The Duke of Cambridge has led national tributes honouring the “sacrifices” of emergency workers during the Covid-19 outbreak, in an online celebration of “999 Heroes”.
William was joined by Health Secretary Matt Hancock, and the First Minister of Northern Ireland Arlene Foster and her counterparts from Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, and Wales, Mark Drakeford, for the annual Emergency Services Festival of Thanksgiving.
The multi-faith event, held online due to the pandemic, commemorates 999 staff who have died in the line of duty, and this year a number of NHS and emergency workers who it is claimed have died after contracting Covid-19 while on duty.
The duke, who has worked as an air ambulance helicopter pilot, said in a pre-recorded video message: “This year, more than ever, we have been repeatedly reminded of the sacrifices made by all those in the emergency responder community, as they work tirelessly to protect us against Covid-19 and keep the country going in the most challenging circumstances.
JUST ANNOUNCED: Today, a special online Emergency Services Festival of Thanksgiving @999Festival takes place at 2PM, organised by @999Cenotaph. Guests include HRH The Duke of Cambridge; First Ministers @DUPLeader, @ScotGovFM, @FMWales and Health Secretary @MattHancock. Join us. pic.twitter.com/mo3xNAFFc0
— 999 Festival – Today at 2PM Online (@999Festival) September 4, 2020
“Having had the privilege of working alongside emergency responders. I’ve always been struck by the remarkable can-do attitude in the face of even the gravest of emergencies.
“They showcase the very best that our country has to offer and this is never more apparent than at times like these.
“Tragically, some will pay the ultimate price as a result of their efforts in the line of duty, while others will experience lasting effects on their physical health or mental wellbeing.
“We all have a responsibility to do what we can to support this community and to remember their efforts to keep us safe, as well as the many sacrifices made by both them and their families, which is why today’s service is so important.”
During the online festival, which was delayed by more than three hours due to technical problems, the audience watched the Blue Light Choir, whose members are emergency workers and supporters, perform from Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Station.
In his video message Mr Hancock thanked emergency staff for their “tireless work” and said: “You may not see yourselves as heroes, but you certainly are, and I want to reiterate our thanks for all the incredible emergency service workers today.
“You keep us safe, protect us and have been at the forefront of helping us turn the battle against coronavirus.
“Thanks to you, we can now begin to return to our daily lives, safely and securely.
“And finally, in particular, I want to pay tribute to those who have lost their lives in the line of duty, including during the pandemic – we must always remember and honour the courage of those who have laid down their own lives for us.”
His words were echoed by the First Ministers of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, who had also recorded video messages of support for the festival.
Ms Sturgeon said: “In recent months, we have been reminded of the extraordinary contribution of our emergency services.
“They have been at the forefront of our country’s response to the Covid pandemic.
“In addition, here in Scotland, our emergency services have had to respond to two major incidents, the knife attack in Glasgow and the train derailment in Stonehaven. And they have done an outstanding job.”
During the service, two minutes silence was observed in memory of more than 7,500 emergency services personnel who have died in the line of duty, and wreaths were laid at locations in Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland and England by leaders from the emergency services.
Mrs Foster also remembered those who had lost their lives while on duty: “Over this last number of months, as we have combated a new risk to life, we have seen our emergency services take on this task like no other.
“They have faced up to this challenge and provide a response that is exemplary and world-class.
“And I do want to take a moment to recall all of those who have lost their lives as a result of their service.
“They have made the ultimate sacrifice and we will never forget them.”
Mr Hancock highlighted the efforts of the National Emergency Services Memorial, which is raising at least £3.2 million to build the 999 Cenotaph – a national memorial dedicated to all emergency services personnel and service animals.
Thomas Scholes-Fogg, a serving police officer, is the founder and chief executive of the UK’s national Emergency Services Day, the Emergency Services Festival of Thanksgiving and the 999 Cenotaph.
Mr Drakeford paid tribute, saying: “As a nation we try to express our gratitude – we put rainbows in our windows, we clapped together on our doorsteps, but we know it will never be enough.
“For your part has been to be there, when people are at their most scared and vulnerable. When we all need someone else the most.”