The King has honoured the nation’s war dead for the first time as monarch and laid a wreath at the Cenotaph in remembrance of all those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.
Thousands of veterans proudly wearing their medals, military families and the public packed Whitehall for the Remembrance Sunday ceremony and watched as Charles placed his floral tribute at the base of the memorial on Whitehall.
In recent years, Charles had performed the role on behalf of the Queen as the Prince of Wales, but as the first chimes of Big Ben rang out at 11am on Sunday and a two-minute silence began, he stood before the Cenotaph in his role as head of state.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, speaking to broadcasters in Westminster, commented on the King’s first Cenotaph ceremony as monarch after succeeding the Queen.
He said: “I think he’ll reflect that she gave her service to the very end, she never stopped being the sovereign, she didn’t abdicate and all these other things that people used to speculate on. She was married to this country and her duty.”
Reflecting on how Europe was again faced with conflict on the continent after enduring two world wars, he said: “And, of course, what remembrance is about is recognising that freedom isn’t free – people make sacrifices and this nation made the ultimate sacrifice on two occasions in the great wars, but also (in) other conflicts, and remembrance is a time to reflect on that.”
A volley from a gun fired by the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery from nearby Horse Guards Parade rang out to signal the start of the two minutes of silent reflection, punctuated by the sound of London traffic, and another loud blast marked its end.
Charles laid his wreath, its design a tribute to ones used by his late mother and grandfather George VI, after buglers from the Royal Marines played the Last Post and it featured the words “In memory of the glorious dead. Charles R”.
The wreath was soon joined by others left by the Prince of Wales, the Earl of Wessex, and the Princess Royal, with the Queen Consort’s assistant equerry, Captain Edward Andersen, laying her tribute.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak also paid tribute to the fallen on behalf of the Government by leaving a wreath, followed by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, other party leaders, senior members of the Cabinet, military chiefs of staff and high commissioners.
Watching from the balcony of a Government building was Camilla and the Princess of Wales, and nearby on another balcony was the Countess of Wessex and the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester.
A short service followed the laying of the main wreaths, with the Bishop of London, Dame Sarah Mullally, delivering a prayer.
She told those gathered: “O Almighty God, grant, we beseech thee, that we who here do honour to the memory of those who have died in the service of their country and of the Crown may be so inspired by the spirit of their love and fortitude that, forgetting all selfish and unworthy motives, we may live only to thy glory and to the service of mankind through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
The King, members of the royal family and the thousands gathered sang the hymn O God, Our Help in Ages Past.
The Remembrance Sunday ceremony had added poignancy this year as it is the 40th anniversary of the Falklands War, with former veterans marching past the Cenotaph.
Retired Brigadier Jon Mullin, who served as a Lieutenant in the 9 Parachute Squadron Royal Engineers during the conflict, marched with the South Atlantic Medal Association 82.
Reflecting on the sacrifices made to liberate the Falklands, he said: “I wanted to be part of a national commemoration to commemorate all those people who did this wonderful feat of arms and put it all together, and many have passed on in the intervening years.
“I think it’s important that the nation doesn’t forget the sacrifices.”
The day was marked around the UK, with services also taking place at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire and the WW1 Memorial in Portsmouth.
Flight Lieutenant Chris Halliwell, an RAF Police reservist – whose great grandfather fought in the First World War and was wounded at Gallipoli, said the day had brought out an enormous “sense of pride”.
He said: “It’s a moment of history, it’s the first time the new king has presided over this ceremony, so to be here for that event is a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
Flt Lieu Halliwell added: “Normally I do a parade in Manchester, having never been down to London to witness the fantastic spectacle we’ve got today I jumped at the opportunity to come down and be part of it and pay some respects and meet up with some guys I’ve not seen for a while.
“This brings out an enormous sense of pride in our Armed Forces and in our public as well as they come out to support it – I didn’t realise there would be so many people here. I walked through Horse Guards parade at 7.30am and there were still members of the public turning up.”