The Queen has placed a touching personal tribute to the fallen at the opening of the 95th Field of Remembrance at Westminster Abbey.
On her first visit to the Abbey since her Coronation in May, Camilla, wearing her Rifles coat by Fiona Clare with a short black cape by Amanda Wakeley and a wide-brimmed hat, looked solemn as she took part in the annual ceremony.
She placed her small wooden cross, bearing her cypher and the words “In Remembrance” into a large cross made of poppies, in front of a plot marked with two wooden crosses from the graves of unknown British soldiers from the First and Second World Wars and smaller crosses dedicated to more recent conflicts, including Afghanistan, Iraq and the Falklands.
Her gesture came after prayers led by the Dean of Westminster Dr David Hoyle and the Right Reverend Anthony Ball.
Some 40,000 other tributes, encompassing symbols of all faiths and none had been laid out by volunteers ahead of the ceremony, where veterans and other guests had gathered to remember loved ones and former comrades.
Shortly before 11am, the Last Post was sounded by a bugler from the Scots Guards on the parapet of St Margaret’s Church and Surgeon Rear Admiral Lionel Jarvis, President of the Poppy Factory read the exhortation to remembrance.
The Queen bowed her head during a two-minute silence, punctuated by the chimes of Big Ben marking 11am and followed by the Reveille.
She then met members of the Abbey staff and representatives from The Poppy Factory, which has organised the service annually since 1928.
Johnny Mercer, Minister for Veterans Affairs, was also among the guests.
Camilla then joined the Abbey’s senior verger Nigel Harris and High Bailiff Sir Kenneth Olisa for a tour of the 308 plots.
The group also included Surgeon Rear Admiral Lionel Jarvis, Vice Admiral Sir Clive Johnstone, National president of the Royal British Legion and Al Kett, chairman of the Poppy Factory.
Among those the Queen met as she toured the plots was Robert Stockwell, 85, who served in the same regiment as her father Major Bruce Shand, the 12th Royal Lancers, in Wolfenbuttel, Germany, from 1956 to 1958.
He said: “There are very few of us left from the 12th Royal Lancers, so I feel I have to come and I will be at the Cenotaph on Sunday.”
She also stopped to talk to Stephen White, chairman of the Royal Ulster Constabulary George Cross Foundation, who said: “This is the first year we’ve had a roll of honour so it was wonderful that she came along. She said it was lovely to see this. She has visited us before and her husband the King is our patron.”
Camilla chatted to Baroness Fookes, president of the War Widows’ Association, who stood in front of a plot filled with crosses placed on behalf of widows of soldiers killed in World War Two and more recently in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Falklands. Some of the widows were in attendance at the ceremony.
Baroness Fookes said afterward: “The royal recognition means a great deal because in the past our widows were excluded from things and they felt very much on their own.”
The Queen stopped to chat with Lucy Whitrow, whose father, Ralph Henry Whitrow, was an army chaplain giving a service at Guards Chapel when it was hit by a V1 rocket on 18 June 1944. He was among 121 people killed in the bombing.
Lucy, who was aged seven when her father was killed, sat in front of the Royal Army Chaplains Department plot. She said the Queen had told her: “It’s a great honour to be here.”
Camilla also met WW2 veteran Reg Fox, who will celebrate his 97th birthday on 5 December. Reg, who joined the infantry aged 17 in 1943, later transferred to the Royal Tank Regiment and served in Korea.
He said: “She asked me how I was and how I was getting on with my mobility scooter. I’ve served two monarchs, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II and now we have King Charles III. It’s an honour and I’m proud.”
There was laughter too as Chelsea Pensioner Jon Walker, 94, went for a rather informal greeting when meeting the Queen. He said: “Last year I said ‘Hey up me duck’ (to the Queen). She came past me and I said ‘Hey up me duck’. She answered and said ‘I remember you’.”
Camilla spent around 35 minutes meeting veterans and other guests and couldn’t resist stopping to pat five-year-old Staffordshire Bull Terrier Watchman VI, the regimental mascot of the Staffordshire Regimental Association.
Speaking after the visit, the Dean of Westminster the Very Reverend David Hoyle said of Her Majesty: “She’s marvellous. She’s deeply committed to this job – she’s only sorry she can’t stay longer.
“That act of remembrance is deeply serious and deeply sombre, but there’s a lot of joy and hope in this community, so she was enjoying that.”
Amanda Shepard, Chief Executive of The Poppy Factory, said: “It was a great honour to have Her Majesty The Queen attend the Field of Remembrance once again, 95 years since a group of veterans from our factory first planted poppies in the grounds of Westminster Abbey. Their intention was to publicly honour those who have given their lives in the service of others. It is vital that we continue to do so and to offer an opportunity for people of all faiths and none to place their own personal tributes.
“We are very grateful to Her Majesty for attending today, and for her longstanding and continued support for our charity as we work to help more members of the Armed Forces community overcome barriers and move forward towards a more positive future through employment.”
The Field of Remembrance is open from 9am to 6pm until Sunday, November 19 for those wishing to plant a tribute to the fallen. Camilla has supported the Poppy Factory since 2013 and in 2021 visited its factory in Richmond upon Thames, where it has produced Remembrance wreaths for the royal family and the Royal British Legion since 1922. The charity supports veterans and their families in employment.
The Field of Remembrance was started by the Poppy Factory’s founder, Major George Howson MC, who suggested land outside the Abbey could be used by anyone who wanted to plant a Poppy in memory of a loved one. More than 30,000 were planted and over the years, the poppies have been replaced by crosses and other symbols. Proceeds from tributes planted in the field go to the Royal British Legion’s Poppy Appeal.