Edward and Sophie lay wreaths for Armistice Day at national arboretum

By Richard Vernalls, PA
·3-min read

The Earl and Countess of Wessex have laid wreaths during an Armistice Day service at the National Memorial Arboretum.

Edward and Sophie were accompanied by dignitaries in a service marking the end of the First World War at 11am on November 11 1918.

Attendance was limited this year by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, but about 200 members of the public gathered at the site in Staffordshire on Wednesday for the two-minute silence.

The service, led by Bishop of Lichfield the Right Rev Michael Ipgrave, was attended by defence minister Baroness Goldie, David Whimpenny, on behalf of the Royal British Legion, and the Lord Lieutenant of Staffordshire, James Leavesley.

Soprano Emily Haig performed Jerusalem and God Save The Queen, accompanied by the Band of the Scots Guards.

After laying a wreath at the main Armed Forces Memorial, Edward read from the Gospel of John, and the countess read a passage from Phillip Larkin’s poem MCMXIV (1914).

Although the public were unable to physically attend the ceremony, which was broadcast live online, pre-booked veterans and families were in the arboretum’s grounds to pay their respects.

Armistice Day 2020
Edward and Sophie lay wreaths at the Armed Forces Memorial (Darren Staples/PA)

Karen Hextall, 73, from Leicester, was remembering her late father Bernard Loomes.

He served in the Royal Navy aboard a destroyer escorting the Arctic convoys as they delivered vital supplies and munitions to the Soviet Union during the Second World War.

She was wearing a poppy made by her daughter, and caught the eye of Sophie who asked about it after the service.

Ms Hextall, whose grandparents served in the First World War, said her father was always in her thoughts, but “especially today”.

“I’m sure there’s lots of memories for people’s ancestors,” she added.

Richard Shouls, 60, served in the First Battalion The Parachute Regiment between 1976 and 1991.

Armistice Day 2020
Edward and Sophie at a socially distanced service (Darren Staples/PA)

Pointing up to the main memorial, whose Portland stone walls are inscribed with 16,000 names of the fallen, he said: “There’s guys on the walls from our battalion. Guys I parachuted with.

“So we come on a regular basis just to say hello to them, have a chat to them, toast a beer to them.”

Mr Shouls, who served in Northern Ireland, Hong Kong, the US and Canada, said his thoughts were with two friends on Armistice Day.

“There’s two guys on there (the walls). We had a mass parachute accident, two of them were killed and I broke my ankle on that jump.

“So I’ll go and say hello to them.”

Barry Sturge, who served with the Staffordshire Regiment from 1973 until 1996, said: “I came out of respect to all the guys who gave their lives over the years.

“Guys that passed away while I was serving, friends – I lost a couple of friends.”

Mr Sturge – who served in Northern Ireland, Canada, Germany and Belize – added: “They gave their lives for this country. They were just ordinary guys that went to do an extraordinary job.

“When I first started, Northern Ireland was the main thing – nobody knew a lot about it, we just saw what was on the telly.

“But it was something that had to be done – we weren’t supermen, just average guys from school. That was what we did.”