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The centenary of Remembrance Sunday in Britain was marred by coronavirus, especially the lockdown throughout England.

Nonetheless, ceremonies around the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland went ahead, thank goodness:

The main ceremony is held in London at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, which you can watch in full. Even drastically pared down, it was beautiful whilst poignant:

I had no idea how small the march past would be until I saw it on BBC1. It was restricted to 26 people. Normally, there are 10,000.

So many veterans wanted to be in Whitehall on November 8, as General Sir Nick Carter, Chief of the Defence Staff, told the BBC’s Andrew Marr:

The general public were not allowed to gather at Horse Guards Parade, either. In fact, police did not want anyone in the near vicinity:

However, a group of veterans and members of the public gathered at the the Royal Artillery Memorial Hyde Park Corner, as a Conservative Woman post, ‘Remembrance under lockdown’, discusses. An excerpt and tweet follow:

One such event was organised by a group of veterans codenamed 08 1030Z NOV20, standing for 1030 Zulu (GMT) November 8, 2020. It is telling that even though Covid restrictions were followed, a detailed risk assessment completed and all the required precautions taken, they prefer to remain anonymous fearing establishment reprisal with the injustice of an undeserved £10,000 fine.

Veterans and members of the public including Laurence Fox, leader of the Reclaim Party, and Martin Daubney, former MEP and presenter of Unlocked formed up in Green Park and paraded to the Royal Artillery Memorial Hyde Park Corner. The parade was cheered along by the public and supported by the police who stopped traffic allowing a safe crossing across Duke of Wellington Place.

Now back to Whitehall.

The ceremony at the Cenotaph starts with the laying of the wreaths. The Royal Family begin, followed by politicians, then diplomats representing the Commonwealth countries.

Prince Charles has been laying the Queen’s wreath for a few years now. She watches from the balcony:

I did not like the military-style fringe epaulets on Kate Middleton’s coat, an Alexander McQueen design.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Leader of the Opposition Sir Keir Starmer and SNP Leader (Westminster) Ian Blackford laid their wreaths:

The Speaker of the House, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, attended a ceremony in his constituency of Chorley, Lancashire, last week. On Sunday, he presented his wreath at the Cenotaph:

Here he is with Lord Fowler, Speaker of the House of Lords:

Political party leaders and the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, are pictured in the first tweet below, along with the two Speakers:

Afterwards, a short religious service, led by the Bishop of London, takes place.

After it ends and the dignitaries around the Cenotaph leave, a military band plays a variety of music for the march past.

This must be a moving sight to contemplate:

Remembrance ceremonies took place elsewhere at the same time.

Dame Eleanor Laing MP attended a ceremony in her constituency, Epping Forest:

Remembrance Sunday is such an important day for so many — and not only those veterans who died in the Great War, but also the Second World War …

… and the many conflicts of our time.

I hope that 2021 will afford us the normal Remembrance Sunday celebrations.

Bob Moran drew this bittersweet cartoon for Remembrance Sunday for The Telegraph:

As Wednesday is November 11 — Armistice Day — millions of us will remember the gallant and brave efforts of those whom the Cenotaph commemorates: The Glorious Dead, who fought for our freedom and liberty.

In our year of coronavirus, I hope that our politicians restore those hallmarks of Western life — freedom and liberty — quickly next year.

Remembrance Sunday, commemorated at the Cenotaph in London’s Whitehall, is always a moving experience, even if we watch it at home on BBC1.

This year, on November 8, 2015, 10,500 old soldiers, women’s auxiliaries, nurses, many others who served the United Kingdom in conflict and their families participated in the march-past.

One wreath-bearer was 100 years old. Another was 89, the youngest in his band of brothers from the Second World War. Yet another was blind. Those who could walk did so in military fashion. Those who were in wheelchairs sat up straight. Many of these men are elderly, some in great pain, no doubt. Yet, just as they did on the battlefield or on ship, they gave not a thought for themselves. They came to remember.

The array of berets, caps, medals, uniforms and wreaths is an incredible sight to behold. They really bring home a sense of history, heritage and shared memory that all these men and women have. Some make a weekend out of it, getting together with friends in the days beforehand to share a meal and remember their fallen comrades as well as the happier times.

The BBC’s Sophie Raworth interviewed a number of the veterans. One said that, during the two-minute silence, a flood of emotional memories raced through his mind: recalling friends who were killed, his relief at being liberated from a German POW camp in 1945 and the incredible joy he felt arriving home that year to embrace his family, whom he thought he’d never see again.

Others said that the two-minute silence completely enveloped Whitehall, seemingly unimaginable with the thousands of spectators lining the march-past route between the Cenotaph and Horse Guards Parade. It was solemn and sad. Yet, afterward, the veterans did as they always do, remember the good times, even in battle. Their comradeship, good humour and dignity are incredible things to see. We have been blessed to have their determination, integrity and courage. That goes doubly for those these 10,500 men and women travelled from far and wide — including Africa — to remember: those who gave their todays that we might have a tomorrow.

Like millions of other Britons, I wear my poppy with gratitude and reflection for those who died for our freedom.

May we never forget the sacrifices those brave men and women made on our behalf.

May we observe two minutes of silence on Remembrance Day, November 11 — Armistice Day — when the Great War came to an end. It had horrors no one could have contemplated. It was to be the war that ended all wars. And yet, the Second World War followed only two decades later.

In closing, if you have not seen a Remembrance Sunday ceremony, these two YouTube videos will give you a better idea of the sheer scale and ceremony involved.

The first is from 2014 and shows the beginning of the wreath laying, with the Queen placing the first at the foot of the Cenotaph:

The second shows the march-past — from 2011 — which follows the wreaths laid by the Queen, members of the Royal Family, politicians and Commonwealth dignitaries:

Before the Remembrance Sunday commemoration began on Sunday, November 9, 2014, the BBC’s David Dimbleby told viewers that, prior to the creation of the Cenotaph in London’s Whitehall, many towns had small street shrines for the First World War dead and the actively serving members of the Armed Forces.

I’d not heard of street shrines before, although our community has one such which, long ago, was revised to list only the dead and not those who served and returned home.

In doing a bit of research, it transpires that many European and Anglo-Saxon nations also had memorials of varying sizes to remember their soldiers who served and died in the Great War, so-called because of its horrors and loss of life. A Wikipedia entry on World War I Memorials tells us (emphases mine below):

In Britain and Australia, early memorials were closely linked to the need to promote military recruitment and the state had an ambivalent attitude towards the informal memorials that emerged during the conflict. In Britain, stone memorials to the war began to be erected in towns and villages from 1915 onwards; some of these were given out by the state as rewards to communities for meeting military recruitment targets.[36] In Australia, the existing memorials to mark the Boer War were used initially used for commemorative ceremonies intended to increase military recruitment.[37] As casualties increased, rolls of honour listing the dead began to be displayed in Britain and honour tablets with the names of those who had enlisted were put up inside Australian buildings: Australia used these lists to apply moral pressure on those who were not yet joined up.[38] Informal memorials began to multiply as the war progressed. Local Australian groups erected small monuments, such as drinking fountains and stone pillars, to the point where the government became concerned about the expenditure on them and passed a law in 1916 to control their numbers.[39] In Britain, some Anglican church leaders began to create street war shrines to the dead. These cheap, local memorials were mainly constructed in working class districts, often built from wood and paper, and were used for holding short services in honour of the dead and to hold donations of flowers.[40] They were criticised, however, as promoting Catholic ritualism.[40] Official support for the shrines only came after a national newspaper campaign, efforts by the Lord Mayor of London and a well-publicised visit from Queen Mary to a shrine, and standardised stone shrines then began to replace the earlier, temporary versions.[41]

Across the German Empire nagelfiguren, war memorials made from iron nails embedded in wood, became popular, particularly in Austria.[42] These took various forms, including knights, shields, eagles and crosses, as well as submarines.[43] This practice had medieval origins, and the memorials were reinforced by the promotion of burgfrieden during the war, a medieval pact in which disparate German communities would put aside their differences during a conflict.[44] In some cases, relatives of the deceased were encouraged to hammer memorial nails in as part of the ceremonies, while children might be encouraged to read out poems in a medieval style.[45] At some nagelfiguren a charge was made for each nail used, with the revenues donated to charities supporting soldiers, orphans and others affected by the conflict.[43]

In Britain, the shrines were, at times, problematic. A history of the shrine at Christ Church, Watford, says that the Church of England supported the shrines:

The Church of England actively promoted street shrines during the war.2 They provided a means of expressing and mobilising collective emotions and values, and helped to recruit support for the Church as well as the war effort.3

That said, as the Telegraph‘s Christopher Howse wrote in 2009:

This did not come without controversy. Prayers for the dead went against the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England. J H Kensit of the Protestant Truth Society said that the shrines inspired idolatry, and he made a protest at the unveiling of a shrine at St Bartholomew the Great in 1917. Kensit was taken for a pacifist and nearly set upon by the crowd.

Overall, however, the shrines, as Howse heard in a lecture by University of Kent historian Mark Connelly, were popular and united people:

Such shrines attracted, too, the interest of Catholics and Jews in the East End at a time when joint prayers by people of different faiths were not countenanced. “Once when a shrine was dedicated in Bethnal Green,” Elma Paget wrote, “the street was crowded from end to end with women, bare-headed Englishmen, and head-covered Jews. The Bishop, after giving the blessing in English, turned to the Jews, thanked them for joining in, and then gave the blessing in Hebrew.”

Unlike today, clergymen, especially Anglicans, considered the Great War to be a just war:

The Bishop of London, Arthur Winnington-Ingram, believed the war was a sacred cause. Speaking at a shrine at Prestons Road, Poplar, he said: “This nation had never done a more Christ-like thing than when it went to war in August 1914.”

The shrine from East London pictured at the top of this post comes courtesy of the Friends of Stoneham Park shown in an article which discusses the restoration of their own community’s shrine, a standalone stone structure.

The Friends of Stoneham Park explain:

The first street shrine was built in mid 1916 in South Hackney in London. The subsequent movement was prompted by a series of articles in the London Evening News, and by the support of Selfridges department store. The wartime evangelism of the Church of England played a significant role. After Queen Mary visited the East End shrines, the movement spread rapidly thoughout the country. So popular was the concept, that standard shrines were soon commercially available.

Their account and Wikipedia’s differ as to whether the first shrine went up in 1915 or 1916. However:

These wayside shrines, at first makeshift, were often sited away from the usual places of worship, and were most common on city streets. Significantly – and unlike, for instance, later civic war memorials – the shrines commemorated men from small geographical areas, and from very close-knit communities. The shrines usually comprised fresh flowers, the Union Jack and other flags, a cross or crucifix, and sometimes appropriate patriotic or sentimental engravings cut from magazines.

It is unclear just how they originated, although, as with the aforementioned smaller German memorials, an atavistic yearning for the ancient past could have played a part:

The shrines were a spontaneous phenomenon, perhaps tapping into folk memories of flower-decked holy wells.  

However, it could also have been letters home from the troops which led to their creation:

one writer suggested that soldiers fighting overseas in Catholic districts had been impressed by how providence seemed to preserve many crosses and shrines amidst the devastation of war, leading them ‘to desire for their own land the blessing of similar wayside crosses.’

Townswomen were in charge of decorating and maintaining street shrines in Britain.

Larger standalone shrines soon came under the scrutiny of artists and craftsmen to ensure they were aesthetically pleasing and durable structures:

In 1916, the missionary Civic Arts Association was formed out of the Art Workers Guild, to promote ‘the utilization for Civic purposes of the Arts and Crafts throughout the country’. This self-appointed ‘committee of taste’ was concerned during WW1 that war shrines and memorials should be well designed and of good quality and materials. The CAA organised a competitive exhibition of war memorials in 1916 (in which the sculptor Eric Gill won second prize), and published two pamphlets providing guidance for the making of shrines, written by the architects Edward Warren (1856-1937) and George Jack (1855-1931).

It wasn’t long before Britons wanted small memorials for the home. Here, the Civic Arts Association also played a role:

In 1916, the Civic Arts Association had invited competition entries for designs for ‘Inexpensive Memorials for “The Home”‘. This idea was properly realised by the Goverment in 1918 with the bronze ‘Next of Kin Memorial Plaque’, or ‘Dead Man’s Penny’, a momento given to the families of every soldier or sailor who died in the war, sent out with an illuminated scroll and printed letter from the King. Perhaps these items were born out of the shrine movement. If so, then it is appropriate that many people made domestic shrines around these plaques, arranged together with the deceased’s medals and photographs.

After the war, some shrines fell into disrepair. The Great War brought an untold amount of bloodshed for the era. The Friends of Stoneham Park surmise that the shrines reminded mourners of their loss, still very much at the forefront of their minds. By the end of the Second World War, many Great War shrines had disappeared because of neglect. Some were moved into the local Anglican church, Watford’s being one of these. (The names were repainted to include only the war dead.) Others had been replaced by a stone cross memorial, often seen in the centre of many British towns and villages. It is at these monuments where annual Remembrance Sunday services are still held today.

And now onto the Cenotaph‘s history. David Dimbleby told viewers that after the war thThe Cenotaph, Whitehall, Londone first military walk past was along Whitehall. An empty coffin was placed in the road. The men in uniform passed it during their commemorative march.

Photos of the walk past and the empty coffin appeared in newspapers and magazines. They gripped the public’s imagination and an appeal was launched for a permanent monument in Whitehall to honour the glorious dead. Sir Edwin Lutyens was asked to design a wood and plaster cenotaph.

In 1919, the present stone Cenotaph (pictured) was built, a project which Lutyens also supervised. It has the same design as his earlier structure and is the central monument for the annual Remembrance Sunday ceremony in London.

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