Page last updated at 17:37 GMT, Friday, 25 December 2009

Queen says Britain owes 'debt of gratitude' to troops


Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II delivers her annual Christmas message

The Queen has used her Christmas speech to express sadness at the death toll among British troops in Afghanistan.

The monarch offered her sympathy to the families of the 106 service personnel who have died this year.

She said the country owed a "profound debt of gratitude" to all Commonwealth troops who had served in Afghanistan.

The Queen also said the past 12 months had brought problems for many of her subjects, especially those affected by the economic downturn.

2009 was a difficult year for many, in particular those facing the continuing effects of the economic downturn
The Queen

In her annual message to the nation, she said: "Each year that passes seems to have its own character. Some leave us with a feeling of satisfaction, others are best forgotten.

"2009 was a difficult year for many, in particular those facing the continuing effects of the economic downturn.

"I am sure that we have all been affected by events in Afghanistan and saddened by the casualties suffered by our forces serving there.

"Our thoughts go out to their relations and friends who have shown immense dignity in the face of great personal loss."

The broadcast featured the town of Wootton Bassett in Wiltshire, where members of the public line the streets to pay their respects to fallen service personnel returned to the UK.

'Positive contribution'

The number of British military deaths in Afghanistan this year stands at 106, the highest figure since the Falklands War in 1982.

Sgt Archie Logan and L/Cpl Danielle Hudson in Afghanistan at Christmas
British troops in Afghanistan celebrated Christmas as best they could

The monarch said: "But we can be proud of the positive contribution that our servicemen and women are making, in conjunction with our allies.

"Well over 13,000 soldiers from the United Kingdom, and across the Commonwealth - Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Singapore - are currently serving in Afghanistan.

"The debt of gratitude owed to these young men and women, and to their predecessors, is indeed profound."

Footage was show of the UK's main military base in Afghanisatan, Camp Bastion, and the headquarters at Lashkar Gah in Helmand.

Prince Harry, an officer in the Household Cavalry, was shown laying wreath at the Cenotaph in Whitehall at this year remembrance ceremony.

'Better future'

The speech was recorded two weeks ago from the White Drawing Room at Buckingham Palace.

The Queen, who attended the Commonwealth leaders' summit in Trinidad and Tobago in November, said the organisation remained a "strong and practical force for good".

Claire Marshall, BBC News, Sandringham
Neither the snow lying several several inches deep nor the ice covering the roads on the Sandringham estate deterred those wishing to greet the Royal Family.

They started arriving before eight in the morning with flowers and poems written especially for the Queen.

There had been speculation the girlfriends of princes William and Harry might join the royal party, but neither Kate Middleton nor Chelsea Davy attended.

The Queen, dressed in a deep red suit and hat, arrived at the church in the royal car just before 11am. The crowds by this time were several people deep.

Travelling with the Queen was the Countess of Wessex. The other members of the Royal Family made the quarter-mile journey on foot from Sandringham House.

Prince Charles walked alongside the Duchess of Cornwall. Zara Phillips walked arm in arm with Prince William. Prince Harry walked on the other side of her.

After the service, which lasted less than an hour, princesses Eugenie and Beatrice helped the Queen to gather bouquets of flowers from some of the children who were waiting outside.

One excited young girl who handed her flowers to the Queen herself called it a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

She added: "With continuing support and dedication, I am confident that this diverse Commonwealth of nations can strengthen the common bond that transcends politics, religion, race and economic circumstances."

The monarch was shown meeting two famous sportsmen from Trinidad and Tobago - cricketer Brian Lara and footballer Dwight Yorke - in the capital Port of Spain.

The Queen finished her address on an upbeat note, saying: "We may ourselves be confronted by a bewildering array of difficulties and challenges, but we must never cease to work for a better future for ourselves and for others."

The broadcast ended with a family in Trinidad playing the national anthem on steel drums.

Earlier the Queen and other members of the Royal Family attended a Christmas Day service at St Mary Magdalene Church on the Sandringham estate in Norfolk.

About 500 onlookers watched the arrival of the royals who included the Duke of Edinburgh, the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall, and princes William and Harry who are on leave from their military training as helicopter pilots.

The Princess Royal, the Duke of York and his daughters princesses Beatrice and Eugenie, and the Earl and Countess of Wessex also attended.

After the service, which was led by Sandringham rector Jonathan Riviere, children lined up to give the Queen flowers.

Members of the royal party greeted well-wishers before walking back to Sandringham House.

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Queen first broadcast in Windsor
21 Dec 09 |  History

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