Veterans pay ‘essential’ tribute to fallen as Covid-19 hits commemorations

By Richard Vernalls, PA
·4-min read

Veterans have stood in silence at the National Memorial Arboretum to pay their respects as the Covid-19 pandemic forced a scaled-down act of remembrance this year.

About 200 pre-booked guests gathered for a socially-distanced service at the foot of the outdoor arboretum’s main Armed Forces Memorial, in Alrewas, Staffordshire, on Remembrance Sunday.

The service would usually attract thousands of people but for those unable to attend because of coronavirus this year, it was live-streamed on Facebook and YouTube.

Among them Colonel Jack Stenhouse, formerly of The Gordon Highlanders, who said it was “essential” to keep up the tradition of remembering those who “gave much for their country” – many who never came home.

Remembrance Sunday
The act of remembrance at the arboretum in Alrewas, Staffordshire, would usually attract thousands (Danny Lawson/PA)

Darren Burton, a former Lance Corporal with the Royal Pioneer Corps who had been due to march past the Cenotaph in London before Covid-19 put paid to those plans, said there was a determination “to show our respects as best we can”.

Addressing those assembled, Philippa Rawlinson, the arboretum’s managing director, paid tribute to all the fallen, including from the Commonwealth and other nations, who had joined Britain “in the fight for peace” during the Second World War.

Earlier this year, the royal family had led the nation in marking the 75th anniversaries of Victory in Europe (VE) and Victory over Japan (VJ) days.

The Rev Vic Van Den Bergh, the arboretum’s honorary chaplain, paid tribute “to those whose memory we cherish and those whose names we will never know”.

He said: “We remember those who left never to return.

“Those who returned with body or mind damaged.

“Those who returned superficially intact, back into the arms of family and friends waiting at home.

“For such is the price of war.”

Drawing parallels between the on-going fight against Covid-19 and the armed conflicts commemorated by more than 360 separate memorials dotted across the arboretum, the Rev Van Den Bergh said all such struggles “take lives”.

He said: “There is an obvious parallel between past conflicts and today’s pandemic.

“In both we find those who serve, putting their lives on the line for others and those trying to stay safe at home while still doing their bit.

“The parallel continues, for all conflicts take life, military and civilian in armed conflict, and in the situation before us; NHS, care home staff, carers and so many others.

“When we find ourselves in conflict and in contact with the enemy we trust those to our left and to our right will act to protect us.

“May we strive to keep those around us safe in this time of contagion and risk.”

Col Stenhouse served in Northern Ireland and other postings from 1969 until 1994.

Colonel Jack Stenhouse
Colonel Jack Stenhouse (Richard Vernalls/PA)

He lost friends during his time in The Gordons, and lost a grandfather and great uncle at the Somme in the First World War.

He said it was “essential” the tradition of Remembrance continued, despite the pandemic.

“One would hope that this would never be forgotten,” he said.

“The danger of the pandemic is some of these traditions are broken, the rhythm is broken and it may be difficult to get them started again.

“But I suspect Remembrance Sunday will always be with us.”

The 72-year-old, from Staffordshire, was laying the official wreath of his old regiment at a memorial dedicated to the unit, which had been unveiled at the arboretum earlier this year.

He said his thoughts would be “with the regiment and all those who served with it”.

“All who gave much for their country.”

Darren Burton, a former Lance Corporal with the Royal Pioneer Corps, from Doncaster, Yorkshire, said he had come to “pay respects” to friends who had lost their lives.

The 59-year-old served in Northern Ireland, Cyprus, Belize and Germany, from 1979 to 1988.

He said: “I’ve come here to pay my respects to the fallen, a couple of mates whose names are up on the wall (of the Armed Forces Memorial).

“So I’m going to go up and say hello to them later on.”

Asked about his feelings on Remembrance Sunday, he added: “(I’m) very emotional; sad, happy.

“You think of the bad times and you think of the good times.”