Page last updated at 15:42 GMT, Sunday, 9 November 2008

Silence falls as Britain remembers

By Jane Peel
BBC News

Veterans at the Cenotaph
8,000 ex-servicemen and women remember fallen comrades
The overnight rain had thankfully been blown away by high winds, and by the time the crowds began gathering in Whitehall, it was dry and cool.

By 10 o'clock people of all ages were eight deep on the eastern side of the Cenotaph.

Some of the youngest were lifted up to sit on the metal crush barriers for a better view. They wore the red poppy, the traditional symbol of remembrance.

This year - the 90th anniversary of the end of the First World War - poppies have an added poignancy. They were first introduced to remember the dead of that conflict.

They were chosen because, after some of the bloodiest fighting of the war in Flanders and Picardy, poppies were the only flower that bloomed on the battlefields.

A sea of red poppies sprang up where tens of thousands of soldiers had died.

Last Post

The actual anniversary of the armistice - the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month - will be marked with a special ceremony at the Cenotaph on Tuesday, attended by three surviving veterans.

The youngest of them, Bill Stone, is 108 years old. He was in the Royal Navy in the First World War and went on to serve in the Second World War too, taking part in the evacuation of troops from Dunkirk.

Six-year-old Alfie Amos in a WWII SAS uniform
Six-year-old Alfie Amos attended the service alongside WWI veterans

Remembrance Sunday is a commemoration of the dead, not only of the two World Wars, but of all armed conflicts since.

As Big Ben struck 11, a field gun was fired from nearby Horseguards Parade by the Kings Troop Royal Horse Artillery.

It marked the start of the two-minute silence observed across the nation.

On Whitehall, no-one moved. Only the flags on the Cenotaph and the autumn leaves clinging to the trees twitched in the breeze.

The buglers of the Royal Marines sounded the Last Post and the Queen, dressed in a black coat and hat, led the tributes, laying the first wreath at the Cenotaph.

She was followed by all the senior royals except Prince Harry, who was with his regiment.

The Glorious Dead

The Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, and leaders of opposition parties were among the other wreath-layers. Traditionally, all surviving former Prime Ministers attend, but the most recent incumbent was absent.

Tony Blair was in Egypt attending the Middle East peace talks. His spokesman said he would be visiting a Commonwealth War grave in the region on Tuesday to mark Armistice Day.

The proceedings ended with a march past of veterans. This year some 8,000 ex-servicemen and women were involved, proudly displaying their campaign medals, some saluting to pay their respects as they passed the Cenotaph with its simple inscription: "The Glorious Dead".

The most frail were in wheelchairs, wrapped in blankets to keep out the November chill. About 1,700 civilians, who had played a role in recent conflicts, also took part in the march.

As central London emptied, the winds picked up and the rain arrived. The weather had at least been kind to the thousands who came here to pay their respects.

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SEE ALSO
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09 Nov 08 |  Europe

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