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from the Guardian 10 November 2003

Parade of 10,000 pays tribute to the fallen
Centenarian veterans lead Cenotaph march past
by Mark Oliver

Sitting in an elegant, open-topped 1911 Austin car, three centenarian veterans led the Remembrance Day march past the Cenotaph yesterday, where they drew the loudest and warmest applause.
Some paying tribute said they had come to Whitehall this year just to see the three men after learning there were now only 27 British first world war veterans still alive.

Others spoke of the newest veterans in the parade of around 10,000 ex-servicemen and women. "There were some very young people in wheelchairs who must have just come back recently from Iraq," one woman said. "That was very sad."

In the autumnal London gloom, the Queen laid the first wreath after the two-minute silence at 11am was ended by a cannon shot from nearby Horse Guards Parade and buglers of the Royal Marines had sounded the Last Post.

A wreath was laid on behalf of the Prince of Wales, who attended a service in Oman before flying home to face unwanted headlines in Britain.

A murmur went through the crowd when Michael Howard, the new Tory leader, was spotted in his first public ceremonial appearance. Tony Blair led senior politicians in paying tribute, and stood beside the Australian prime minister, John Howard, through the short service before the parade.

"It makes me proud," said Tom Eustace, 44, from Sydney, when asked about how he felt that John Howard was there. "We are part of something, the Commonwealth ... members of my family fought in the two world wars and the Boer war."

The Bishop of London, the Right Rev Richard Chartres, prayed for those present to be "inspired by the spirit of [the fallen's] ... love and fortitude".

Later a young woman bobbed up and down on her toes trying to take pictures of the parade with her mobile phone. Three Chinese language students posed with a veteran who wanted his picture taken with them.

Rachel Marriott, 16, from Loughborough, was in a group of 10 girl guides who were having a packed lunch after the service. She said: "It had a really, really nice, wonderful atmosphere. And everyone looked splendid."

The centenarians were Henry Allingham, 107, William Stone, 103, and Norman Robinson, 102. Mr Allingham enlisted in 1915 and served as a naval air mechanic, while Mr Stone, a Royal Navy stoker, and Mr Robinson, of the Nottinghamshire Hussars, were both in training when the 1914-1918 war ended.

Despite having more than 20 years' service, Mr Stone sailed to Dunkirk five times during the 1940 evacuation.

Clive Hornett, 40, from Longwick, Buckinghamshire, said: "There's only 27 first world war veterans left and I came for the first time today because I wanted to be here while they were still here. It's not about the royalty ... it's about trying to connect with what it's really about."

With more veterans having passed on, some of those paying tribute wore their fathers' or grandfathers' medals on the "wrong side" of their chests.

There was much camaraderie between the veterans. Amid all the berets and military hats were a gaggle of hard-hats belonging to the Bevin Boys, those who were sent down the mines instead of the services in the second world war (Ernest Bevin being the then minister of labour).

"It was great to see the Bevin Boys in there," said an RAF veteran, David Ruddle, 65.

Around the Cenotaph were wreaths from all around the country and from as far away as Korea and Japan.

Ann and Jeff Almond, 48 and 44, of Preesall, near Blackpool, said it was a moving occasion but regretted that everyone had to go through a metal detector as they arrived in Whitehall. "I guess it's a reminder of just how dangerous the world still is," Mr Almond said.

Aftermath - when the boys came home

Tuesday 7 February 2006

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