Silence marks passing of WWI generation

Author: By Sam Marsden and Laura Elston, Press Association

The Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh, senior politicians and the heads of the
armed forces gathered for the ceremony at Westminster Abbey, in central
London.

Former and serving military personnel joined members of the public in standing
for the traditional two-minute silence to remember the sacrifice of those
who have died for their country.

Today’s service at the Abbey was held following the deaths this year of the
final three veterans of the war living in Britain.

William Stone died in January, aged 108, followed in July by Henry Allingham,
113, and Harry Patch, 111.

The Very Rev Dr John Hall, Dean of Westminster, opened the service by
recalling the moment exactly 91 years ago when the guns fell silent in
Europe.

He said in his bidding: “The Great War was over. Lives, friendships,
families, societies, nations had been shattered. Everything had changed.

“On this day two years later and at this hour, an unknown warrior, chosen
at random to represent all those of these islands who had fought and died,
accorded the highest honour of a state funeral, was buried here.

“His grave was to become the focus of our national remembrance and to
have international significance.

“Now that the last of his comrades in arms has gone to his eternal rest,
we are here once more to remember.

“We remember, with grief, the gas and the mud, the barbed wire, the
bombardment, the terror, the telegram; and, with gratitude, the courage and
sacrifice.

“Never again, they said; the war to end all wars. With resolution we
remember.”

Prime Minister Gordon Brown and the Duchess of Gloucester, patron of the World
War One Veterans Association, were among the British and foreign dignitaries
at the service.

The head of the armed forces, Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, attended
alongside the chiefs of staff of the Royal Navy, Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope,
the Army, General Sir David Richards, and the Royal Air Force, Air Chief
Marshal Sir Stephen Dalton.

Members of the public from across the UK with links to the conflict were also
invited.

The beginning and end of the two-minute silence was marked by gunfire from the
King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery, fired from Horse Guards Parade.

Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth, who was among the congregation, paid tribute
to those who fought in the First World War.

He said: “The war left an enduring impact on those who survived. They
were determined that the sacrifices made by those who lost their lives would
never be forgotten.

“Today we join together as a nation to honour that promise, and we will
always do so”.

Sir Jock added: “During the First World War the British military lost
some two-thirds of a million dead – nearly 20,000 of those on just one day
at the Battle of the Somme.

“These are numbers that are all but incomprehensible to us today. The
total amounted to almost one in every 50 people in the land – hardly a
community was untouched.

“Such sacrifice must never be forgotten, and today is an important part
of that ongoing remembrance”.

Also attending the service were former prime ministers Baroness Thatcher and
Sir John Major. Tony Blair was unable to attend because he was visiting the
Middle East in his role as Quartet envoy.

Others attending included TV presenter Michael Palin, journalist and
broadcaster Ian Hislop, and Peter Owen, the nephew of First World War poet
Wilfred Owen.

The Archbishop of Canterbury described the First World War as a “huge
collective bereavement”.

Dr Rowan Williams praised the achievement of the 1914/18 generation in
repairing some of the “shattered idealism” that characterised the post-war
period.

He said: “Some, at least, of those who tried to make sense of where God had
been in all this realised that losing the safe, problem-solving God who
protected nations and empires might itself be a gift, a moment of truth that
brought the reality of God closer, recognised or not.”

The Archbishop used his sermon to warn of the “readiness to forget the hard
lessons learned by those who had been on the front line” that was prevalent
in the 20th century.

He concluded: “The generation that has passed walked forward with vision and
bravery, and held together the bonds of our society, our continent, our
Commonwealth, through a terrible century.

“May we learn the lessons they learned, and God save us from learning them in
the way they had to.”

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