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Britain Pays Tribute to War Dead


Guest Lottie

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The servicemen and women who died fighting for Britain are being honoured at Armistice Day ceremonies across the country and the Commonwealth.

The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh each laid a cross to open the Field of Remembrance at Westminster Abbey.

At 1100 GMT, in line with tradition, they led the nation in a two-minute silence, before meeting veterans.

The Royal British Legion staged a flypast at 1800 GMT and dropped three million poppy petals above the Thames.

The petals - one for every British and Commonwealth service person killed in action since the beginning of World War I - were dropped between Tower and Westminster bridges by an original World War II Douglas Dakota DC3 aircraft during a two-minute flypast.

The river will be lit up in red every night until Sunday when the Queen, accompanied by about 9,000 veterans, will lay a wreath at the Cenotaph.

At the Field of Remembrance, relatives and friends will plant about 20,000 tiny wooden crosses, each adorned with a blood-red poppy, the name and rank of a fallen loved one and a message of commemoration.

All locomotion should cease, so that, in perfect stillness, the thoughts of everyone may be concentrated on reverent remembrance of the glorious dead

King George V

The crosses are laid out in regimental order by the Royal British Legion.

Among the crosses, the occasional crescent or Star of David serves as a reminder Muslims and Jews have also laid down their lives for peace and freedom.

The Queen Mother first opened the Field of Remembrance in 1936.

For many years, she laid a cross in memory of her brother who was killed in World War I.

A Field of Remembrance was also opened in Cardiff by First Minister Rhodri Morgan and World War II veteran Sir Tasker Watkins, 85, who won the Victoria Cross in 1944 as a major in the Welsh Regiment and later became a privy counsellor, lord justice of appeal and deputy chief justice of England.

Armistice Day has been a tradition in Britain since King George V issued a proclamation in 1919 that "all locomotion should cease, so that, in perfect stillness, the thoughts of everyone may be concentrated on reverent remembrance of the glorious dead".

In 1918, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, the guns fell silent and World War I ended.

Troops stationed in Iraq were among an estimated 45 million British people who observed the two-minute silence.

At Oxfordshire County Hall, a short Armistice Day service was held before the opening of an inquest into the deaths of three Black Watch soldiers killed in a suicide bomb attack in Iraq on Thursday last week.

In Southport, Merseyside, the family, friends and colleagues of Major Matthew Titchener, 32, a Royal Military Police officer killed during an ambush on his jeep in Basra in August last year, attended a ceremony to unveil his name on the war memorial in his home town.

On Wednesday a delegation of families of those killed or still fighting in the current Iraq war laid a wreath of poppies on the doorstep of 10 Downing Street.

The 11-member group, from the newly-formed Military Families Against the War, included Rose Gentle and Reg Keys, who both lost sons in Iraq.

They said the wreath symbolised the "blood on the doorstep of Tony Blair".

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Wales remembers the fallen

People across Wales have been marking Armistice Day on Thursday, paying tribute to the servicemen and women who died for their country.

A two-minute silence has been held at cenotaphs in town, cities and villages.

Meanwhile, Ceredigion MP Simon Thomas is also calling for Wales to have its own Remembrance Day poppy.

But the idea has been dismissed by a senior Royal British Legion officer, who also condemned Aberystwyth's council for laying white poppies.

The town council laid a wreath of white poppies, alongside a traditional red one, in memory of everybody killed during wartime.

The thing with white poppies is that they remember everyone - non-combatant civilians, the enemies who died and our own soldiers

Mabon ap Gwynfor

Speaking after the ceremony, Aberystwyth town councillor Mabon ap Gwynfor said: "Some people believed we were out to hijack the memorial ceremony.

"But the laying of a white wreath along with the traditional red one is a gesture to remember everybody who has died as a result of war.

"We wanted to remember civilians and soldiers - of all sides - who have died during war."

In Cardiff, former Welsh Rugby Union president Sir Tasker Watkins, thought to be Wales' only surviving war veteran with a Victoria Cross, was guest of honour at the service at the Garden of Remembrance in Alexandra Gardens on Thursday.

First Minister Rhodri Morgan also attended the event, which is the main remembrance service for Wales.

Abroad, Welsh Secretary and Commons Leader Peter Hain, who is on a trade mission to Australia and New Zealand, is taking part in a memorial service in Wellington.

Back in Wales, the Royal British Legion organised services at a number of sites.

In north Wales, they include Wrexham, Bangor, Colwyn Bay, Llandudno, Blaenau Ffestiniog and Porthmadog.

Meanwhile, Ceredigion MP Simon Thomas said a distinct Welsh poppy could revitalise the legion's poppy campaign in Wales.

Mr Thomas has tabled a Commons motion to back his idea of a poppy just for Wales.

He said: "I haven't seen a single person under the age of 14 wearing a poppy.

"I think we have lost a great link between the generations. The older generation that still believes in the poppy, still remembers what it means.

"But I don't think many people these days - perhaps as many as half the population - really understand what the purpose of the poppy is or why we have a poppy rather than any other flower to commemorate those who died in the war."

But Colonel Peter Howells, one of the legion's most senior spokesmen in Wales, said: "This suggestion is a political gimmick that won't do any good.

"We want to unite the British Legion in England and Wales - I just don't see the sense of it.

"The last five years have proved that more and more young people are attending memorial services than have ever attended before."

Col Howells also criticised Aberystwyth's white poppy wreath.

"I think it's disgraceful. They (white poppies) are something we just abhor in the British Legion and just don't want to bother with.

"A poppy is what it has always been - a sign of the trauma that goes with war."

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