Queen attends Festival of Remembrance to honour war dead and veterans

Published: Sunday 8th November 2015 by The News Editor

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Theatres of war were presented as a source of both British pride and ongoing pain at the annual Festival of Remembrance, attended by the Queen, ahead of the traditional Sunday service.

Her Majesty and a host of senior royals joined thousands at London’s Royal Albert Hall to honour the war dead and pay tribute to veterans from all conflicts.

Prime Minister David Cameron and Opposition Leader Jeremy Corbyn also attended.

The programme began on a touching note with a citation written and recited by Afghanistan veteran Paul Jacobs, who lost his sight after helping save others from an IED (improvised explosive device) blast. He was awarded the George Medal for his bravery.

In a video interview, he said: “I am now no longer a soldier, I am a wounded person that’s got a whole life that wasn’t planned out.”

This year marks a number of significant anniversaries in the UK’s military history, including the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain.

Squadron Leader Tony Pickering, 95, shared his experience flying Hurricanes in the battle as a young man.

He said: “We never gave up control of the sky … we never gave it up.”

Mr Pickering’s story served as a reminder of the courageous and tireless work ethic of those who fought in the war. Two months into his duty, he was shot down over Caterham, but flew again the next day.

He said: “Thank goodness I’ve got to a stage in my life where I’m not dominated by the events of the past.

“I don’t like to think about the horrors of war.”

Those horrors, the service was reminded, took many forms.

On the 70th anniversary year of the end of the Second World War, 94-year-old veteran Bob Hucklesby, of Dorset, recalled his experience as a prisoner from 1942.

During four years in a camp, Mr Hucklesby survived disease, forced labour and horrendous conditions, weighing just seven stone when he returned. He was one of 190,000 military personnel captured.

He said he “really knew things were tough” after seeing Japanese troops execute six people and put their heads on poles.

Of his mindset at the time, he said: “You had to be determined.

“If you ever gave up, you were dead in three days.”

Widows Kathryn Williams, Michelle Stead and Sheila Griffiths-Gibson all lost their husbands in 2005 when the men’s Hercules was shot down in Iraq.

Sheila said: “We’re so lucky to have each other – very lucky.”

“Some people have to go through this alone.”

The ceremony also included tributes to the Brigade of Gurkhas, which is celebrating 200 years in the British Army and 100 years alongside British and Commonwealth forces at Gallipoli.

The audience was treated to musical interludes with performances by singers Pixie Lott, Andrea Bocelli and Rod Stewart – who sang a new composition called Way Back Home to honour the Second World War generation.

American Jazz vocalist Gregory Porter delivered a haunting rendition of Amazing Grace.

Members of all of sections of the Armed Forces were inspected by Her Majesty during the muster.

The Book of Remembrance was delivered to the stage by Corporal Anna Cross, a reservist with the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps who recently travelled to Sierra Leone to help with the devastating Ebola crisis.

That country’s outbreak has now been declared over by the World Health Organisation, however Cpl Cross’s story highlighted the varied nature of service to the country.

Of working at the forefront of the crippling epidemic, she said: “It felt like everyone was going to die.”

Cpl Cross reflected on developing the illness herself, but said she did not regret going to Sierra Leone.

The mood fell even more sombre when The Last Post rang out in the theatre, and during the minutes of silence poppy petals drifted from the ceiling.

The service concluded with traditional prayers, hymns and blessings before an enthusiastic rendition of God Save the Queen.

The Queen will lead the National Service of Remembrance at the Cenotaph in Whitehall.

Published: Sunday 8th November 2015 by The News Editor

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