All working members of the Royal Family attended the annual Royal British Legion Festival of Remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall this evening, to commemorate men and women who have given their lives whilst serving in the army.
The Queen was accompanied by The Prince of Wales, The Duchess of Cornwall, The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, The Duke and Duchess of Sussex, The Duke of York, The Princess Royal and Sir Timothy Lawrence, The Earl and Countess of Wessex, The Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, The Duke of Kent and Prince Michael of Kent.
All sat in the Royal box for the service. The Queen sat front row with The Prince of Wales, The Duchess of Cornwall and The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
Camilla was well enough to make it tonight, having cancelled two previous engagements earlier this week due to a chest infection.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his partner Carrie Symonds were also in attendance. Former Prime Minister Theresa May and her husband Phillip were sat front row of the box next to the Royal box. Other politicians in attendance were Defence Secretary Ben Wallace and Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry.
The Prince of Wales wore his Fleet Arm Air regimental tie, a troop in which he previously served. The Duke of Cambridge and The Duke of Sussex wore their Household Division regimental ties, in which they have both served. Additionally, Prince William is Colonel of the Irish Guards. The Duke of York and Sir Timothy Lawrence both wore their Royal Navy ties, having worked in the maritime arm of the forces.
Her Majesty was given a royal fanfare for the beginning of the service, followed by a parade of British Legion county flags, whilst singer Louise Dearman and the Combined Bands of The British Army played The Impossible Dream.
Huw Edwards hosted the service, and made a speech to open the event. He spoke of the importance of collaboration between the armed forces, and how the service will be particularly focused on the Second World War generation and campaigns of 1944.
Edwards also mentioned how the British armed forces have helped with disasters in recent years, including in September 2019 when RFA Mounts Bay, a royal fleet auxiliary vessel based in the Bahamas, assisted with the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian. This was followed by a video showing the devastation of Hurricane Dorian and how the Royal Navy helped in the major humanitarian operation. Military personnel from the operation were then welcomed into the hall, led by Captain Robert Anders, with the Torch of Remembrance. The Band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines then played Vanguard and Norwegian Pirate.
Huw Edwards welcomed the Chelsea Pensioners, took the time to welcome Korean War veteran Colin Thackery, last year’s oldest participant of the event and Britain’s Got Talent winner, who sang The Old Brigade with the Chelsea Pensioner choir. A Chelsea Pensioner is a resident at the Royal Hospital Chelsea, a retirement home and nursing home for former members of the British Army in Chelsea, London.
The event then broke to one of the themes of the service – looking back to 1944 when the allies started their pivotal campaigns against the axis. A particular look was given to Monte Casino, a Germany strongpoint which the allies successfully fought for to make a significant break for Rome.
Then the service looked at D-Day, with Cel Spellman following the landings of some of the military personnel taking part in the landings, with the Highland Laddie playing just as it had when the army landed on the Normandy beach in June 1944. The service then focussed on Kohima and Imphal in Burma, where the combined allied armies successfully stopped the Japanese forces to India.
Huw Edwards then welcomed 44 veterans from the 1944 campaigns, that symbolise the World War II generation and thanked them for their service and sacrifice.
Next, Jeff Goldblum played Irving Berlin’s ‘Let’s Face The Music and Dance’, which was composed and played for American soldiers stationed in England during World War II to remind them of home.
The event then commemorated the 100th anniversary of GCHQ, established after the First World War, and the role the intelligence service in all threats to the United Kingdom since 1919. It is believed that the Enigma code-breaking at Bletchley Park shortened the Second World War by two and a half years.
American Lt Gail Halvorsen’s testimony of the Berlin Airlift of 1948 – whereby the Russians blocked off supply lines to the Western sectors of Berlin – was then reproduced to mark the importance of humanitarian operations, especially for children caught in conflict and natural disaster situations.
99-year-old Lt Gail Halvorsen was then welcomed to the stage along with one of the German children he gave chocolate to in 1948 at a base in Germany. He said, “It was an honour to be here…The Berlin airlift taught me that attitude, gratitude and service before self would bring happiness and fulfilment in life. The children taught me this, and so much more.”
A tribute was made to Private Jeff Doherty, known as JJ, who was killed a few days after his 20th birthday in a Taliban attack in Afghanistan. He was described as having a good sense of humour and the life and soul of the party. JJ was in the parachute regiment. His brother Fin is now in training to be a paratrooper, and led bereaved families into the hall to applause, and some tears.
James Blunt played ‘Monsters’ on the piano. James Blunt trained at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst and was commissioned into the Life Guards, part of the Household Cavalry Regiment. He rose to the rank of captain. In 1999, he volunteered to join the NATO operation in Kosovo. Later, James Blunt stood guard at the coffin of The Queen Mother during her lying-in-state and was part of her funeral procession in April 2002.
Representatives of all corners of the armed forces, from the navy, army and RAF, were celebrated at the service.
The Chaplains’ Department is also celebrating its centenary year. The Chaplains of the armed forces are trained as officers and support all military personnel. Chaplains can be of all faiths and work alongside the army as helpers. The Chaplains began the interfaith service section of the event. St Anne’s Gospel Choir sang in the service.
Lee Mead, winner of BBC’s Any Dream Will Do, sang Morning Has Broken, while Lt General James Bashall CB, CBE, National President of the Royal British Legion, recited ‘For The Fallen’ by Laurence Binyon, followed by the playing of The Last Post.
Red poppy petals fell from the ceiling during the silence.
The service ended with the singing of the national anthem and three cheers for Her Majesty, after which she smiled and waved.
The Royal British Legion Festival of Remembrance is currently available to watch on BBC iPlayer.