The Duchess of Cornwall has paid tribute to Britain’s war dead by placing a cross in Westminster Abbey’s Field of Remembrance, taking over the role from the Duke of Sussex.
Camilla honoured the servicemen and women who sacrificed their lives for their country, and stood in solemn silence as the Last Post was played.
She carried out the public engagement in central London ahead of Armistice Day next week – and one day before England enters a second national lockdown.
Only a small number of socially distanced veterans attended the event this year instead of the 1,200 veterans and their families that normally gather, as the nation battles the Covid-19 outbreak.
Camilla remarked: “It is such a shame that there aren’t people here this year.”
For the past seven years, the annual royal visit to the Field of Remembrance was the duty of the Duke of Sussex, who served in the armed forces for a decade.
But with Harry quitting royal life to move to the US, Camilla took on the engagement this year in place of her stepson, and looks set to carry on with the role in future years.
She had been due to join Harry and the Duchess of Sussex at the event in 2019, but pulled out after falling ill.
Poppy Factory president, Surgeon Rear Admiral Jarvis, said the event was moving despite the lack of crowds.
“There is a certain level of poignancy in doing it this way, in this weird world in which we all now live,” he said.
“The duchess is an incredibly supportive patron of The Poppy Factory so I think this will now become a regular thing.
“Prince Harry has obviously got other preoccupations at the moment. We will see what happens over the next year. We think that (her regular involvement) would be very nice.”
Camilla was dressed in a Rifles dress – she is Colonel-in-Chief of the regiment – and a dark military-style coat by Mr Roy, a Rifles hat by Philip Treacy, and wore a regimental brooch, as well as a poppy brooch.
At one point the duchess wore a Royal British Legion poppy mask as she went into St Margaret’s Church to sign a visitor’s book.
She also spent a few moments at the plot laid in memory of the Lancers, the regiment with which her late war hero father, Major Bruce Shand, served.
“Aha, my father’s regiment,” she said. “Sadly I can’t read (the inscriptions) without my spectacles.”
The duchess was shown the rows of thousands of small pale wooden crosses which are planted every year in the grounds of the Abbey in memory of the fallen.
Each one bears the name of a lost loved one, a poppy and often a message of commemoration.
The Dean of Westminster, the Very Reverend David Hoyle, offered prayers during the ceremony, as Camilla stood in front of two large wooden crosses from the graves of unknown British soldiers from the First and Second World Wars, before laying her own cross of remembrance.
She listened to the recital of the traditional Exhortation of Remembrance – the well-known moving extract from Robert Laurence Binyon’s 1914 poem For The Fallen, which features the words “At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.”
It was followed by a two-minute silence.
The Field of Remembrance – in its 92nd year – is organised by the Poppy Factory and has been held in the grounds of the abbey since November 1928 to commemorate all those who have lost their lives in the armed forces.
Camilla reviewed some of the memorial plots for regimental and other associations.
She was escorted by Surgeon Rear Admiral Jarvis and also greeted by Defence Minister Ben Wallace.
The duchess has been patron of The Poppy Factory, which supports veterans with mental or physical health conditions back into work, since 2013.
Among the armed forces representatives Camilla met was Steve Pleasants, 55, from south-east London, who served with the RAF in catering for six years and now works for The Poppy Factory.
‘I’ve helped plant the crosses and it has meant an awful lot to do that, despite everything that is going on,” he said.
“We have had less volunteers as a result of Covid and slightly less plots but it’s still such an important event to pay tribute to these men and women who have died for our country.”
Mr Pleasants experienced mental health issues and as part of his recovery he volunteered to work at the factory, and was this year given a full-time job, his first for seven years.
Because of lockdown, members of the public will not be able to walk round the tributes, but a video tour can be found at www.poppyfactory.org.
It is hoped the crosses will remain in place for longer this year, possibly past the planned end of lockdown on December 2.
For many years, the royal visit to see the crosses was performed by the Queen Mother, and after her death in 2002 by the Queen and then the Duke of Edinburgh, before the duty became synonymous with Harry.