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ROBERT HARDMAN watches historic moment German President remembered the fallen soldiers of WW1

For the first time, the old foe Germany joined Her Majesty at our most sacred event: ROBERT HARDMAN watches the historic moment the German President joined the Royal Family at The Cenotaph to remember the fallen soldiers of WW1 – 100 years on

At the going down of the sun, Britain’s greatest commemorative endeavour of modern times finally drew to a close. Four years of centennial remembrance for the dead of the First World War concluded last night as the Queen and the German president attended a service of thanksgiving and reflection at Westminster Abbey.

Similar sentiments were echoed at concerts, vigils and events in every part of Britain, following traditional Remembrance Sunday services attended by exceptional crowds.

The fact that the centenary of the Armistice should fall precisely on the second Sunday in November, the traditional date for remembering our fallen, gave added impetus and poignancy to this immense anniversary.

The Duchess of Cambridge joins the Queen and the Duchess of Cornwall on a balcony overlooking the ceremony

President Frank-Walter Steinmeier of Germany lays a wreath at the cenotaph

President Frank-Walter Steinmeier of Germany lays a wreath at the cenotaph

Crowds pay their respects at the Cenotaph in Whitehall where Red Poppy wreaths were laid on the ground

Crowds pay their respects at the Cenotaph in Whitehall where Red Poppy wreaths were laid on the ground

The Duke of Cambridge lays a wreath during the remembrance service at the Cenotaph memorial in Whitehall, central London

The Duke of Cambridge lays a wreath during the remembrance service at the Cenotaph memorial in Whitehall, central London

Leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn lays a wreath during the service

Leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn lays a wreath during the service

And nowhere was that more apparent than at the Cenotaph. Big Ben – silent all year during essential maintenance work – emerged from enforced hibernation to toll the 11th hour.

For the first time in history, the old foe was in pride of place at the most sacred event in our national calendar. Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the German head of state, stood in the midst of the Royal Family and laid the first wreath after that of the Queen. He bowed deeply as he did so.

The sense of an historic line being drawn under an epochal chapter in our mutual past was palpable. ‘Hopeful for a future in peace and friendship,’ he wrote (in English) on the card attached to his wreath.

The Queen’s wreath had been laid by the Prince of Wales. As she did last year, the Monarch elected to watch the service from a Foreign & Commonwealth Office balcony, this time flanked by the Duchess of Cornwall and the Duchess of Cambridge.

Earlier in the day, in a historic act of reconciliation, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier laid a wreath during a poignant ceremony at the Cenotaph, marking the first time a German leader has ever taken part in the proceedings

Earlier in the day, in a historic act of reconciliation, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier laid a wreath during a poignant ceremony at the Cenotaph, marking the first time a German leader has ever taken part in the proceedings

Prince Charles read an extract from St John while Mrs May and actor John Simm also read passages followed by the Dean of Westminster John Hall who lead the service

Prince Charles read an extract from St John while Mrs May and actor John Simm also read passages followed by the Dean of Westminster John Hall who lead the service

Appearing at her first Armistice service since becoming a fully-fledged royal, she instead took on an ambassadorial role, standing next to Elke Büdenbender, partner of the German president

Appearing at her first Armistice service since becoming a fully-fledged royal, she instead took on an ambassadorial role, standing next to Elke Büdenbender, partner of the German president

The Princes of Wales, the Duchess of Cornwall, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex made their way into the abbey shortly after 6pm following a day of emotional tributes across Britain 

The Princes of Wales, the Duchess of Cornwall, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex made their way into the abbey shortly after 6pm following a day of emotional tributes across Britain 

The Queen making her way into Westminster Abbey this evening just before 6pm joined by Dean of Westminster John Hall

The Queen making her way into Westminster Abbey this evening just before 6pm joined by Dean of Westminster John Hall

The Duchess of Cambridge smiles as she joins the Queen and the Duchess of Cornwall on a balcony overlooking the ceremony

The Duchess of Cambridge smiles as she joins the Queen and the Duchess of Cornwall on a balcony overlooking the ceremony

Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and  Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, attend the Remembrance Sunday ceremony at the Cenotaph

Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, attend the Remembrance Sunday ceremony at the Cenotaph

The Duchess of Sussex (shown right) looked on solemnly from a different balcony as her husband, the Duke of Sussex, and several other senior members of the royal family laid wreathes in central London

The Duchess of Sussex (shown right) looked on solemnly from a different balcony as her husband, the Duke of Sussex, and several other senior members of the royal family laid wreathes in central London

The Queen and Senior members of the Royal Family attend an Armistice Service at Westminster Abbey. Charles and Camilla make their way into the Abbey together following a day of tributes across Great Britain

The Queen and Senior members of the Royal Family attend an Armistice Service at Westminster Abbey. Charles and Camilla make their way into the Abbey together following a day of tributes across Great Britain

Charles laid a wreath at the Cenotaph on behalf of his mother for the second year in a row while an equerry will lay a wreath on behalf of the Duke of Edinburgh

Charles laid a wreath at the Cenotaph on behalf of his mother for the second year in a row while an equerry will lay a wreath on behalf of the Duke of Edinburgh

The Duchess of Sussex, attending her first Cenotaph parade, stood on an adjacent balcony with Mr Steinmeier’s wife, Elke, 56, a judge.

As the daughter of a First World War veteran and the only head of state in the world today who served in uniform during the Second, the Queen’s authority was undiminished by her absence from the parade. In her tenth decade, she simply felt that it was tempting fate to be negotiating the Cenotaph steps unaided on such a crucial occasion. Besides, it was easier to see her on her balcony. For the first time, the Duke of Edinburgh was not at her side. Palace officials said the 97-year-old Duke had never been expected to attend and that there were no grounds for concern. His wreath was laid by his equerry, ahead of those of other members of the Royal Family.

Next came the party leaders, starting with the Prime Minister in a long dark overcoat. The Opposition leader, Jeremy Corbyn, was in a dark blue anorak, inviting inevitable comparisons with the infamous ‘donkey jacket’ worn by former Labour leader Michael Foot many years ago.

Unlike previous occasions, however, there could be no quibbling over the fact that Mr Corbyn performed a respectful bow to the fallen and was clearly seen to be singing the National Anthem.

Following the short service by the Bishop of London, the Rt Rev Dame Sarah Mullally, (the first time a woman had presided at the Cenotaph), the path was cleared for the eternally moving Royal British Legion parade.

Around 10,000 representatives of nearly 200 organisations, from the Army Widows’ Association and the Royal Marines to the Black Watch and the Blenheim Society, came marching down Whitehall, more or less in time to all the old favourites – Pack Up Your Troubles, It’s A Long Way To Tipperary and the rest. Among the oldest on parade was Donald Smith, 98, formerly of the Seaforth Highlanders, who was seriously wounded and taken prisoner outside Dunkirk in 1940. ‘I don’t like to cry, but this event always brings tears to my eyes,’ he said. ‘I was one of five friends who joined up and I was the only one who came back.’ Every conflict was being remembered yesterday. Michael Bye, 83, had flown in from Canada, as he does every year, to march with his old chums in the Suez Veterans’ Association. ‘I always think of two men from the Royal Signals who were sent out one day and were never seen again,’ he explained. The fallen of Korea, the Falklands, both Gulf Wars, Northern Ireland and Afghanistan were all being honoured by old comrades.

On parade for the very first time were representatives of the Women’s Institute. Considering that this is an organisation with more than 200,000 members which was born out of the pressing need to feed a hungry nation in the First World War – and was an invaluable part of the Home Front in the Second – it seems odd that it had to wait until yesterday to be included. But there were no complaints. ‘We’re just very privileged to be here on such an emotional day,’ said Lynne Stubbings, chair of the National Federation, proudly carrying the WI wreath.

Compounding all that emotion was the fact that this year, for the first time, more than 10,000 members of the public had been chosen by ballot to take part in a further centenary parade past the Cenotaph. It had been described variously as ‘a national thank-you’ and ‘the people’s parade’ and consisted of people of all ages and backgrounds bearing floral tributes of all complexions (some of them knitted). Despite some exemplary marching music from several bands, led by Christ’s Hospital school, this was more of a leisurely stroll than a march. Some proudly held up photos of their fallen kinsmen. Many wore the medals which a great-grandfather or great-great-uncle had never lived to wear.

Pregnant Meghan Markle displays he growing baby bump in an elegant navy frock and Parisian beret ensemble 

Prime Minister Theresa May lays a wreath during the remembrance service, dressed in a black coat and matching black hat

Prime Minister Theresa May lays a wreath during the remembrance service, dressed in a black coat and matching black hat

Queen Elizabeth II and German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier attend a National Service to mark the centenary of the Armistice at Westminster Abbey

Queen Elizabeth II and German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier attend a National Service to mark the centenary of the Armistice at Westminster Abbey

It all added an endearing note of informality to a day rich in grand ceremonial – and all in marked contrast to events in Paris. There, President Macron’s week-long appropriation of this centenary for contemporary political ends continued. After much glad- handing of world leaders and energetic striding around in front of the television cameras at the Arc de Triomphe, he delivered a speech on the perils of nationalism.

In London, we had to wait until last night before hearing a word from our national representatives.

As the Tower of London’s commemorative torches blazed for the last time, Westminster Abbey was packed for the service of reflection and reconciliation. The Queen and President Steinmeier began by placing wreaths on the Grave of the Unknown Warrior.

Finally, lessons from the Book of John were read by the president and the Prince of Wales. ‘Beloved, let us love one another,’ said the president, speaking in German. ‘Greater love hath no man than this,’ said the Prince, ‘that a man lay down his life for his friends.’

Children laid further flowers on the Grave of the Unknown Warrior. His actions and his sacrifice are now more distant from us than the Battle of Waterloo was from his own generation. But their heroics have no sell-by date. As the inscription in our war cemeteries declares: ‘Their name liveth for evermore.’ And so it shall.

Prime Minister Theresa May and her husband Philip leave 10 Downing Street ahead of the remembrance service at the Cenotaph

Prime Minister Theresa May and her husband Philip leave 10 Downing Street ahead of the remembrance service at the Cenotaph

Thousand people take part in a march in Westminster, London to mark the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day

Thousand people take part in a march in Westminster, London to mark the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day

Children who wore their lost ancestors’ medals with pride  

Young and proud, they came to honour a lost generation, carrying medals and memories.

Descendants of those who served in the First World War marched past the Cenotaph yesterday in a unique commemoration of their families’ sacrifice.

They joined relatives of servicemen and women from the Second World War and more recent conflicts to form a 10,000-strong parade, dubbed the Nation’s Thank You. For many it was their first opportunity to come together to express their profound gratitude and pride for the actions of a previous generation.

For others the memories were still raw, and they wept as they recalled fathers and grandfathers who never returned from the frontline. Children too young to remember their forebears wore their medals pinned to their chests.

Their families watched them march and expressed the heartfelt hope that they would never have to repeat the sacrifices of the wartime generations. Eight-year-old Ioan Williams wore the medals of his great-grandfather Sergeant Walter Benjamin, who served in India and Burma during the Second World War.

At his side, his grandmother Jane Benjamin carried a wreath for Ioan’s great-great uncle, Rifleman Walter Singer, who was killed in France just three weeks before the Armistice. Mrs Benjamin, 62, from Pontypridd in South Wales, said: ‘The veterans of the First World War aren’t here any more, so it’s up to us to make sure their legacy is passed to our children and grandchildren.

‘We must never forget. The legacy of that war and their sacrifice must be peace so that these children know the value of peace.’ Rifleman Singer served with the King’s Royal Rifle Corps and was one of four soldiers sent to take a German position near Montay in Northern France on October 23, 1918.

Two were killed as they dived into a German dug-out and he died later that day from his injuries, leaving only one survivor. His great-great nephew Ioan said he felt proud to take part in the Nation’s Thank You procession, after his family were awarded two of the coveted spots in the parade, allotted through a public ballot.

Elsewhere in the procession, 13-year-old Harry Gayfer-Toms marched to commemorate several members of his family. His great-great grandfather Frederick Gray was killed at the Second Battle of the Somme in September 1918, just five months after his brother Hubert died. Frederick, a soldier with the 6th Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment, was hit by a shell as he dug a grave to bury a dead comrade.

He had written to his wife Ethel just four days earlier, saying he hoped to be home soon to be reunited with her and their one-year-old son Harry, who he had only seen once while on leave. That son, Harry, went on to serve during the Second World War and was captured in the fall of Tobruk in Libya, but survived.

Harry’s daughter Vivienne Gayfer, 71, of Biggleswade, Bedfordshire, said she had brought her grandson, also named Harry, to the procession to commemorate their family’s history.

She said: ‘Harry is one of nine great-great grandchildren of Frederick Gray. That generation gave up so much – it is important we remember them.’ Serving officer Mark Goodwin-Hudson brought four of his children to the procession to commemorate his great-uncle, who was severely injured at the start of the First Battle of the Somme on July 1, 1916 – the bloodiest day in the history of the British Army.

Charles laid a wreath at the Cenotaph on behalf of his mother for the second year in a row while an equerry will lay a wreath on behalf of the Duke of Edinburgh

Charles laid a wreath at the Cenotaph on behalf of his mother for the second year in a row while an equerry will lay a wreath on behalf of the Duke of Edinburgh

British forces suffered 57,470 casualties, including 19,240 who were killed, and gained just three square miles of territory. Hubert Goodwin-Hudson was shot by a machine gunner as he approached a German trench and lay dying in No Man’s Land, beyond the reach of the British stretcher-carriers.

He was rescued by a German who had briefly lived in the same Essex village, and recognised him from the church where they had both worshipped.

Colonel Goodwin-Hudson, of the Household Cavalry, said: ‘It was an extraordinary rescue. My great-uncle thought he was done for and then suddenly heard a German voice asking, “Are you Hubert?”. This German man took him to a field hospital and ensured he received the best possible treatment. He saved his life.’

Thousands of torches create a blaze of light around the Tower of London yesterday evening in the last of eight performances of Beyond The Deepening Shadow, an installation in honour of the Fallen of the First World War

Thousands of torches create a blaze of light around the Tower of London yesterday evening in the last of eight performances of Beyond The Deepening Shadow, an installation in honour of the Fallen of the First World War

The most high-profile memorial event in London was the service taking place at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, with the Royal British Legion coordinating the March Past

The most high-profile memorial event in London was the service taking place at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, with the Royal British Legion coordinating the March Past

Princes William and Harry attend a National Service of Remembrance

Princes William and Harry attend a National Service of Remembrance

Former British Prime Minister John Major and Mrs May at the annual Remembrance Sunday memorial

Former British Prime Minister John Major and Mrs May at the annual Remembrance Sunday memorial

Crowds gather on The Mall in front of Buckingham Palace as 10,000 thousand people take part in a march in Westminster,

Crowds gather on The Mall in front of Buckingham Palace as 10,000 thousand people take part in a march in Westminster,

The Salvation Army make their way past the Cenotaph on Whitehall in The People's Procession

The Salvation Army make their way past the Cenotaph on Whitehall in The People’s Procession

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II and President of Germany, Frank-Walter Steinmeier stand in Westminster Abbey

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II and President of Germany, Frank-Walter Steinmeier stand in Westminster Abbey

Queen Elizabeth II leaves after attending a service marking the centenary of WW1 armistice at Westminster Abbey

Queen Elizabeth II leaves after attending a service marking the centenary of WW1 armistice at Westminster Abbey

Colonel Goodwin-Hudson was joined by his wife Alice and their children Rose, nine, Tarka, 12, Henry, 15, and Benjy, 18. Henry said: ‘It’s a great honour to be here today to remember all those who died in the First World War.

‘It’s important we remember all the sacrifices that were made to give us the freedom that we have today.’ Kate Nicholls, 48, joined the procession in honour of her great-grandfather John Waugh and his brother and sister Tommy and Violet. Tommy Waugh was injured by shrapnel at the Somme but survived by hiding under the bodies of the dead for three days.

Taken to a field hospital at Verdun for treatment for his wounds, he heard a voice he recognised and was reunited with brother John and their sister Violet, who was working as a nurse. The reunion was to be the last time the three siblings, from Nettlesworth in County Durham, were together. John Waugh was on his way back to the front and was killed in action just three weeks before the Armistice was signed, aged 28.

Mrs Nicholls, who was joined at the procession by her daughter Sophie, 16, said: ‘Their story has been passed down to us. Those generations who experienced the impact of war are dying out and we need to make sure their stories of indescribable sacrifice continue.’ Sophie said: ‘It’s very important to remember, and it’s very emotional.’

 

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