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Remembrance Sunday in Britain saw a return to normal.

In 2020, the main walk past at the Cenotaph in London was depressingly sparse because of coronavirus restrictions.

Fortunately, this year, England saw a return to normal. Between 9,000 (the BBC’s estimate) and 10,000 (GB News’s) people participated at the Cenotaph.

Thousands of others gathered in their own towns and villages en masse to remember their war dead. It was heartening to see so many young people, from children through to adolescents, coming together. Some honoured family members who had died in battle. Others came to remember in a more general way.

2021 marked the centenary of Remembrance commemorations.

As I watched the BBC’s coverage, it occurred to me that Remembrance Day and Remembrance Sunday are the only days left where a group of people can gather in unison and concord to remember the sacrifice of the men and women who died for our freedom.

These are the only days left where a common objective unites all of us, regardless of political persuasion or social class.

The Royal British Legion — now 100 years old — posts commemorative religious symbols to donors which they can mail back to the Legion with the names of soldiers they would like remembered. Most often, these are family members. This was the display near Parliament:

On Remembrance Sunday, the Bishop of London (Anglican) leads a short Christian service after politicians and Commonwealth representatives lay commemorative wreaths, as illustrated in the following photographs from the Speaker of the House of Commons, Sir Lindsay Hoyle.

Starting with the second photograph, the UK’s political leaders and Hoyle approach with their wreaths. Left to right, we see Sir Lindsay Hoyle, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson (Democratic Unionist Party, Northern Ireland), Sir Ed Davey (Liberal Democrats), Ian Blackford (Scottish National Party), Sir Keir Starmer (Labour Party) and Prime Minister Boris Johnson (Conservative Party). The Prime Minister is the first to lay his wreath, followed by Labour, SNP and so on, with the Speaker being the last in that group.

The first photograph shows some of the Commonwealth nations’ representatives behind the Speaker:

Unfortunately, for the first time in 22 years, the Queen was unable to attend the ceremony at the Cenotaph. According to Buckingham Palace, she is recovering from a sprained back following a few weeks of rest on health grounds.

The Daily Mail reported:

Boris Johnson has reassured the public that The Queen is very well after seeing her last week. 

The Prime Minister gave an update on the 95-year-old monarch’s health in a Downing Street conference on Sunday evening after she missed the Remembrance Sunday ceremony today for the first time in 22 years due to a back injury. 

Buckingham Palace said she made the decision not to attend the service at the Cenotaph in London on Sunday morning ‘with great regret’ and was ‘disappointed’ to miss the event.   

Speaking at the conference, Mr Johnson said: ‘I know that everybody will be wanting to offer their best wishes to Her Majesty the Queen.

‘I just want to reassure everybody by saying that I did see the Queen for an audience last week on Wednesday in Windsor and she is very well.

‘It shouldn’t need saying, but I just wanted to say it anyway.’ 

The daily list of official royal engagements showed that Mr Johnson had an audience with the Queen on Friday, as he was in Glasgow on Wednesday speaking at the Cop26 climate change summit. 

Queen Elizabeth had planned on attending the Remembrance Day service at the Cenotaph in London on Sunday and it would have marked her first in-person public engagement since she was advised to rest following a night in hospital last month.

It is understood the Queen’s back sprain is unrelated to her doctor’s recent advice to rest.

Buckingham Palace said: ‘The Queen, having sprained her back, has decided this morning with great regret that she will not be able to attend today’s Remembrance Sunday Service at the Cenotaph.

‘Her Majesty is disappointed that she will miss the service.

‘As in previous years, a wreath will be laid on Her Majesty’s behalf by the Prince of Wales.

‘His Royal Highness, along with the Duchess of Cornwall, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, the Earl and Countess of Wessex, the Princess Royal and Vice Admiral Sir Tim Laurence, the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, the Duke of Kent and Princess Alexandra will be present at the Cenotaph today as planned.’

The event on Whitehall was given added poignancy by a return to pre-pandemic numbers of participating veterans and military, as well as onlookers.

The Prince of Wales and Prime Minister were among those laying a wreath at the war memorial for the National Service of Remembrance.

Boris Johnson, who appeared sombre as he laid a wreath, said it was a moment to ‘come together to remember those who sacrificed everything in service of our country’.

The Queen served in the British Army during the Second World War as a mechanic. When she became Queen, she still wore her Army uniform on Remembrance Sunday in the early years of her reign. Guido Fawkes posted a rare photo of her in uniform laying a wreath in the 1950s.

The Royal Family never left London during the Second World War, even though they were in as much danger as everyone else in the capital at that time.

The House of Commons was destroyed in the Blitz in May 1941:

Fortunately, it was faithfully restored to the way it was in the 19th century when the Palace of Westminster was rebuilt following a devastating fire.

Returning to the sentiments behind Remembrance Sunday, a small minority of Britons does not view it the way the rest of us do. Here is a tweet from the radical side of the Labour Party:

In that same vein, Mary Harrington wrote an excellent historical review of what happened in the years following the Great War (1914-1918) for the Daily Mail.

Those in positions of influence wanted to remake the Western world and thought it would be a good idea to erase the major unifying aspects of our society, particularly Christianity.

A century on, we are feeling those effects even more deeply.

Excerpts follow, emphases mine:

From the perspective of the ordinary citizen, the poppy simply marks an unimaginable loss. You’ll find a memorial in every parish up and down the country, some huge and some simple plaques. They’re markers of a collective grief, all the more unspeakable because it is so universal

But today, those who remember the fallen are almost all gone themselves. So what is the loss we’re left to remember?

The loss perhaps most clearly visible is the one concerning the values that, sadly, we no longer feel able to celebrate.

For the Great War saw the beginning of the end for faith in the foundations of a European culture that had held fast for generations.

By the end of the war in 1918, George V presided over a broken, debt-ridden empire, Tsar Nicholas was killed by revolutionaries and Kaiser Wilhelm was deposed and exiled.

The war spawned the first Communist state, and it shattered confidence in Western civilisation. Patriotism took a hammering and, perhaps more profoundly, so did institutional Christianity.

Indeed, most Christian denominations on both sides supported the conflict, with many at the time viewing it as a ‘holy war’.

Notoriously, in 1915, the Bishop of London declared it the duty of ‘everyone that puts principle above ease’ to ‘kill Germans… not for the sake of killing, but to save the world’.

The aftermath of the First World War saw a backlash by society’s elite – not just against nationalism, but also against traditional religious faith and cultural forms.

Historian Anna Neima shows how many among the world’s avant-garde sought to create new, ideal communities. They wanted to reimagine human society, so that nothing as horrifying could ever happen again, by transcending borders of faith or nation.

Humanity, such visionaries hoped, might be induced to forge links across what was considered to be mere national identity in favour of something higher. The elite that shared this inspiration was moulded by contact across the world as it attempted to shape humanity atop the smoking rubble of the imperialist 19th Century. Some went on to found their own visionary communities, such as the one set up at Dartington Hall in Devon by Dorothy and Leonard Elmhirst. It became a magnet for artists, architects, writers, philosophers and musicians from around the world, establishing a centre of creative activity.

It was at Dartington that the Labour politician Michael Young wrote the party’s post-war manifesto. At Dartington, and other communities like it, traditional practices and values were deemed worthy only for the scrap-heap – classical music, realist painting, traditional architecture. Everything should be new, stripped of the old-fashioned loyalties that had led to the slaughter of millions and left Europe in ruins

Everyone blamed that catastrophe on nationalism, religion and realpolitik. Elites tried to abolish all those things for good. For the good of humanity.

Significant in this was the high American ideal – inspired by President Woodrow Wilson – of nations shaping their own destinies.

With hindsight, even this now looks like realpolitik: a high ideal designed to end the empires of America’s European political rivals.

And now the liberal internationalism that Wilson set in motion has itself, ironically, come adrift in another set of poppy fields: those of Afghanistan. The American civilisation that took the torch from Europe is itself embattled, under economic and cultural siege

That said, yesterday’s gatherings in England, especially London, gave me hope for the future. Thousands of people came together to meet with their comrades, relive experiences, share laughs and lively conversation. On the sidelines, away from the Cenotaph, there were shared songs and even applause as the media interviewed various military participants, from current officers in the Armed Forces to old soldiers.

Our commonly held social values will survive, but we will need to constantly cherish and protect them.

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