London: Queen Elizabeth II led thousands of veterans and civilians in a tribute to the country's war dead at the annual Remembrance Sunday ceremony.
The service at central London's Cenotaph war memorial, held on a sunny autumn morning, is a focal point of nationwide observances to honour those who lost their lives in fighting. Similar ceremonies were held in dozens of towns and cities throughout Britain and military outposts in Afghanistan and around the world.
The queen placed the first wreath at the foot of the memorial then bowed in front of the Cenotaph, with its inscription honouring "The Glorious Dead." She was followed by her husband, Prince Philip, her son, Prince Charles, and grandson Prince William.
From a nearby balcony, William's wife, the Duchess of Cambridge, looked on with other royal women.
The ceremony takes place every year on the nearest Sunday to the anniversary of the end of World War I on Nov 11, 1918, although the day now also pays tribute to the dead in all conflicts, including World War II and Afghanistan.
The royals were joined by thousands of servicemen and well-wishers who lined the sidewalks to applaud aging veterans as they marched past. Many of those watching were dressed in formal hats, suits and ties for the occasion, and almost everyone wore a red poppy — the official symbol of remembrance — on their lapel.
The crowds stood solemn and hushed as the military band played patriotic songs, and as the clock struck 11 a.m. all bowed their heads to observe a traditional two-minute silence, broken by a single artillery blast.
For veteran Steve Orton, those two minutes of reflection are the most poignant moments of the day.
"It's just being quiet," said Orton, 70, who served in places including Afghanistan and Ireland. "It's also quite emotional — it brings back a lot of memories."
A few feet away, a group of women sang along as the band belted out popular old army marching songs. "Pack up your troubles in your old kit-bag, and smile, smile, smile," they sang, one wiping at her eyes as she looked on at the marching veterans.
For the first time, the events took place without a veteran of World War I. In May, the world's last known combat veteran of that war, Claude Choules, died in Australia aged 110.
The services were held as British troops continue to face hazardous operations in Afghanistan.
The queen was joined by Prime Minister David Cameron and opposition party leaders and several former prime ministers, including Tony Blair and John Major.
Britain observed two minutes' silence on Friday to mark Armistice Day, and the English soccer team Saturday wore poppies on armbands to show support.
First Published: Sunday, November 13, 2011, 18:13