UK marks socially distanced Armistice Day amid Covid pandemic

UK marks socially distanced Armistice Day amid Covid pandemic

Wearing face coverings and standing apart, people across the country observed a two-minute silence on Wednesday to mark Armistice Day against the backdrop of a pandemic that has caused well over a million deaths globally.

At Westminster Abbey the silence was led by the Prince of Wales, the Duchess of Cornwall, the prime minister and leader of the opposition.

Thousands who normally would have joined ceremonies of commemoration at memorials in cities, towns and villages in the four nations of the UK instead marked the occasion at home, with some standing on doorsteps.

A special exemption to the current Covid restrictions was granted to allow a service at Westminster Abbey marking 100 years to the day since the body of the unknown soldier was laid to rest.

As well as Boris Johnson and Sir Keir Starmer, the congregation included the defence secretary, Ben Wallace, and leading figures from the armed forces.

The poet laureate, Simon Armitage, read a poem commemorating the anniversary, honouring the symbolic “son we lost”, “a soul without name or rank or age or home”.

The Bed describes the fallen soldier’s journey, from being “broken and sleeping rough in a dirt grave” to being buried “among drowsing poets and dozing saints”.

It ends: “All this for a soul, without name or rank or age or home, because you are the son we lost, and your rest is ours.”

The unknown soldier was an unidentified British serviceman whose body was brought back from northern France in 1920 and laid to rest at the west end of the abbey’s nave to represent all those who lost their lives in the first world war but whose place of death was unknown or whose body was never found.

In his sermon at the service, Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury, told the limited congregation that “sacrifice is not only in a time of war”.

This year, sacrifices had been made by millions of people as a result of the Covid pandemic, he said. “People are putting aside all they hold dear … They may be anonymous, but their actions are glorious.”

Prince Charles read a lesson wearing a face covering. Prayers were said for “each individual grieved over, for every future cut short”.

At the Cenotaph on Whitehall, a small closed ceremony was held. L/Sgt Stuart Laing from the First Battalion Welsh Guards performed the Last Post and Reveille on a bugle recovered from the mud of the Somme battlefield in 1915.

Commemorations were also held in Edinburgh, Belfast and Cardiff. In Liverpool, soldiers helping with the mass Covid testing at the Arena convention centre paused during their work.

More than 100 poppy wreaths were transported on nine trains to Paddington station, in London, from more than 60 stations, including Penzance, Hereford, Paignton, Swansea, Taunton, Worcester Shrub Hill, Cheltenham Spa, Bristol Temple Meads and Oxford. The wreaths were placed at a war memorial at Paddington.

The pandemic has disrupted landmark anniversaries and Remembrance events throughout this year, including Victory in Europe (VE) Day and Victoria in Japan (VJ) Day.

Last weekend’s Remembrance Sunday service at the Cenotaph attended by the Queen had to be scaled back and was closed to the public.

Before Wednesday’s ceremony, environmental campaigners from Extinction Rebellion staged a protest at the Cenotaph, unveiling a banner which read: “Honour Their Sacrifice, Climate Change Means War.”