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Queen leads ceremony at Cenotaph to remember Britain's war dead

Published 13/11/2016

Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh attend the annual Royal Festival of Remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall in London.
Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh attend the annual Royal Festival of Remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall in London.

The Queen led the nation in tribute as the country paused for a two-minute silence to remember its war dead.

The head of state was joined by Prime Minister Theresa May for the annual service at the Cenotaph in central London - one of many taking place around the country in memory of those killed in past and present conflicts.

More than 750 Armed Forces personnel were applauded by crowds of poppy wearers as they marched to form a hollow square around the memorial in Whitehall.

As Big Ben struck 11am, the King's Troop Royal Horse Artillery fired their First World War-era guns to mark the beginning and end of the reflection in the heart of Whitehall.

The Last Post was then sounded before the Bishop of London, the Right Reverend Richard Chartres, led a service.

Dressed in black, the Queen laid a wreath of poppies at the memorial for "The Glorious Dead" while the Duke of Edinburgh, the Prince of Wales, Mrs May and leader of the Opposition Jeremy Corbyn followed suit.

Mr Corbyn joined in with God Save The Queen after previously attracting criticism for not singing the anthem at the Battle of Britain 75th anniversary commemorations last year.

The Duchess of Cambridge and Duchess of Cornwall watched on from the balcony of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO).

Former prime ministers David Cameron, Tony Blair and Sir John Major were also present, along with London Mayor Sadiq Khan.

Ahead of the service, wreaths of life-jacket-orange poppies were laid by campaign group Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants to commemorate the thousands of people who have died in the last year trying to reach Europe.

Meanwhile, in Edinburgh First Minister Nicola Sturgeon laid a wreath on behalf of the people of Scotland at the Stone of Remembrance outside the City Chambers.

Hundreds gathered outside St Giles' Cathedral on the capital's Royal Mile for the annual Remembrance Sunday memorial event organised by veterans' charity Legion Scotland.

This year's Remembrance Sunday is especially poignant as 2016 marks the centenary of the Battle of the Somme and the Battle of Jutland, the 25th anniversary of the Gulf War and the 80th anniversary of the first flight of the Supermarine Spitfire.

The British Army suffered almost 60,000 casualties on the first day of the Somme battle alone and more than a million men would be killed or wounded on both sides over the course of the 141-day offensive.

Alex Saridis, great-grandnephew of Jack Cornwell, who was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for his heroic actions on board HMS Chester at Jutland aged just 16, said it was "amazing" to be at the Cenotaph with so many people.

Cornwell was stationed at a gun in an exposed position and was seriously injured when the ship was hit by 17 shells in the space of three minutes.

He continued to stand alone at his post with shrapnel in his chest until the end of fighting, dying days later in hospital shortly after his 16th birthday.

Wearing his Royal Navy uniform, Mr Saridis, 23, from Epsom, Surrey said: "I'm here today to remember my great great uncle Jack, also known as John Travers Cornwell, who is the youngest VC (Victoria Cross) winner within the Royal Navy.

"It's a sad thing knowing that a family member passed on at such a young age, but it's also an incredible thing knowing that I have such a legacy to be able to look up to and be able to reach for.

"Remembering not just my great great uncle Jack but everyone ... is an incredibly important thing because it enables us to not just see what happened but also to learn from their mistakes so we can better ourselves, and to be able to keep on living and improving."

Following the ceremony, about 8,500 veterans and servicemen and women were cheered on as they started parading down Whitehall to music played by military bands. Heir to the throne Charles took the salute at Horse Guards Parade.

In what has become an annual tradition, London black cabs provided free transport to participating veterans from the main London train stations to Whitehall as a mark of gratitude.

Numbers were down from the usual 10,000-strong participants after the Legion introduced "more rigorous eligibility criteria" this year.

Bob Gamble OBE, who heads up commemorative events at the RBL, denied that family members had been told they could not march, saying instead that various associations had been trying to prioritise veterans.

He said: "By the time Charles stops saluting I think he'll tell you there were plenty of veterans here today.

"The numbers were less this year than last. Next year I am very confident we will be back up to our usual 10,000, but it will be veterans. The crowds come to see veterans. It's about veterans.

"We just need to make sure all those that have served, both civilian and military, men and women, have an opportunity to come and do this thing. It's for them."

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