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Meghan and Harry meet veterans at poignant ceremony commemorating war dead

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex visited Westminster Abbey’s Field of Remembrance.

The duchess chatted to D-Day veterans (Steve Parsons/PA)
The duchess chatted to D-Day veterans (Steve Parsons/PA)

By Tony Jones, PA Court Correspondent

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex hugged the families of veterans and joked with older soldiers as they commemorated the nation’s war dead during a poignant Westminster Abbey ceremony.

Harry and Meghan visited the Abbey’s Field of Remembrance to lay miniature crosses in memory of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice and observe a two-minute silence as the chimes of Big Ben faded in the background.

The couple, who were missing the Duchess of Cornwall, absent due to ill health, toured hundreds of plots in the grounds of the Abbey where regiments, military associations and other organisations had laid out their crosses.

They chatted to everyone from D-Day veterans to those who served in more recent conflicts and shared a hug with Poppie Hutton, aged eight, from Armagh, Northern Ireland, who was with her grandparents at the plot for the Royal Irish Regiment.

Andrea McMahon, the military unit’s assistant regimental secretary, said: “We asked Meghan about motherhood and she said her son Archie was six months old and said the experience was wonderful and she was really enjoying it, and having a great time.

“Poppie was hoping to get cuddles from them and we knew how much Harry loves children and when we explained that she wanted a hug they both came over and did it.”

Harry also chatted to his great-grandmother’s former driver Arthur Barty, who was representing a plot for his former unit The Black Watch.

Mr Barty, who had driven the Queen Mother for 27 years until her death in 2002, said: “I covered almost 100,000 miles with the Queen Mother.

“I never thought for a minute I would meet His Royal Highness or Her Royal Highness but it was an absolute pleasure to chat to them.”

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The Duke and Duchess of Sussex during a visit to the Field of Remembrance (Kirsty Wigglesworth/PA)

During the poignant ceremony, the duke and duchess, surrounded by elderly soldiers, recent veterans and others associated with the armed forces, stood still as the Last Post was played by a bugler.

From just two crosses, laid during the first event at the Abbey in November 1928, the Field of Remembrance is now covered with around 70,000 symbols in more than 360 plots for regimental and other associations.

The Exhortation to Remembrance was spoken by Surgeon Rear Admiral Lionel Jarvis, president of the Poppy Factory, who laid a cross on Camilla’s behalf.

He said: “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.”

As the Sussexes toured the plots, Meghan crouched down to chat to 96-year-old Elizabeth Herschel, who was in a wheelchair and proudly wore the Second World War medals of her husband Stanley, a former Royal Engineer, and her own medals from her time with the Auxiliary Territorial Service during the same conflict.

Mrs Herschel said she joked with Harry, who she met at the same event in 2018: “I told him last year he would have a boy then a girl and I’m right so far.”

She also offered him some advice after his recent public issues with the press and admission he has “good days” and “bad days” with his brother the Duke of Cambridge.

The 96-year-old, from Gosforth near Newcastle, said: “I told him you can’t pick your family but you can pick your friends and he said ‘I will remember that’.”

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Meghan speaks to a veteran (Kirsty Wigglesworth/PA)

The royal couple also met the family of former Territorial Amy officer David Collett, 73, who was a Major with the Sussex and Surrey Yeomanry and whose great-granddaughter Florence Berry, aged two, took a closer look at the crosses laid by the duke and duchess.

Rachael Berry, 50, the two-year-old’s grandmother from Uckfield, East Sussex, said: “We come here every year and it’s just wonderful to bring the family, I was very young when I first came here.

“We told Florence yesterday that Harry and Meghan would be here and on the way she was saying their names so I’m sure she will remember this day.

“The couple held her hands and they both said how cold they were and Meghan said she was very pretty.”

PA

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