The Prince of Wales has paid tribute to the nation’s armed forces for standing “side by side” with frontline NHS staff and key workers in the fight against coronavirus.
Charles spoke during the annual Festival of Remembrance staged at the Royal Albert Hall by the Royal British Legion to honour the memory of servicemen and women who have lost their lives in conflict.
Fundraising veteran Captain Sir Tom Moore’s appearance on the televised programme was one of the highlights of the evening, and he urged the nation to keep in their thoughts the civilians who were “badly bombed” during the war.
And in a poignant moment, images of forces’ sweetheart Dame Vera Lynn, who died in June aged 103, were displayed on screens as her wartime anthem We’ll Meet Again was played while couples in 1940s period dress danced.
During the event, which was pre-recorded and filmed without an audience due to Covid-19 restrictions, Charles said the country had endured “anxiety and grief not previously experienced in peacetime” throughout the pandemic.
The prince said: “Through all this, just as in wartime, the very best of our country has been on conspicuous display.
“We have reaffirmed our faith in each other and in our communities, and seen afresh that service to others underpins our society. We have been reminded that heroes and heroines are all around us and take many forms.
“In this challenging year, we have perhaps come to realise that the freedoms for which they fought are more precious than we knew, and that the debt we owe them is even greater than we imagined.”
Charles added: “We have seen, too, how much the wartime generation continues to teach us.
“The actions of veterans, Captain Sir Tom Moore and Private Joseph Hammond, or of Margaret Payne, and many others like them, offer a shining example of selfless commitment, and of how even those in their later years can achieve so much good by placing others ahead of themselves.
“Their example continues to guide our servicemen and women today. Throughout this pandemic, our armed forces have stood side by side with our medical professionals, key workers and emergency services in the fight against coronavirus, whilst maintaining the defence of our nation at home and abroad.”
During the festival, screened by the BBC, veterans from the Battle of Britain recounted their memories of the crucial aerial conflict while members of the armed forces talked about their roles with the Nightingale hospitals or supporting Covid-19 testing.
Sir Tom, a Second World War veteran, captured the heart of nation, with his fundraising efforts which saw more than £30 million flood in for NHS charities.
He had set out to raise £1,000 by walking 100 laps of his garden in the village of Marston Moretaine in Bedfordshire before his 100th birthday on April 30, but raised millions more and was knighted for his efforts.
Asked by the festival’s host, broadcaster Huw Edwards, about his achievement, Sir Tom replied: “I’ve enjoyed every minute of it because I felt that we were doing some good, and the very fact that so many kind people were contributing money to the service, which was so important.”
He said being knighted by the Queen was the highlight of his year and praised the monarch: “She never ever looked on the black side, and she was such a great person for our country. And at the moment she is still showing a positive look to all things that are going on.”
Asked what remembrance meant to him, Sir Tom replied: “…so many civilians in this country in all the cities which were badly bombed, a lot of prisoners of war who were treated so badly, so we must remember all those people.”
The family of Lance Corporal Brodie Gillon, a reservist and combat medical technician who was killed, aged 26, during a rocket attack at a military base in Iraq in March, paid tribute to her.
Her mother Linda Gillon and sister Fern Gillon were filmed looking at family photos of the medic. Fern said: “We’re very clear how Brodie would want us to continue. It would be: be kind, be generous, be ambitious, be tenacious, be all the things she was.”
Samantha Morton was among the stage and screen stars reading war-time testimonies while Michael Ball and Alfie Boe were filmed paying a visit to Chelsea pensioners in London for a performance.
And Second World War veterans and those from the Korean War told their stories as the conflicts were illustrated with black and white footage.
Before the festival’s famous poppy drop finale, where petals rained down inside the Royal Albert Hall, the Duchess of Cornwall, Commodore-in-Chief of the Royal Naval Medical Service, praised the work of military nurses.
She said: “Military nurses have worked alongside their NHS colleagues across the United Kingdom, using the skills learnt in conflict in the battle against Covid.
“You have been at the very epicentre of the nation’s response to the pandemic, providing a critical line of defence with compassion and dignity, and bringing hope and healing to so many.”