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Last Updated: Sunday, 9 November, 2003, 17:16 GMT
Veterans past and present remembered
By Jon Brain
BBC correspondent

Under the leaden skies of a cold November morning they gathered in their thousands to mark a ceremony that has barely changed in more than eight decades.

Whitehall - normally a noisy traffic-congested thoroughfare - was temporarily silenced as the veterans and their families stood to remember fallen comrades and loved ones.

Thousands of veterans gathered in Whitehall
Veterans and their relatives filled Whitehall
The drabness of the autumn day was brightened by the splashes of colour from the obligatory red poppy worn in every one of the thousands of coat lapels.

And soon the foot of the bare white cenotaph was a carpet of wreaths.

The Queen - dressed in black - laid the first.

She was followed by other members of the Royal Family, politicians, representatives of the commonwealth and leaders of Britain's armed services.

Historic survivors

These may have been the dignitaries but they shared the limelight with three elderly and previously anonymous gentlemen.

Henry Allingham, a sprightly 107-year-old, joined Bill Stone, 103 and Norman Robinson, the youngster at a mere 102, at the head of the veteran's march past.

Driven in an open top 1911 Austin car they represented the rapidly dwindling ranks of Britain's survivors from the First World War.

Prime Minister Tony Blair walks past (l-r) Charles Kennedy, leader of the Liberal Democrats, John Reid, Secretary of State for Education and Michael Howard, leader of the Conservatives
Stony-faced dignitaries laid wreathes beneath a steel sky
Behind them marched thousands of elderly veterans and war widows on behalf of a range of diverse and eclectic groups.

They included the Royal Military Police who lost six of their men on one day in Iraq this year - more than the service lost in World War II.

The Home Guard, on the 60th anniversary of its "stand down" was represented as was the intriguingly titled Guinea Pig Club.

Controversy waits

They were airmen who received plastic surgery during WW2 when such techniques were still in their infancy and the men receiving this experimental treatment felt they were indeed guinea pigs.

From the modern era, and for the first time, a group of families who are campaigning for a public inquiry into non-combatant deaths took part.

A Remembrance Service at the Sheibah War Memorial on the outskirts of Basra, Iraq
British troops in Basra also took part in a remembrance service
They included the parents of some of the recruits who died from shotgun wounds at the Deepcut barracks in Surrey.

Having rejected the Ministry of Defence's claim that the soldiers committed suicide, they are demanding a public inquiry.

However, they stressed that today was not about controversy but about remembering those servicemen and woman who signed up to serve their country but, for whatever reason, died before they had the chance to do so.

Shortly after the ceremony had ended, the thousands who had taken part had dispersed leaving Whitehall to return to its normal busy traffic-fumed status.

Until next year.


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