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Prince William’s duty and sorrow

Prince William may not have been allowed to fight in a war, but he understands the reality of armed conflict.

Two officers he knew have been killed in action this year. So his laying of a wreath at the Cenotaph for the first time yesterday, Remembrance Sunday, was no mere observance of royal protocol.

The second-in-line to the throne followed his grandmother, grandfather and father in paying tribute to the dead of Britain’s wars, after a field gun broke the minute’s silence. Wearing the uniform of the Blues and Royals, the prince stepped forward to lay his poppy wreath, before saluting the fallen.

The Royal party was followed by the leaders of the main political parties. Gordon Brown, attending for the first time as Prime Minister, led them. Tony Blair, so long at the centre of events, was half hidden in the second row alongside Sir John Major and Baroness Thatcher.

In April, the prince was said to be “deeply saddened” by the death of his fellow cadet, Lt Joanna Yorke Dyer, 24, who was killed by a roadside bomb near Basra.

Her death was followed by that of Major Alexis Roberts of the Royal Gurkha Rifles, who instructed William at Sandhurst. He died in action in Afghanistan.

Prince Harry, also a member of the Blues and Royals, now merged with the Lifeguards in the Household Cavalry Regiment, was absent from the Whitehall. He took part in a regimental ceremony in Windsor.

Some 8,000 men and women took part in the marchpast, veterans of conflicts spanning the 20th century. But no longer the First World War – the handful of survivors from 1914-18 being either too frail to stand the autumn cold or committed to events elsewhere.

Britain’s military commitments ensure that there will be plenty of marchers to take the place of today’s veterans as age thins their ranks. The larger part of the Army has fought in Iraq or Afghanistan, together with contingents from the Royal Navy and RAF.

More than 250 British lives have been lost since the invasions of Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003. Many more have been seriously wounded.

One of them is Jamie Cooper, at 19 one of the youngest soldiers to be seriously wounded in Iraq. He checked himself out of hospital to pay tribute to lost friends and colleagues at a ceremony at the war memorial in Bristol.

Pte Cooper, a member of the Royal Green Jackets, was invited by the Royal British Legion to attend the national service at the Cenotaph but was then told that the event was restricted to veterans. “It’s a disgrace that we couldn’t go to Whitehall for the parade, ” he said. “But I’m here to remember the people I knew who died for their country.”

His father, Phil, said: “Jamie was determined to get out of hospital for this. He asked doctors a few weeks ago and they weren’t keen, but a few days ago they gave in. It has been a poignant day for him.”

The Coopers are fighting the Ministry of Defence following a “degrading” compensation offer of £57,000. Jamie is unlikely to work again because of nerve damage.

Across the country in the East Sussex town of Rye, Cpl Will Rigby of 4th Bn The Rifles paid tribute to one soldier in particular, his twin John.

John, also a corporal in the same battalion, died on his 24th birthday in a roadside bomb attack in Basra. Yesterday, Will watched as the town’s war memorial was unveiled to reveal the addition of his brother’s name. Will held his brother’s hand for 10 hours in a field hospital as his life slipped away on the day they should both have been celebrating. They had joined up together at the age of 16.

Remembrance Sunday was marked across the world at ceremonies in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as in the Falklands, where some 200 veterans gathered to remember the 255 British servicemen who died retaking the islands from Argentina in 1982.

Gordon Hoggan, who served with the Scots Guards, camped out on Mount Tumbledown, scene of heavy casualties for the regiment. He and his friends, he said, had wanted to “face the demons”.

In Staffordshire, 3,000 people attended the first Remembrance Sunday service at the Armed Forces Memorial at the National Memorial Arboretum. As planned by the architects, at the 11th hour a sunray shot through a slit in the wall of the memorial, striking the central stone.

In France, Henry Allingham, 111 years old and one of last survivors of the First World War, laid a wreath at St Omer, where he served in the Royal Flying Corps.

He was not alone in making a pilgrimage to foreign fields. Despite November storms and bitterly cold winds more than 10,000 people converged on the 150 war cemeteries dotting Flanders fields.

Many travelled to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the Battle of Passchendaele and the 300,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers who died in the now gentle countryside surrounding Ypres.

Leading many ceremonies were the flutes and drums of the 1st Bn, The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, whose soldiers deployed to Iraq in 2006 and expect to return to combat operations next year.

“This is massive for us. All the blokes are very proud,” said L/Cpl Dan Hart, of the Corps of Drums. “The scale of the Great War was completely different but every one of us knows someone who has died in Iraq or Afghanistan. So it is a chance to remember them, too.”

Last night, several thousand stood in silence at the Menin Gate, which bears the names of 54,896 British and Empire troops who died with no known grave, to hear Last Post, the bugle call that has come to symbolise the sacrifice made by millions in the war.

Source : The Daily Telegraph

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