UK pays silent tribute to war dead on Armistice Day

By Tom Pilgrim, PA
·4-min read

Watch: UK pays silent tribute to war dead on Armistice Day

The nation has paid silent tribute to those who lost their lives in conflict on a coronavirus-hit Armistice Day.

Covid-19 restrictions forced much of the British public to observe the traditional two-minute silence at 11am on Wednesday from their homes this year.

But scaled back socially-distanced commemorations were also held across the UK, from London to Cardiff and Edinburgh.

Veterans took to their own doorsteps or stood outside at local memorials to mark the national moment of silence.

Malcolm Clerc
Second World War veteran Malcolm Clerc, 94, observes the two-minute silence from his home in Knutsford, Cheshire (Martin Rickett/PA)

This year, Armistice Day marks the centenary of the burial of the Unknown Warrior in London’s Westminster Abbey after the end of the First World War.

Poet Laureate Simon Armitage has penned a poem commemorating the anniversary, which honours the symbolic “son we lost” who is “a soul without name or rank or age or home”.

Wearing face masks, the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall attended a private, televised service at the abbey to mark the funeral of the unknown British serviceman whose body was brought back from northern France in 1920.

He was laid to rest at the west end of the abbey’s nave on November 11 that year to represent all those who lost their lives in the First World War but whose place of death was unknown or body never found.

Charles and Camilla
The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall arrive at Westminster Abbey for the Armistice Day service (Aaron Chown/PA)

The socially-distanced service was led by the Dean of Westminster David Hoyle, and included an address from the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby.

In his poem The Bed, which he read at the service, Mr Armitage charts the fallen soldier’s journey, from being “broken and sleeping rough in a dirt grave” to being buried “among drowsing poets and dozing saints”.

It concludes: “All this for a soul, without name or rank or age or home, because you are the son we lost, and your rest is ours.”

Former Catatonia singer Cerys Matthews also delivered a reading at the service, while singer Ruby Turner, accompanied by Jools Holland, performed the hymn Abide With Me which was first sung at the Unknown Warrior’s burial 100 years ago.

Armistice Day 2020
Tributes have been paid at the grave of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey (Aaron Chown/PA)

Among other guests at the abbey service was Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace and leading figures from the Armed Forces.

Elsewhere in the capital on Wednesday, early morning train services run by Great Western Railway carried swathes of poppy wreaths from locations along its network to Paddington Station.

The Poppies to Paddington initiative, involving military charities, local authorities and military bases, aimed to place the wreaths by the station’s war memorial on Platform 1 on behalf of those unable to travel to London for Remembrance events this year.

At the Cenotaph on Whitehall, a small closed ceremony was held, helping to mark 100 years since its permanent inauguration in 1920.

Poppy weaths
Military personnel at Penzance station in Cornwall load wreaths on to a train heading to London (GWR/PA)

Lance Sergeant Stuart Laing from the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards performed the Last Post and Reveille on a bugle recovered from the mud of the Somme battlefield in 1915.

Earlier, environmental campaigners from Extinction Rebellion staged a protest at the memorial, unveiling a banner which read: “Honour Their Sacrifice, Climate Change Means War”.

Commemorations were also held in Staffordshire at the National Memorial Arboretum.

The two-minute silence was observed at Edinburgh’s War Memorial Tribute Garden, by clergy at York Minister and in the concourse of London’s King’s Cross station.

Kings Cross
People observe the two-minute silence at King’s Cross station in London (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

In Liverpool, soldiers helping with the mass Covid testing at the Arena Convention Centre paused during their work.

At Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, people observed the two-minute silence amongst 200 silhouettes of soldiers, created by Witney-based artist Dan Barton.

In Royal Wootton Bassett, Wiltshire, the town that has regularly turned out to pay respects to repatriated servicemen killed in conflict, the Last Post was played by the war memorial.

Maggie McLean
The Rev Maggie McLean, York Minster’s Canon Missioner, observes the two-minute silence (Danny Lawson/PA)

The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted landmark anniversaries and Remembrance events throughout this year, including Victory in Europe (VE) Day and Victoria in Japan (VJ) Day.

Last weekend’s Remembrance Sunday service at the Cenotaph attended by the Queen had to be scaled back and was closed to the public.

Despite the coronavirus lockdown in England, Downing Street said Remembrance events are allowed if they take place outside and social distancing is observed.

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