Members of the royal family and senior politicians have led the nation in honouring the country’s war dead on Remembrance Sunday.
Buckingham Palace announced on Sunday morning that the Queen would be absent from the service at the Cenotaph in central London due to having sprained her back.
The event on Whitehall was given added poignancy by a return to pre-pandemic numbers of participating veterans and military, as well as onlookers.
The Prince of Wales and Prime Minister were among those laying a wreath at the war memorial for the National Service of Remembrance.
Boris Johnson, who appeared sombre as he laid a wreath, said it was a moment to “come together to remember those who sacrificed everything in service of our country”.
Only the rustling of leaves and the chirping of birds could be heard as thousands of people held the two-minute silence at 11am in honour of all those who have lost their lives in conflict.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer stood beside the Prime Minister while former prime ministers lined up behind Mr Johnson, with John Major, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Theresa May all paying their respects.
Heir to the throne Charles placed a wreath of poppies on his mother’s behalf, as has been the tradition since 2017, but the act had further symbolism given her absence.
In what would have been the Queen’s place on the balcony stood her 86-year-old cousin the Duke of Kent, with his sister Princess Alexandra at his side, as they solemnly watched the proceedings.
The Duke of Cambridge, Earl of Wessex and Princess Royal also laid wreaths at the memorial.
Looking on from another balcony of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office building were the Duchess of Cornwall, Duchess of Cambridge and Countess of Wessex.
The palace said the Queen made the decision not to attend “with great regret” and is “disappointed” to miss it.
The rendition of God Save the Queen during the service was notably loud as the crowds of spectators joined in with gusto in her honour.
Service personnel attending the ceremony at the Cenotaph wished the Queen well.
Lance Corporal May Percival said: “My heart goes out to her and her family. I wish her well and the best.”
RAF Nurse Officer Stephen Andor said: “I wish her well. The Queen has very strong links to the military. She is the head of the armed forces.
“I think that every single member of the military wishes her well.”
Royal Navy Petty Officer Ben Shread, of the Combat Camera team, said: “It would be nice if the boss was here.
“She’s the head of the armed services. I don’t know if she has ever missed the Remembrance parade before.
“So, if there is a reason she is not here it must be a very serious one. We all wish her well.”
The Queen has only missed six other Cenotaph ceremonies during her reign: on four occasions when she was on overseas visits to Ghana in 1961, Brazil in 1968, Kenya in 1983 and South Africa in 1999.
She was not present during the 1959 and 1963 services as she was pregnant with her two youngest children.
Meanwhile, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon laid a wreath to remember the fallen in war in a ceremony at Edinburgh’s Stone of Remembrance on the Royal Mile.
The Lord Provost’s wreath-laying party joined the military parade before the gun was fired, at Edinburgh Castle, on the dot of 11am to mark the start of the two-minute silence.
At 11.02am a second gun ended the silence and a bugler played the last post.
Minister of St Giles Cathedral Reverend Calum MacLeod read Binyon’s Lines: “They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old, Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn, At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, We will remember them.”
Lord Provost of the City of Edinburgh Frank Ross laid his wreath at the Stone of Remembrance followed by Ms Sturgeon and Scottish Parliament Presiding Officer Alison Johnstone MSP.
The Queen is said to be deeply disappointed over her absence and she will remain at Windsor Castle.
The Palace had previously said it was the Queen’s “firm intention” to attend the annual wreath-laying service in Whitehall, an event that honours Britain’s war dead.
The monarch, who lived through the Second World War as a teenager, is head of the Armed Forces and attaches great importance to the poignant service and to commemorating the sacrifices made by fallen servicemen and women.
It would have been her first in-person appearance since a reception for business leaders at Windsor Castle on October 19, after which she cancelled a trip to Northern Ireland on medical advice and spent a night in hospital.
Her doctors last month recommended she rest for two weeks following the monarch’s overnight stay at King Edward VII’s Hospital, which was her first in eight years.
The sovereign was recently seen using a walking stick at a Westminster Abbey service in early October, the first time she has done so at a major event. During the coronavirus pandemic, the Queen retreated to Windsor Castle for her safety, where she was joined by the Duke of Edinburgh in lockdown.
The couple were vulnerable to Covid-19 because of their advanced age but were protected by the so-called HMS Bubble, their reduced household of about 20 staff.
On January 9 2021, the then 94-year-old Queen and the 99-year-old duke received their coronavirus vaccinations, with Buckingham Palace taking the rare step of confirming what would usually have been a private medical matter, as the national rollout of the injections gathered pace.
Her illnesses have been few and far between over the years.
She has suffered from back pain, and also had operations to remove torn cartilage from both knees.
She caught measles when Prince Charles was two months old in 1949 and had to be separated from her baby son.
The first time the Queen was actually admitted to hospital was in July 1982 when she had a wisdom tooth extracted at the King Edward VII Hospital in central London.
The Queen’s no-fuss approach to injury and illness was perfectly illustrated in 1994.
She broke her left wrist when her horse tripped during a ride on the Sandringham estate in Norfolk.
The break was not diagnosed until almost 24 hours later when her arm was X-rayed and set in plaster at a hospital.
It was the first time she had fallen in many years and the Queen had simply brushed herself down, remounted her horse and trotted on back to Sandringham.
Prince Charles reassured a bystander about the Queen’s health as he met members of the public on Thursday.
Charles was greeted by crowds of people as he left a branch of NatWest bank in Brixton after an engagement for the Prince’s Trust.
One man asked him: “Prince Charles How is your mother?”
The heir to the throne gave him an encouraging pat on the arm, and appeared to say: “She’s alright, thank you.”
The Queen has missed several other events, including the Festival of Remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday evening.
She returned to Windsor Castle on Tuesday after a long-planned weekend away at her Sandringham estate in Norfolk.