Veterans BANNED from Remembrance Sunday at the Cenotaph
Year after year, it is always one of the most moving sights in the calendar. For as far as the eye can see, there are veterans of all ages — a few frail witnesses to Monte Cassino or the Burmese jungle or the huts of Bletchley Park; old sweats from Korea or Malaya or Aden; the ranks of those who served in the Falklands or Ulster or the Gulf or Afghanistan . . .
There, too, are many more to whom our debt is just as great: the war widows, the families who grew up without a father, the support services which have done their bit in times of trouble.
They all line up neatly, more than 10,000 of them, standing to attention behind the Royal Family and the political leaders.
But what a sorry sight the monarch will behold this year as she stands before the Cenotaph. It will be exactly 100 years since our greatest national monument was unveiled by her grandfather, King George V, in the midst of a previous pandemic.
Indeed, there will be next to no veterans present, no spectators and no parade. The civil servants presiding over this event have decided that it is too risky. Remembrance Sunday at the Cenotaph is, officially, 'a closed ceremony' for VIPs only. The public is being asked to mark the occasion at home.
To which the 'Glorious Dead' might well wonder what on earth has happened to the country for which they gave their all. For this is not an appropriate response to the current crisis. It is cringeworthy.
The Royal British Legion originally proposed to have a tiny wreath-laying unit from each of the 300 ex-Forces organisations which make up the annual parade.
So everyone from the Royal Marines Association and the Royal Green Jackets Association to the Royal Air Forces Ex-Prisoners of War Association, the WRENS and the Russian Convoy Club could each delegate a wreath-layer plus one or two ex-comrades (certainly well within the 'rule of six').
They would line up many yards apart, certainly more than two metres distant (this lot tend to speak imperial rather than metric anyway), and march past the Cenotaph at sensible intervals.
No chance, said the officials from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, the ministry which runs this event, citing Public Health England advice.
Instead of having a respectable, well-spaced cohort drawn from across the Services, they have permitted just a token presence.
The Government has actually created a Remembrance Sunday exemption for all parts of England, stating that people are allowed to participate and spectate at local memorial services, providing they maintain a social distance. Yet the most important event of all looks set to be a dismal affair.
Fortunately, other Remembrance events are available. Take the International Bomber Command Centre in Lincoln. It is run by a charity who will be holding their annual Remembrance Sunday service at their outdoor memorial, to which members of the public can book a place.
The dwindling band of Bomber boys all understand the risks of the coronavirus (just as they understood the risks all those years ago when they volunteered for the most dangerous job of the war and almost half were killed).
Since the start of the pandemic, 37 Bomber Command veterans have died with a Covid infection. But everyone also knows the importance of remembrance, too.
'I hear quite a few veterans say 'I'd rather die of this bug than die of loneliness' and there are some who are determined to be here,' says the IBCC's chief executive, Nicky van der Drift.
'We always read out the names of those who have passed away in the last year — it always makes me cry just drawing up the list. I am afraid that we have lost five in the last week alone. It is why we are going to do all we can to make this a safe but correct act of remembrance.'
If only the same could be said for the Cenotaph.