The nation paused yesterday as three of the last surviving veterans of the First World War laid wreaths to honour their fallen comrades.
Henry Allingham, 112, Harry Patch, 110, and Bill Stone, 108, gathered at the Cenotaph in central London to mark the 90th anniversary of Armistice Day – the day peace returned to Europe.
Each of the men, all using wheelchairs, carried wreaths to the monument. Mr Patch and Mr Stone looked deeply moved while servicemen placed poppies on the steps on their behalf.
Mr Allingham was determined to lay the wreath himself and after a pause he managed to place it on a lower step with help from Flight Lieutenant Michelle Goodman (Distinguished Flying Cross).
They led the nation in a two-minute silence at 11am to remember the sacrifices made by their generation.
This is likely to be be the last significant anniversary any of those who fought the First World War will mark. Of the five million men and women who served in Britain’s armed forces in the war, only four are still alive.
The other surviving veteran, Claude Choules, 107, lives in Australia. Last Tuesday, Sydney Lucas, originally from Leicester, just 17 when conscripted as a soldier with the Sherwood Foresters regiment, died in Australia aged 108. Mr Patch, of Wells, Somerset, was a machine-gunner in the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry and fought during the Battle of Passchendaele in Ypres, which claimed the lives of more than 70,000 soldiers.
He said: “I am very happy to be here today. It is not just an honour for me but for an entire generation. It is important to remember the dead from both sides of the conflict. Irrespective of the uniforms, we were all victims.”
Mr Stone, who joined the Royal Navy as a stoker in the First World War, lives in the Lord Harris Court nursing home in Sindlesham, Berkshire. He said: “I shall never forget it. I was one of the lucky ones and I’m thankful for that. Of course they should be remembered. If it wasn’t for them (those who died) we wouldn’t be here.”
He said he would spend the day “thinking of all those who are gone. We must not forget them”. “I have wonderful memories and I still think about my comrades. But I didn’t know until today I was representing thousands of people.”