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Royals at Festival of Remembrance

London's Royal Albert Hall was bathed in a soft red glow as the Queen and senior members of the Royal Family joined veterans and members of the public to remember the nation's fallen at the Royal British Legion's annual Festival of Remembrance.

The event, held ahead of Remembrance Sunday to commemorate all those who have lost their lives in conflicts, held an extra poignancy this year following the centenary of the start of the First World War.

The country's political and military leaders also attended the event, which had the theme of "a century of service and sacrifice" and acknowledged the beginning of the First World War in 1914, 70 years since the Normandy landings and the withdrawal from Afghanistan earlier this year.

Following an organ prelude, the festival began with a fanfare from The Massed Bands of the Guards Division, with the festival chorus performing When Duty Called, before a royal fanfare and the national anthem to welcome the Royal Family, including the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh, the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall and the Duke of York.

The festival was awash with the finest of British pomp and pageantry, at no point more so than during the entry of the Union Flag and the Royal British Legion National Standards, the Representative Standards of the Royal British Legion and the Ex-Service Associations' Standard Bearers, with yellow and blue standards cutting a dash of colour across the hall's stage.

Compere Huw Edwards paid tribute to the fallen from the First World War, those who took part in D-Day and the 453 British servicemen and women who lost their lives over the 13 years of the Afghanistan conflict, as well as the many who returned with life-changing injuries.

Following the entrance of the Torch of Remembrance, carried by Major Christopher Ireland, there came the story of Dennis Boardman, a paratrooper who parachuted into Ranville in northern France in June 1944 as part of Operation Overlord.

After his tale - including how he parachuted through a hail of German bullets and stayed to fight with his men despite breaking his ankle on landing - the veteran marched into the hall to great applause to read the festival citation.

He said: "At this festival we honour the memory of those who have fallen and we commit to build a better future for our world."

He went on: "We will care for those who suffer, comfort the lonely and give support to all in need."

The youngest veteran of the Normandy landings, Jim Radford, took to the stage to perform his haunting song The Shores Of Normandy, written about his first trip to sea at the age of 15.

And when the two veterans embraced after the final bars, they had the audience on their feet and holding back tears as they applauded to honour their service and sacrifice.

The Band of Her Majesty's Royal Marines marked their 350th anniversary with a special performance before the Chelsea Pensioners took to the stage, resplendent in their red overcoats.

After pyrotechnics from the Queen's Colour Squadron of the Royal Air Force there was a breathtaking performance by the National Theatre Company of an excerpt from War Horse, Michael Morpurgo's ode to the First World War and the animals that served in the conflict.

There was even more glitz and glamour when Grammy award-winning singer Joss Stone and guitarist Jeff Beck took to the stage to perform this year's Poppy Appeal single, No Man's Land (Green Fields Of France).

The audience, which included Prime Minister David Cameron, Labour leader Ed Miliband and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, watched as Stone's soulful vocals soared to the hall's rafters, so resonant that they shook free a handful of poppy petals from the ceiling.

Throughout the event two images of giant poppies were shown on screens at the back of the hall, along with images and videos from past and recent conflicts.

One of the most moving moments of the festival came when Emma Fisher told the story of the death of her husband Ian, a father of two boys and Warrant Officer Class 2 in the 3rd Batallion Mercian Regiment, who was killed by a suicide bomb in Afghanistan on November 5 last year.

Recalling the moment she found out he had died, she said: "We were about to go to a fireworks display and there was a knock on the door, and I knew straight away."

Mrs Fisher spoke of how their sons, James and William, are now her strength, saying "they will look back in years to come and know that their daddy was very important."

And when Mrs Fisher walked out on to the hall's stage with other bereaved family members they received a standing ovation from an audience that had a collective lump in its throat, with Camilla and both the Earl and Countess of Wessex all wiping their eyes in the royal box.

The 400 athletes from 13 countries who took part in September's Invictus Games -men and women who competed to show that their war-damaged bodies could never be broken - were honoured by the Invictus Anthem and a performance from opera group Sol3 Mio before the festival's muster.

Representatives from the Royal Navy, the Army, the Army Reserve and the Royal Air Force were joined on the stage by comrades from the Merchant Navy, the Royal British Legion and various civilian services, as well as representatives of service personnel who served in Afghanistan from 2001 to this year.

Following a service of remembrance that included prayers and a hymn, the Choir of Royal Holloway performed In Flanders Fields, a piece specially commissioned for the event.

And after two short prayers, performed by a British youth and a German youth, the Last Post was played to a silent hall.

As the last few bars of music cascaded upwards, red poppy petals fell from the ceiling, settling on the crisp uniforms of those below and triggering two minutes of silence.

Before the finale and the national anthem to the Queen, who is patron of the Royal British Legion, school cadets from the world's religious faiths read out messages of what every man and woman in the Armed Forces wants - hopes for peace.

Despite these desires for the future, this year's Festival Of Remembrance took place under heightened security following increased terror threats in recent weeks.


From Belfast Telegraph