The Duke of Sussex has said he would like to include a symbol of India’s war dead in his Cenotaph wreath, to commemorate their First World War sacrifice – but added that it would not please everyone.
Harry’s comment came as he honoured Britain’s war dead at a ceremony to open Westminster Abbey’s Field of Remembrance, which marks its 90th anniversary this year.
On Sunday the duke will join the Prince of Wales, Duke of Cambridge, the Prime Minister, cabinet members and other national figures laying wreaths at the Cenotaph, as the nation falls silent on the 100th anniversary of the end of the war.
The duke, a former Army officer, stopped at one of the 370 plots in the shadow of the Abbey, representing regiments, military organisations and other bodies and covered with tiny wooden crosses, to chat to Suraj Samant, 23, from the Hindu Council UK.
In India marigolds, rather than poppies, are used to commemorate the country’s war dead, and Mr Samant handed Harry a bloom.
Mr Samant, whose plot represented India’s First World War forces, said after their meeting: “His elder brother and his father both put a wreath of marigolds down at India Gate at New Delhi to commemorate (India’s fallen) so I thought it was poignant to also offer His Royal Highness a marigold as part of the Indian diaspora’s centenary commemorations.”
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He said 1.3 million Indian servicemen were involved in the First World War, and 74,000 were killed during the conflict.
Mr Samant, 23, added: “His Royal Highness spoke of the sacrifice, and said his father had expressed that to him in great detail, and to remember that sacrifice, and it’s very necessary to mark that here.
“He said he’d add a couple of marigolds into his wreath that he puts down at the Cenotaph if he had the choice.
“I think he recognises that sacrifice himself, it’s not a small number we’re talking about.”
Mr Samant added that Harry said if he made the gesture recognising India’s fallen, it would not please everyone.
Harry also met the mascot of the Staffordshire Regiments, Colour Sergeant Watchman V – a Staffordshire bull terrier who was with his handler ex-Warrant Officer Class 2 Greg Hedges, 62, from the Staffordshire Regimental Association.
The popular mascot is due to retire next year and nearby was his replacement, Private Watchman VI, who is just 15 weeks old and the same breed.
Mr Hedges said the two dogs were cousins, adding: “Watchman V will have done 77 years service when he retires – that’s in dog years – so we’ve got a teenager and a pensioner.”
Speaking about Harry’s encounter with the soon-to-be mascot he added: “He went down to pat it and it jumped up and he held it by the paw, he got the royal seal of approval I think.”
During the event Harry left his own miniature cross at the site and the Last Post was sounded by a bugler before a minute’s silence was observed.
Among those present was Sarah Jones, president of the Royal British Legion Poppy Factory and widow of Falklands hero Lieutenant Colonel Herbert Jones known as “H”, who was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.
As he left the grounds of the Abbey Harry shook hands with decorator John Kinsella, 54, who wore a poppy on his hard hat and last month travelled to Belgium with his two brothers to visit the grave of their great grandfather, who was killed just a few weeks before the First World War ended.
He said about his great grandfather Thomas Kinsella: “He was 100 years dead on the 12th October 1918 and we went to give him the service he didn’t have 100 years ago, really.”
Mr Kinsella, from Islington, London, who was working on a nearby apartment block, said about Harry: “I’ve met his grandma at St Paul’s, I shook his old man’s hand at Kennington about four years ago, and now I’ve shaken his hand, it’s a nice touch to end the day – my old woman’s going to laugh her head off.”