The Queen and Boris Johnson Lead Politicians and Royals at the Cenotaph for Socially-distanced Remembrance Sunday

The Queen was pictured remaining socially distanced as she watched a National Service of Remembrance at the Cenotaph from a balcony

The Queen, Prince Charles and Prime Minister Boris Johnson led politicians and royals who paid their respects to Britain’s war dead at the Cenotaph on Sunday.

Strict social distancing was in place to allow the ceremony to go ahead this morning as the country remains under a blanket second lockdown amid a second wave of coronavirus.

The public were unable to attend because of lockdown restrictions imposed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Millions of people across the UK instead privately paid their respects from home, while others did head to their local war memorials for socially-distanced ceremonies.

At the Cenotaph, around 10,000 veterans would normally pay their respects, but this year there were just 26 because of the risks presented by Covid-19.

As well as Mr Johnson and Labour leader Sir Keir, former Prime Ministers David Cameron, Tony Blair and Theresa May, Chancellor Rishi Sunak, Home Secretary Priti Patel and Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey were among the politicians in attendance.

As the clock struck 11am, Mr Johnson, Prince Charles, Prince William and other members of Britain’s elite marked the two-minute silence before laying their wreaths.

The Queen watched on from the royal box at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office as Prince Charles laid a wreath on her behalf.

The Duchess of Cambridge, Prince Edward and his wife the Countess of Wessex, along with Princess Anne, the Princess Royale, were also in attendance.

The first stroke of eleven by Big Ben signalled the start of the two-minute silence.

A military gun was fired to mark the end of the silent tribute, which was observed at war memorials across the country and the Last Post was sounded by the Buglers of the Royal Marines.

The first wreath was laid by the Prince of Wales, followed by Captain James Boughey, who laid a wreath on behalf of the Duke of Edinburgh, who has retired from public royal duties.

Charles then left his own floral tribute and was followed by the Duke of Cambridge, Earl of Wessex and Princess Royal before politicians laid their wreaths.

The Duke of York did not take part in the event, having stepped down from official royal duties following fierce criticism after his Panorama interview about his friendship with sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex, stepped down as a working member of the royal family and now lives in California.

But in a podcast to mark Remembrance Sunday the former Army officer said: ‘Being able to wear my uniform, being able to stand up in service of one’s country, these are amongst the greatest honours there are in life.’

Ahead of Sunday’s service, Prime Minister Boris Johnson had said ‘no virus can stop us’ from commemorating the country’s war dead as he paid his respects at Uxbridge War Memorial in west London at a low-key event on Saturday.

He said: ‘We come together every November to commemorate the servicemen and women from Britain and the Commonwealth who sacrificed their lives for our freedom.

‘In this time of adversity, no virus can stop us from honouring their memory, particularly when we have just celebrated the 75th anniversary of victory in the Second World War.

‘And in times of trial, our tributes matter even more. So let’s come together once again and remember those to whom we owe so much.’

In a video message ahead of his attendance at the Remembrance Sunday service, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said: ‘2020 has been a year of struggle and sacrifice, and we know many challenges lie ahead.

‘But in these difficult times whenever we are in need of inspiration we can always look with pride, not only to our wartime generations or those who are currently serving our nation at home and abroad, but to all our servicemen and women who throughout this pandemic have stood side by side with our key workers in the battle against this virus.

‘So on this special Remembrance Sunday where we mark 80 years since the Battle of Britain and 75 years since the end of the Second World War, let us say thanks to all those who have served and all those who continue to serve this great country.’

Sir Kier, along with Mr Johnson, Chancellor Rishi Sunak, former Prime Ministers Tony Blair and David Cameron, Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey and the SNP’s leader in the House of Commons Sir Ian Blackford, was earlier pictured walking down Downing Street on his way to the Cenotaph on Sunday.

Prince Harry was interviewed on the military podcast Declassified.

He spoke about his experiences and said he cherishes his relationship with veterans, describing coming together as ‘like meeting an old mate’.

He added: ‘I wear the poppy to recognise all those who have served; the soldiers I knew, as well as those I didn’t.

‘The soldiers who were by my side in Afghanistan, those who had their lives changed forever, and those that didn’t come home.

‘I wear it to celebrate the bravery and determination of all our veterans, and their loved ones, especially those in our Invictus family.

‘These are the people and moments I remember when I salute, when I stand at attention and when I lay a wreath at the Cenotaph.’

 ‘To me, the uniform is a symbol of something much bigger, it’s symbolic of our commitment to protecting our country, as well as protecting our values.

‘These values are put in action through service, and service is what happens in the quiet and in the chaos.’

The Duke also spoke about his own service which included two tours of Afghanistan.

He said: ‘When I get asked about this period of my life I draw from memories, I draw from what I remember and who I remember.

‘Like the first time we were shot at and who I was with, the casualties we saw, and those we saved. And the first medivac we escorted out of contact in a race against time.

‘Once served always serving, no matter what.

‘Being able to wear my uniform, being able to stand up in service of one’s country, these are amongst the greatest honours there are in life.

‘To me, the uniform is a symbol of something much bigger, it’s symbolic of our commitment to protecting our country, as well as protecting our values.

‘These values are put in action through service, and service is what happens in the quiet and in the chaos.

In a brief ceremony at Westminster Abbey on Wednesday, the Queen commemorated the 100th anniversary of the interment of the Unknown Warrior, who represents the First World War soldiers whose place of death is not known or whose remains are unidentified.

The 94-year-old monarch had requested the service – her first public engagement in London since March – after she was advised not to attend an abbey service marking the warrior’s centenary next week, which the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall are expected to join on November 11, Armistice Day.

People were being encouraged to join commemorations on Sunday by sharing family histories, personal stories and messages of remembrance using the hashtag £WeWillRememberThem online.

Meanwhile, genealogy company Ancestry made more than one billion UK wartime records free to access over the weekend for people to discover the roles their family played in the First and Second World Wars.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said: ‘Many of the men and women on parade today have already taken part in efforts to fight coronavirus and many more will do so in the weeks to come.

‘I applaud their selflessness.’

General Sir Nick Carter, Chief of the Defence Staff, said some veterans would find Remembrance Sunday a lonely experience this year due to the Covid-19 restrictions in place.

Sir Nick told the BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show the guidelines would be ‘particularly tough on our veterans’, adding: ‘They traditionally have had the opportunity to get together and talk about their memories and their reflections, but equally to strut their stuff.’

Vice-Marshal Chris Elliot, controller of the RAF Benevolent Fund, said: ‘Services across the UK will sadly look and feel very different this year but what’s important is the significance of Remembrance Sunday has not changed.

‘Today remains a poignant reminder to reflect on the bravery and sacrifice of all those who served.

‘The tenacity and comradery of previous generations in their struggles should serve as an inspiration to us all as we deal with new challenges Covid-19 presents.

‘It should also remind us of the great debt we owe to our veterans, to keep their memories alive.’

To mark Remembrance Sunday, members of the public have been encouraged to share their family histories and commemorative messages online using the hashtag #WeWillRememberThem.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said: ‘While this year’s service is a little different to normal, I want to encourage everyone to get involved from their own homes – watch on your TV, research your family history – but most importantly, keep safe.’

The commemorations come after the former head of the Royal Navy Lord West of Spithead led a backlash against a ban on services inside churches and warned veterans faced catching pneumonia by being forced to stand outside.

As a result of winter coronavirus lockdown restrictions, most religious services are banned and anyone caught attending one could face a £200 fine.

John ‘Paddy’ Hemingway, the 101-year-old last survivor of the Battle of Britain, is said to be upset by the move.

His son Brian Hemingway said the veteran ‘feels sad,’ people will not be able to come together on Sunday.

But growing uproar from former senior members of the armed forces, and former defence secretary Michael Fallon, has seen calls for an exemption so the day can be properly commemorated.

Lord West of Spithead, the former First Sea Lord, told The Telegraph: ‘If you look at the average size of a church there must be a way of letting veterans in with social distancing.

‘It seems very silly to have them standing outside in the freezing cold. This puts them more at risk. They will die of pneumonia rather than Covid.’

The Royal British Legion earlier confirmed there will not be the annual March Past the Cenotaph.

On its website the charity said it recognised the decision was ‘deeply disappointing,’ adding it was taken following Government advice.

Guidance from the Government allows local authorities in England to organise events at a ‘public war memorial or cenotaph’ so long as they are held outdoors, they are short and those in attendance observe social distancing measures.

Former Prime Minister Theresa May also criticised the decision to ban church services.

She told the House of Commons: ‘The Covid-secure Remembrance service in Worcester Cathedral is now going to be turned into a pre-recorded online service.

‘Surely those men and women who gave down their lives for our freedom deserve better than this?’

Former Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon, said: ‘Veterans are perfectly capable of social distancing and wearing face masks for half an hour and I hope the Government will think again. It seems ridiculous. We trusted veterans to put their lives on the line for the country but we cannot trust them to stand two metres apart in church.’

Several members in the House of Lords raised concerns over the impact of the move on people’s mental health, pointing out that for many elderly people attending church was their only regular social activity.

Defending the rule, Communities Minister Lord Greenhalgh said: ‘We have come to a critical point in the fight against Covid-19.’

Stressing the need to ‘limit our interaction with others’, he said: ‘Therefore, with great regret, while places of worship will remain open for individual prayer, communal worship cannot take place at this time.’

Pressing the minister, Tory peer Lord Cormack said he had ‘not given a single shred of evidence as to why churches should not be open for public worship’.

He said a remembrance service had been planned for this Sunday in Lincoln Cathedral, which was ‘an immense space where everybody can be properly socially distanced’.

Lord Cormack added: ‘Instead, the Government have come up with an imbecilic answer – that the veterans, all of whom are 90 and over, can stand in the cold and be rained on, but they cannot go into a safe, socially distanced cathedral.

‘This is a disgrace.’

SOURCE: Daily Mail, Harry Howard