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Saturday, 11 November, 2000, 07:48 GMT
An inclusive Remembrance Sunday?
A relative of an executed soldier at the Cenotaph (1998)
A relative of an executed soldier at the Cenotaph (1998)
Remembrance Sunday is steeped in protocol - but this year sees sweeping changes to recognise groups and religions previously excluded from the annual commemoration.

As Tom Stones marches past the Cenotaph in central London on this Remembrance Sunday, his footsteps will mark a major change in one of the UK's most important annual public acts.

He and 49 other representatives of the First World War Pardon Association will see the wartime role of their relatives, shot for alleged cowardice or desertion during the First World War, recognised by the state for the first time.

The association's inclusion comes as part of a far-reaching change to the protocols of Remembrance Sunday.

Military event

The act of remembrance at the Cenotaph, overlooked by the Ministry of Defence, has long been largely the preserve of the military, a day of commemorating its own.

The march past the Cenotaph has previously involved current servicemen and women, former servicemen and women, widows and widowers of former members of the services.

Until this year, members of the civilian services (such as the police and firefighters), representatives of London Transport, which moved troops during the war, and the Bevin Boys, the Second World War conscripted miners, were the only civilians permitted to join the march.

Modernisation

This year, the event has the clear imprint of modernising zeal upon it.
War veterans at the Cenotaph
Veterans: Joined by 2,000 civilians this year

Following up to 10,000 servicemen and women will be an unprecedented 2,000 civilians representing 31 organisations. The Home Office describes them as the "2,000 for 2,000" to mark the millennium.

Retired policemen and firefighters will be recognised for their contributions along with organisations as diverse as the RSPCA, the Round Table, the Army Pigeon Service and the Church Lads and Church Girls. There will also be a significant turn-out by the pressure group representing British civilians interned by the Japanese during WWII.

Just as significantly, national representatives of some major religions, never before recognised at the Cenotaph, will join Christian and Jewish representatives in the official party headed by the Queen.

The Home Office and the Royal British Legion say the changes are in the name of inclusiveness - a decision that has finally allowed Tom Stones and other families to reclaim the publicly disgraced names of their dead relatives.

Shot at dawn

Will Stones was one of more than 300 British servicemen shot by their own side during the First World War.

British soldiers are executed by their own side during the First World War
Executions: British soliders were shot at dawn
He was executed in 1917 after being found guilty of "shamefully casting away his rifle".

Official records recently revealed that some officers argued against the court martial, saying that the events were misrepresented and Will Stones should have been recognised as a brave veteran of five major battles.

"For me he has never been anything other than brave and bold," Mr Stones told BBC News Online.

"Yet for years the name of Will Stones was erased from our family history, out of shame.

"This is the first national recognition of these men executed by their own side."

The association hopes that its inclusion marks a significant step for its campaign, largely backed by the Royal British Legion.

For its part, the government maintains that too much time has elapsed to grant pardons - although New Zealand recently pardoned five of its own men shot during the First World War.

Remembering the forgotten?

While Sunday's events will be emotionally wrenching for the pardon campaign families, other groups admitted to the Cenotaph for the first time see the changes as a suitable recognition of their own members' efforts.

The RSPCA's invitation stems from its war record which includes treating 725,000 horses at the Western Front in WWI.

We just want to be able to recognise that war has been very much part of the lives of many RSPCA officers and we want to honour them

Jamie Stevenson, RSPCA

So was the change in protocol a case of recognising those who for far too long have gone unrecognised?

"That's exactly why it's been organised the way it has," said Jeremy Lillies of the Royal British Legion.

"We proposed to the Home Office last year that civilian organisations should be admitted.

"There's always been a great desire among them to be represented, especially those organisations seen as the Home Front who contributed to the war effort.

"Before now they haven't had the opportunity to come forward and be seen."

The Home Office says that civilian participation in Remembrance Sunday will continue in future years - along with the move to more inclusive religious arrangements.

Multi-faith

Representatives of the Muslim, Sikh, Buddhist, Hindu and Greek Orthodox communities will join the Christian denominations at the Cenotaph to represent many thousands of men and women who have lost of their lives around the world in the name of Empire or Commonwealth.

Om Parkash Sharma, president of the National Council of Hindu Temples will be one of those in the official party.

"It is a good thing that the government has finally recognised the role of our community and the other faiths in war time," Mr Sharma told BBC News Online.

"The Commonwealth countries played the greatest role in wars and the memory of those people should be honoured.

"This is about recognising the role of our community and others in Britain. We play an enormous role in the economy and general life of the country.

"To be given recognition, to be at the Cenotaph, is only correct."

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