In a moving speech at the start of the pre-recorded socially distanced event at the Royal Albert Hall, the Prince of Wales said the ‘very best’ of Britain has been ‘on conspicuous display’ during the pandemic.
The senior Royal said ‘heroes and heroines are all around us and take many forms’ and added that the coronavirus crisis ‘has afforded us a keener perspective’ on the 75th anniversary of the end of World War Two.
Addressing an empty Albert Hall and millions of viewers at home, Prince Charles said: ‘We could not come together for VE Day or VJ Day as we had so dearly hoped but they were nonetheless cherished occasions to remember the sacrifice of those who served in whichever theatre of war.
‘In this challenging year, we have perhaps come to realise that the freedoms for which they fought are more precious than we knew, and that the debt we owe them is even greater than we imagined.’
Normally, the 5,550 capacity venue would be packed with audience members, veterans and parades of servicemen and women for the annual event hosted by the Royal British Legion.
But this year, due to the pandemic, all that has changed. There could be no audience, the number of participants had to be reduced and everything was pre-recorded in sections to ensure social distancing was observed and not too many people were all in the venue at the same time.
Prince Charles added: ‘We have seen, too, how much the wartime generation continues to teach us.
‘The actions of veterans, Captain Sir Tom Moore and Private Joseph Hammond, or of Margaret Payne, and many others like them, offer a shining example of selfless commitment, and of how even those in their later years can achieve so much good by placing others ahead of themselves.
‘Their example continues to guide our servicemen and women today. Throughout this pandemic, our armed forces have stood side by side with our medical professionals, key workers and emergency services in the fight against coronavirus, whilst maintaining the defence of our nation at home and abroad.’
During the festival, screened by the BBC, veterans from the Battle of Britain recounted their memories of the aerial conflict while members of the Armed Forces talked about their roles with the Nightingale hospitals.
Prince Charles paid special tribute to the wartime generation who fought for freedoms ‘more precious than we knew’ at the Royal British Legion’s annual Festival of Remembrance which was broadcast last night
The poppy drop at The Royal British Legion’s Festival of Remembrance at The Royal Albert Hall in London
Royal Marines at The Royal British Legion’s Festival of Remembrance at The Royal Albert Hall, broadcast yesterday
State Trumpeters from the Mounted Band of the Household Cavalry at The Royal British Legion’s Festival of Remembrance
Captain Sir Tom Moore backstage at The Royal British Legion’s Festival of Remembrance at The Royal Albert Hall
He said: ‘I’ve enjoyed every minute of it because I felt that we were doing some good, and the very fact that so many kind people were contributing money to the service, which was so important.’
He said being knighted by the Queen was the highlight of his year and praised the monarch: ‘She never ever looked on the black side, and she was such a great person for our country. And at the moment she is still showing a positive look to all things that are going on.’
Asked what remembrance meant to him, Sir Tom replied: ‘So many civilians in this country in all the cities which were badly bombed, a lot of prisoners of war who were treated so badly, so we must remember all those people.’
The family of Lance Corporal Brodie Gillon, a reservist and combat medical technician who was killed, aged 26, during a rocket attack at a military base in Iraq in March, paid tribute to her.
Her mother Linda Gillon and sister Fern Gillon were filmed looking at family photos of the medic. Fern said: ‘We’re very clear how Brodie would want us to continue. It would be: be kind, be generous, be ambitious, be tenacious, be all the things she was.’
Samantha Morton was among the stage and screen stars reading war-time testimonies while Michael Ball and Alfie Boe were filmed paying a visit to Chelsea pensioners in London for a performance.
And Second World War veterans and those from the Korean War told their stories as the conflicts were illustrated with black and white footage.
Before the festival’s famous poppy drop finale, where petals rained down inside the Royal Albert Hall, the Duchess of Cornwall, Commodore-in-Chief of the Royal Naval Medical Service, praised the work of military nurses.
She said: ‘Military nurses have worked alongside their NHS colleagues across the United Kingdom, using the skills learnt in conflict in the battle against Covid.
‘You have been at the very epicentre of the nation’s response to the pandemic, providing a critical line of defence with compassion and dignity, and bringing hope and healing to so many.’
To mark the anniversary, wartime testimonies describing the experiences of veterans in Europe and Asia during the world war were read by British actors including Oscar nominee Samantha Morton.
Thousands of poppies cascaded down from the roof into an almost empty Royal Albert Hall during the poignant finale of this year’s socially distanced Festival.
Mica Paris, Freya Ridings, Marisha Wallace, Laura Main, Ramin Karimloo and Sophie Ellis-Bextor performed alongside the military musicians from the Armed Forces.
And musical stars Michael Ball and Alfie Boe paid a surprise visit to some well-loved veterans at the Royal Hospital Chelsea before the event culminated in the act of Remembrance.
A tribute to the World War Two generation at The Royal British Legion’s Festival of Remembrance at The Royal Albert Hall
Sophie Ellis-Bextor performs at The Royal British Legion’s Festival of Remembrance at The Royal Albert Hall
Boris Johnson lays a wreath in deserted London ahead of Remembrance Sunday – as Laurence Fox joins backlash at restrictions and says war veterans ‘should be able to make their own risk assessment’
Boris Johnson laid a wreath at a war memorial in west London as he continued to face furious backlash over a ban on Remembrance Sunday services being held inside churches.
The Government has faced mounting criticism after it emerged new Covid-19 rules banning mass worship would stop veterans from attending Remembrance Sunday services inside churches.
Instead, those in England will be required to stand outside during events tomorrow – raising fears elderly war heroes could be exposed to pneumonia.
The Prime Minister was seen laying a wreath at the Uxbridge War Memorial as he paid his respects to those who lost their lives fighting for Britain during the two World Wars.
Mr Johnson was joined by Ian Ritchie from the Hillingdon and District Royal British Legion for the low-key ceremony in his constituency.
Actor and politician Laurence Fox slammed the move to keep veterans outside of churches as ‘ridiculous’, adding they ‘have more than enough nouse to make their own risk assessment and take precautions.’
He said: ‘They are veterans of war, for heavens sake, I think they have more than enough nouse to make their own risk assessment and take precautions.
‘Stop infantilising those much smarter than you and let them remember in church, if they wish.’
It comes as the Legion has warned it is set to fall millions of pounds short of its annual fundraising target because the coronavirus has hit its Poppy Appeal after government restrictions prevented the selling of poppies and collection of donations on the streets.
The appeal raises about £50million a year, most of it in cash, but the legion is urging Britons to give by electronic means. Never before in the charity’s history, even throughout World War Two, have all face to face collections been cancelled.
Last year the appeal accounted for more than 30 per cent of the charity’s income.
Other changes at the Festival of Remembrance include the number of musicians.
David Cole, the Legion’s director of music since 2006, said the orchestra had to be reduced from around 80 to 53 so they could fit on stage in carefully measured 2m-apart spaces. But Mr Cole, who was formerly musical director on the Queen’s Yacht Britannia, said that actually made for ‘a cleaner sound’.
The choir also had to be reduced – from 112 to 35 members. But the extra space in the venue meant it was visually transformed in a way never seen before, with the choir members lit up and singing from a box each across three levels where audience members would normally be, which, Mr Cole said.
There was greater scope for images to be projected during parts of the festival – including on the arena floor – as ‘the whole visual shape of the Albert Hall was changed’, Mr Cole added.
The poppy drop happens every year and is followed by a two minute silence to commemorate and honour all those who made the ultimate sacrifice in defending our freedoms and way of life.
It is usually immediately preceded by a parade of servicemen and women, alongside representatives from youth uniformed organizations down the aisles and onto the floor of the hall.
This year, all three Armed Forces take part but the numbers in the muster had to be reduced.
Mr Cole said: ‘There was no public there and no large body of troops all at once, but it was the same feeling for us. The poppy drop is very emotional and very powerful, as it always is, and the festival is still hugely uplifting.’
In a statement ahead of last night’s event, Director-General Tim Davie said: ‘I am proud of the role the BBC plays every year in marking Remembrance.
‘This year is particularly significant, as we gather remotely to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice and pay tribute to their lives.’
Charlotte Moore, Chief Content Officer, said: ‘Every year the BBC brings the nation together to mark Remembrance, to reflect and honour those who sacrificed their lives.
‘This year our role has never been more important as we bring the country together with programming across TV and Radio, and the annual Festival Of Remembrance, which will pay tribute to all victims of war.’