Queen pays private tribute to UK war dead ahead of Remembrance Day

LONDON (AFP) – Queen Elizabeth II has staged a low-key Remembrance Day ceremony at Britain’s Tomb of the Unknown Warrior as the country honours its war dead without the usual sombre pageantry, owing to the coronavirus pandemic.

The 94-year-old monarch laid a bouquet of orchids and myrtle on the tomb in Westminster Abbey this past week to mark 100 years since the remains of an unidentified soldier were brought back from World War I, Buckingham Palace said in a statement.

The floral arrangement was based on the queen’s wedding bouquet from 1947, it said, extending a tradition at the tomb started by her mother in 1923 after her own brother was killed in the war, and continued by royal brides since.

Remembrance events are held annually on the second Sunday in November, close to November 11, when the guns fell silent in World War I.

A national wreath-laying ceremony is to proceed at the Cenotaph war memorial in central London but there will be no veterans marching or crowds watching because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Queen’s Equerry places a bouquet of flowers at the grave of the Unknown Warrior on behalf of Queen Elizabeth II at Westminster Abbey, London. PHOTO: AP

Since 2017, heir-to-the-throne Prince Charles has taken his ageing mother’s place at the ceremony. He also attended an annual remembrance concert at London’s Royal Albert Hall, which was recorded without an audience and broadcast on Saturday.

The concert featured Captain Sir Tom Moore, a 100-year-old World War II veteran who raised nearly GBP33 million (USD43 million) for health charities after Britain went in to a first coronavirus lockdown in March.

Since Thursday, England has been in a second lockdown but varying levels of restrictions were already in place across the country, hampering efforts to raise funds for military veterans.

The Royal British Legion has warned it risks a shortfall in donations of millions for its annual Poppy Appeal.

Poppies have been Britain’s symbol of remembrance since the 1914-1918 war, when the red flowers grew on the scarred battlefields of northern France and Belgium.

The government said it wanted to keep crowds “to a minimum” at regional remembrance events, and told organisers to “discourage the public from attending”. Religious services have either been cancelled or will be broadcast online.

The Royal British Legion encouraged people to display poppies in windows or stand on doorsteps for a two-minute silence yesterday morning.

The ban on public services was criticised by former prime minister Theresa May.

“Surely those men and women who gave down their lives for our freedom deserve better than this?” she said.

But Britain already has the worst coronavirus death toll in Europe and the government says it is reluctantly imposing the restrictions to try to arrest a second wave of the disease heading in to winter.