and father stood in the Abbey at its side 100 years ago.
“It holds enormous significance for the country and the Royal Family. The Queen was keen that the centenary was marked appropriately. A simple but deeply personal act reflecting a tradition started by her mother 97 years ago felt the right thing to do.”
Reflecting on Remembrance Sunday, Boris Johnson said: “We come together every November to commemorate the servicemen and women who sacrificed their lives for our freedom.
“In this time of adversity, no virus can stop us from honouring their memory, particularly when we have just celebrated the 75th anniversary of victory in the Second World War. And in times of trial, our tributes matter even more. So let’s come together once again and remember those to whom we owe so much.”
Prince Charles also praised the fundraising efforts of veterans such as 100-year-old Captain Sir Tom Moore, who brought in £33million for NHS charities by walking around his garden, and Private Joseph Hammond, 95, in Ghana who raised £40,000 for veterans and frontline workers, as well as Margaret Payne, 90, who raised £450,000 from a mountain-high walk up her stairs.
The Prince said: “We have seen how much the wartime generation continues to teach us. The actions of veterans Captain Sir Tom Moore and Private Joseph Hammond, or of Margaret Payne, and many others like them, offer a shining example of selfless commitment, and of how even those in their later years can achieve so much good by placing others ahead of themselves.
“Their example continues to guide our servicemen and women today. Throughout this pandemic, our Armed Forces have stood side by side with our medical professionals, key workers and emergency services in the fight against coronavirus, whilst maintaining the defence of our nation at home and abroad.
“In many cases this has meant longer spells separated from their families, and extended periods of isolation in order to safeguard the integrity of our defence.”
He added: “To our Armed Forces today, and those who came before them; to those who made the ultimate sacrifice and never returned; and to our veterans on whose service our treasured liberty rests, we renew our heartfelt and eternal gratitude. Your example continues to inspire and guide us all.”
Camilla, 73, paid tribute to military and civilian nurses in her role as Commodore-in-Chief of the Royal Navy Medical Service.
She told them: “You have been at the very epicentre of the nation’s response to the pandemic, providing a critical line of defence with compassion and dignity, and bringing hope and healing to so many. And you have done all this while being held at readiness for military deployment. For your service, we are deeply in your debt.”
Prince Harry, who spent 10 years in the Armed Forces, also paid tribute to the sacrifices made by serving members and veterans.
In a podcast filmed in the US, where he now lives with wife Meghan and their son Archie, Harry, 36, described Armistice Day as “a moment for respect and for hope”.
He said: “The act of remembering, of remembrance, is a profound act of honour. It’s how we preserve the legacies of entire generations and show our gratitude for the sacrifices they made in order for us to be able to live the lives we live today.”
He added: “I wear the poppy to recognise all those who have served; the soldiers I knew, as well as those I didn’t.
“The soldiers who were by my side in Afghanistan, those who had their lives changed forever, and those that didn’t come home.” Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden called for everyone to get involved from their own homes.
He said: “Watch on your TV, research your family history but, most importantly, keep safe.”
Johnny Mercer, the Minister for Defence People and Veterans, said: “I encourage everyone to join in the innovative ways in which we can express our thanks.”
Around 150 socially distanced Armed Forces personnel will be on parade for today’s service at the Cenotaph in London. Musicians from all three services will play traditional music.
The public are invited to pay their respects by standing at their doorsteps for the two-minute at home. Both the Westminster Abbey service and the Remembrance Day parade will be shown on TV today.
Meanwhile, the Royal British Legion wants people to download and print a poppy, and donate online, after sources confirmed it will be “millions of pounds down” in donations due to Covid-19.
To donate to the Royal British Legion, please visit: http://www.rbl.org.uk/poppyappeal
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