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Did I detect just a little extra oomph to the singing of the National Anthem? It certainly felt like it from where I was standing on Whitehall yesterday, especially when we got to the line: ‘Long to reign over us’.

No one in history has attended the Remembrance Sunday service at the Cenotaph more times than the Queen. She laid her first wreath there 76 years ago as a princess. So, the fact that we had been told for many days that it was her ‘firm intention’ to be present, and were then told, with less than two hours to go, that she would not be coming, was a real worry.

The Queen would be the first to point out that Remembrance Sunday is all about the fallen, not the living. 

Pictured: the annual Remembrance Sunday service was held at the Cenotaph, in Whitehall, London, this morning

Pictured: the annual Remembrance Sunday service was held at the Cenotaph, in Whitehall, London, this morning

Pictured: the annual Remembrance Sunday service was held at the Cenotaph, in Whitehall, London, this morning

Pictured: a large crowd has gathered ahead of the Remembrance Sunday service at the Cenotaph, in Whitehall, London

Pictured: a large crowd has gathered ahead of the Remembrance Sunday service at the Cenotaph, in Whitehall, London

Pictured: a large crowd has gathered ahead of the Remembrance Sunday service at the Cenotaph, in Whitehall, London

Members of the crowd belted out the national anthem, perhaps with even more gusto since the Queen was absent due to a sprained back

Members of the crowd belted out the national anthem, perhaps with even more gusto since the Queen was absent due to a sprained back

Members of the crowd belted out the national anthem, perhaps with even more gusto since the Queen was absent due to a sprained back

The crowd gathers for the annual National Service of Remembrance at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, London

The crowd gathers for the annual National Service of Remembrance at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, London

The crowd gathers for the annual National Service of Remembrance at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, London

The Duchess of Cambridge was pictured in attendance at the Remembrance Sunday ceremony in London this morning

The Duchess of Cambridge was pictured in attendance at the Remembrance Sunday ceremony in London this morning

The Duchess of Cambridge was pictured in attendance at the Remembrance Sunday ceremony in London this morning 

Prince Charles lead the royal family at this year's Remembrance Sunday ceremony at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, central London and laid a wreath on behalf of his mother the Queen after she was forced to miss the event due to a back injury

Prince Charles lead the royal family at this year's Remembrance Sunday ceremony at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, central London and laid a wreath on behalf of his mother the Queen after she was forced to miss the event due to a back injury

Prince Charles lead the royal family at this year’s Remembrance Sunday ceremony at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, central London and laid a wreath on behalf of his mother the Queen after she was forced to miss the event due to a back injury

Prince Charles, Prince of Wales and Prince William, Duke of Cambridge attend the service of Remembrance at the Cenotaph

Prince Charles, Prince of Wales and Prince William, Duke of Cambridge attend the service of Remembrance at the Cenotaph

Prince Charles, Prince of Wales and Prince William, Duke of Cambridge attend the service of Remembrance at the Cenotaph

However, it is also a day when the entire Forces family feels immense pride in seeing its Commander-in-Chief leading the national commemorations.

In the short statement from Buckingham Palace at 9.18am yesterday, we were told that the Queen was ‘disappointed’ not to attend but, with ‘great regret’, had taken the decision ‘having sprained her back’.

Many among the tens of thousands of onlookers had not heard the news.

Shortly before 11am, I watched the mobile phones pop up above the crowd like meerkats, ready to capture the royal appearance on the central Foreign Office balcony. At which point, they saw just the Duke of Kent, 86, and Princess Alexandra, 84. Blank looks all round. 

Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Britain's Princess Alexandra took the Queen's place on the central balcony in Whitehall

Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Britain's Princess Alexandra took the Queen's place on the central balcony in Whitehall

Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Britain’s Princess Alexandra took the Queen’s place on the central balcony in Whitehall

The Queen would normally have appeared on the central balcony where the Duke of Kent and Princess Alexandra stood today. Members of the Royal Family (left to right) Vice Admiral Sir Tim Laurence, the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, the Duke of Kent, Princess Alexandra, the Duchess of Cornwall, the Duchess of Cambridge and the Countess of Wessex on the balconies

The Queen would normally have appeared on the central balcony where the Duke of Kent and Princess Alexandra stood today. Members of the Royal Family (left to right) Vice Admiral Sir Tim Laurence, the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, the Duke of Kent, Princess Alexandra, the Duchess of Cornwall, the Duchess of Cambridge and the Countess of Wessex on the balconies

The Queen would normally have appeared on the central balcony where the Duke of Kent and Princess Alexandra stood today. Members of the Royal Family (left to right) Vice Admiral Sir Tim Laurence, the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, the Duke of Kent, Princess Alexandra, the Duchess of Cornwall, the Duchess of Cambridge and the Countess of Wessex on the balconies

Pictured: Prince Charles laid a wreath on behalf of the Queen at the Remembrance Sunday event as she was unable to attend

Pictured: Prince Charles laid a wreath on behalf of the Queen at the Remembrance Sunday event as she was unable to attend

Pictured: Prince Charles laid a wreath on behalf of the Queen at the Remembrance Sunday event as she was unable to attend

Pictured: Prince William, Duke of Cambridge lays a wreath as he attends the annual service of Remembrance at the Cenotaph

Pictured: Prince William, Duke of Cambridge lays a wreath as he attends the annual service of Remembrance at the Cenotaph

Pictured: Prince William, Duke of Cambridge lays a wreath as he attends the annual service of Remembrance at the Cenotaph

Pictured: Labour leader Keir Starmer, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Former Prime Ministers Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and David Cameron attend the annual National Service of Remembrance in Whitehall, central London this morning

Pictured: Labour leader Keir Starmer, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Former Prime Ministers Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and David Cameron attend the annual National Service of Remembrance in Whitehall, central London this morning

Pictured: Labour leader Keir Starmer, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Former Prime Ministers Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and David Cameron attend the annual National Service of Remembrance in Whitehall, central London this morning

On the adjacent balcony to the north stood the Duchess of Cornwall, the Duchess of Cambridge and the Countess of Wessex. On the south side stood Princess Anne’s husband Vice Admiral Sir Tim Laurence and the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester. Down below, the Prince of Wales led the rest of the senior family out on parade (minus the two absentee dukes, Sussex and York).

But there was no sign of the Head of the Armed Forces. The Queen has missed this event six times during her reign. On four occasions, she was on a royal tour and attended a service of remembrance overseas (most recently in Durban in 1999).

The other two absences, in 1959 and 1963, were because she was expecting Princes Andrew and Edward. 

Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, left, Kate, Duchess of Cambridge and Sophie, Countess of Wessex, right, stand on the balcony of the Foreign Office during the Remembrance service where the Queen would have been standing if she had attended

Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, left, Kate, Duchess of Cambridge and Sophie, Countess of Wessex, right, stand on the balcony of the Foreign Office during the Remembrance service where the Queen would have been standing if she had attended

Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, left, Kate, Duchess of Cambridge and Sophie, Countess of Wessex, right, stand on the balcony of the Foreign Office during the Remembrance service where the Queen would have been standing if she had attended

 

Yet, on both those occasions, she still attended a service at the Royal Chapel of All Saints in Windsor Great Park.

Yesterday was the first time she had not left home. However, an aide was adamant she had been glued to the BBC’s coverage, as she had been the previous evening during the magnificent Royal British Legion Festival of Remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall.

In the end, both her doctors and her back were telling her that a 50-mile round-trip by car plus half an hour of standing up were not advisable. Once again, it was a reminder to the nation that our head of state is well into her tenth decade. Sensible precautions will continue to be required.

Over at the Palace, staff pointed out that the Queen will be resuming ‘light duties’ this week, including video audiences with new ambassadors. Her red boxes, full of state papers and briefing notes, continue to come and go. Plans for her Christmas broadcast remain unaltered (staff are finalising the location this week).

Certainly, the news that the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall were last night on their way to the Middle East, as planned, to celebrate the centenary of Jordan, was reassuring.

However, it meant that the wartime generation was yesterday led not by the monarch but by a handful of sprightly gents who, just like everyone else, were thrilled to see Whitehall full again after a two-year absence.

They included the oldest veteran present, Tim Farmiloe, 98, formerly of Coastal Command and a proud member of the Goldfish Club for those who have escaped an aircraft by parachuting into water.

Here, too, was former Royal Navy signalman, Frank Baugh, 97, from Doncaster. ‘I’ve never known a parade quite like this. The reception has been just unbelievable,’ said Mr Baugh, whose landing craft was one of the first ashore on Sword Beach, Normandy, at the crack of dawn on D-Day, loaded with 200 men of the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry. 

Pictured: Members of the public attend the Remembrance Sunday service at the Cenotaph, in Whitehall, London

Pictured: Members of the public attend the Remembrance Sunday service at the Cenotaph, in Whitehall, London

Pictured: Members of the public attend the Remembrance Sunday service at the Cenotaph, in Whitehall, London

Wreaths of poppies were laid at the foot of the Cenotaph in London today as the country marked Remembrance Sunday

Wreaths of poppies were laid at the foot of the Cenotaph in London today as the country marked Remembrance Sunday

Wreaths of poppies were laid at the foot of the Cenotaph in London today as the country marked Remembrance Sunday

Buckingham Palace said the Queen was forced to miss the Remembrance service due to a back injury. Pictured last year

Buckingham Palace said the Queen was forced to miss the Remembrance service due to a back injury. Pictured last year

Buckingham Palace said the Queen was forced to miss the Remembrance service due to a back injury. Pictured last year

They took two direct hits and were then marooned on the beach for four hours while they patched up the holes with welding gear under enemy fire. Mr Baugh, who went on to make more return trips than he can count in the summer of 1944, witnessed some horrific injuries on that first one.

‘These poor lads were crying out ‘Give us something, Jack’ – the soldiers called us all ‘Jack’ – and luckily we had these ampoules of morphine. You don’t know how white a man’s bones are until you see them for yourself,’ he recalled. It’s why he was utterly determined to be there yesterday.

This was a big anniversary year for several organisations on parade, not least the War Widows’ Association, which is marking its half-century. ‘It’s very hard to describe just what an incredible honour it is to be there at your central national memorial with 10,000 veterans,’ said the chair, Mary Moreland, 64, whose husband, Ulster Defence Regiment reservist Private John Moreland, was murdered by the IRA on his coal round nine days before Christmas in 1988.

Her two children were at school meeting Father Christmas before she could break the news – ‘probably the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do in my life’.

A tireless champion of widows’ rights, she is currently battling the ludicrous rule which means hundreds of war widows who have gone on to marry again can only retain their war widow’s pension if they divorce their current spouse.

Among the units marching for the first time yesterday were Fighting With Pride, the first organisation for LGBT+ veterans, and the Casevac Club.

Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex lays a wreath at The Cenotaph during the Remembrance Sunday ceremony

Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex lays a wreath at The Cenotaph during the Remembrance Sunday ceremony

Princess Anne, Princess Royal lays a wreath at The Cenotaph during the Remembrance Sunday ceremony

Princess Anne, Princess Royal lays a wreath at The Cenotaph during the Remembrance Sunday ceremony

Pictured: Prince Edward and Princess Anne lay wreaths at the Cenotaph as part of the Remembrance Sunday ceremony

Pictured: Crowds gather ahead of the Remembrance Sunday service at the Cenotaph, in Whitehall, London, this morning

Pictured: Crowds gather ahead of the Remembrance Sunday service at the Cenotaph, in Whitehall, London, this morning

Pictured: Crowds gather ahead of the Remembrance Sunday service at the Cenotaph, in Whitehall, London, this morning

Former Prime Minister David Cameron in Downing Street, ahead of the Remembrance Sunday service at the Cenotaph, in Whitehall

Former Prime Minister David Cameron in Downing Street, ahead of the Remembrance Sunday service at the Cenotaph, in Whitehall

Former Prime Minister Theresa May in Downing Street, ahead of the Remembrance Sunday service at the Cenotaph, in Whitehall

Former Prime Minister Theresa May in Downing Street, ahead of the Remembrance Sunday service at the Cenotaph, in Whitehall

Former Prime Ministers David Cameron and Theresa May have been pictured at the Remembrance event this morning

Former prime minister Tony Blair (centre) and Nadhim Zahawi (right) pictured ahead of the Remembrance Sunday event

Former prime minister Tony Blair (centre) and Nadhim Zahawi (right) pictured ahead of the Remembrance Sunday event

Former prime minister Tony Blair (centre) and Nadhim Zahawi (right) pictured ahead of the Remembrance Sunday event

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer stood beside the Prime Minister while former prime ministers lined up behind Mr Johnson, with John Major, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Theresa May all paying their respects

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer stood beside the Prime Minister while former prime ministers lined up behind Mr Johnson, with John Major, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Theresa May all paying their respects

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer stood beside the Prime Minister while former prime ministers lined up behind Mr Johnson, with John Major, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Theresa May all paying their respects

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer stood side-by-side as they waited to lay their wreaths at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, London, on Sunday

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer stood side-by-side as they waited to lay their wreaths at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, London, on Sunday

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer stood side-by-side as they waited to lay their wreaths at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, London, on Sunday

The latter was founded in 2017 for those so badly wounded in Iraq or Afghanistan that they required ‘casualty evacuation’.

Appropriately, the Legion had put them in the parade immediately in front of the MERT Club, former members of the medical emergency response teams whose job was to fly into the thick of the action and extract the seriously wounded.

Having spent 26 years in the RAF, former Flight Lieutenant Nigel Thorpe, 49, was thrilled to be offered an invitation to yesterday’s parade and ‘grabbed it with both hands’. During four tours of duty flying his Chinook helicopter in Afghanistan, his toughest MERT mission was his last when the call came to rescue several badly wounded US Rangers. ‘We were on the ground for four minutes but it felt like four hours when they started firing grenades at us,’ he recalled.

It wasn’t just the absence of the monarch which underlined the sense of the passage of time.

One of the most moving sights was that of 45 children in the yellow and black scarves of Scotty’s Little Soldiers, the charity for bereaved Forces children.

The youngest on parade were two eight-year-olds – Evie Hebden, marching in memory of father Marine Ralph Hebden, who died in 2013, and Jacob Stokoe, whose father, Sapper Alan Stokoe, died in 2019. A veteran from another group was so touched by the sight of this impressive little gang that he handed his blue beret to Jacob, who proudly wore it for the rest of the day.

The charity was set up by another determined war widow, Nikki Scott, 40, after her husband, Corporal Lee Scott of the Royal Tank Regiment, was killed in Afghanistan in 2009 aged 26. Yellow and black were his regimental colours.

Scotty’s Little Soldiers now helps almost 500 children, including Mrs Scott’s two. Brooke Scott, 12, was just 11 months old when she lost her father. She was on parade with her mother yesterday, carrying the charity’s wreath, while son Kai, 17, preferred to honour his father near their home in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire.

‘I set up the charity because I just wanted to help people smile again,’ Mrs Scott explained. ‘Today makes all the difference for them to have people around them who have been through the same thing. It opens up conversations.’

Once they had all finished marching, they were off for an afternoon treat, a special tour of the Tower of London, along with their patron, Richard Jones, the soldier-magician who won Britain’s Got Talent (and is still a proud Lance Corporal of Horse in the Household Cavalry).

Here were 45 fresh-faced reminders of why this remembrance business is as important as ever. That is why the Queen will be determined to resume her place this time next year. 

Source: Daily Mail UK

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