LONDON (AFP) – Queen Elizabeth II led Britain in paying silent tribute to the Commonwealth war dead on Remembrance Sunday, an annual event made particularly poignant this year on the centenary of the start of World War I.
The 88-year-old monarch, senior royals and politicians laid wreaths at the Cenotaph national war memorial in London, as thousands of military veterans looked on.
Security was tighter than normal amid heightened fears of the risk of a terror attack, but the programme of marches and military music was unaffected.
In Afghanistan, the queen’s grandson Prince Harry returned to the country where he served two tours with the British army to lay a wreath at the NATO base at Kandahar.
The centrepiece of Sunday’s events was the two minute’s silence at 1100 GMT, observed by millions of people across Britain and marked in London by the firing of a 13-pounder World War I gun.
“Today we stand united to remember the courageous men and women who have served our country, defended our freedoms and kept us safe,” Prime Minister David Cameron said ahead of the event.
“We remember all those who have fallen and those who have risked their lives to protect us.”
He noted the “particularly poignant” timing of this year’s events, 100 years after the start of World War I, 70 years after the D-Day landings and just as Britain was leaving Afghanistan.
Remembrance Sunday is the Sunday nearest to Armistice Day on November 11, the anniversary of the 1918 signing of the peace that ended fighting in World War I.
More than one million people from the British empire died in the four-year conflict, but the day has become a time to remember all the troops killed in wars since then.
It is thought there has been only one year – 1968 – without a British military fatality on active service since the end of World War II in 1945.