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Friday, January 1, 1999 Published at 00:14 GMT

Queen halted Armistice Day reforms

Lord Wilson (second left) and Lord Callaghan (right) on Armistice Day in 1995

Church proposals in 1968 to modernise Remembrance Sunday and make it more relevant to young people were thrown out because the Queen objected to them, according to newly released secret papers.

The then Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Michael Ramsey, wanted Armistice Day reformed in time for the 50th anniversary of World War I, so it reflected the sentiments of a generation that had never experienced war.

But after tense "informal soundings" between then Home Secretary James Callaghan and Buckingham Palace, the proposals were dropped with the blessing of Prime Minister Harold Wilson.

He was concerned that, if the proposals went through, his government would come under attack from "heart-burnings" and the Royal Family.

'National short-comings'

The papers, which were declassified under the 30-year rule at the Public Record Office in west London, revealed that the archbishop also wanted a recognition of "our national short-comings which have contributed to the world's troubles".

Up to 60% of government papers that were classified in 1968 will be made public under a process designed to clear files that are no longer relevant.

Nonetheless, many of the facts disclosed promise to redefine the way historians look at the period, although the majority of them will be shredded.

[ image: Most papers will be shredded]
Most papers will be shredded
Government letters from 1968 revealed that the Queen wanted changes to Armistice Day handled with "great care".

Mr Callaghan, now Lord Callaghan, wrote that Buckingham Palace would only contemplate ending the Remembrance Sunday ceremonies when they ceased to have any meaning with the public.

"In the meantime for those of Her subjects (and they are numerous) for whom it has meaning, it stands, She believes, purely as the annual public recognition of those who gave their lives for their country in the two Great Wars of this century," he wrote.

PM's opposition

The home secretary then wrote to the archbishop telling him that it was not an appropriate time to end royal wreath laying in favour of smaller, more local commemorations.

The prime minister curtly expressed his opposition to the Church's plans in a rough handwritten note on a government briefing paper.

"We should have to have strong evidence of a desire for change - since any variation, especially omissions (eg wreath laying) might cause heart-burnings and the feeling that we were 'forgetting'," he wrote.

"True, the Church have made proposals, but this is a State and national occasion - not a Church occasion."

He finalised discussion of the reform plans by banning any discussion of them within the next five years.

Leviathan - UK Confidential
BBC Two Friday 1 January 6.40pm

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