Veterans anticipate a Remembrance Sunday service at the Cenotaph with added poignancy this year as the event returns to its full size following the pandemic.
An Afghanistan veteran told the PA news agency that marching at the central London war memorial again “means the absolute world”, after Covid limited the number of veterans and military last year.
David Atkin said: “It’s such a poignant time of year for me having lost friends myself in Afghanistan. It gives me the opportunity to really remember their memory and all the good times we had.
“It’s probably even more poignant this year because I know a lot of people, especially from the RAF Regiment Association, who should have been marching there last year and are no longer with us, so they’re not able to march this year, so we’re doing it for them as well.”
The 32-year-old, from Ruislip – who served as a senior aircraftman in the Royal Air Force Regiment, participated in the ceremony for five years prior to 2020.
Last year, Mr Atkin marked remembrance by laying a wreath at the RAF memorial at Embankment, but said it was “strange” not to be at the Cenotaph.
Mr Atkin joined the RAF Regiment in 2008 when he was just 19 years old.
He was deployed to Afghanistan as a machine gunner in 2010, but his military career was cut short when he smashed his spine in a road traffic accident six weeks in.
He has suffered from chronic pain ever since, numbing it with daily high-dose painkillers. He has had six operations on his back and is on the waiting list for another two.
“I’ve been in pain every day since the accident, so it’s quite hard to forget about what happened,” he said.
But that does not deter him from joining the remembrance march.
He said: “It is a hard thing to do, but I’m doing it for my friends that will never get the opportunity to because they didn’t make it back.
“So even though I’m in pain, I am still here and I have to carry on doing what I’m doing for them, just because I can and they can’t.”
When asked if it was important that the Queen, who has missed several events due to medical orders to rest, attended the ceremony, the former soldier replied: “Yes I do; she’s obviously the head of our Armed Forces, so it’s always fantastic to see her there in attendance.”
Stefan Godfree, 51, who served in the Royal Artillery for 17 years, welcomed the event’s return to normal after last year’s coronavirus-related restrictions.
He said: “Many were upset that last year was scaled back, but we understood why.
“It was strange that there was none of the usual outpouring of loss as the Cenotaph event was very watered down”.
Mr Godfree also said this year’s event would mean more because it is 30 years on from the first Gulf War, to which he was deployed.
He said: “I lost colleagues there and the day will focus my attention on them.
“It will also be even more personal this year as I’ve been researching my family tree and several were killed in wars.
“This march will bring all of this together. It brings it all home as to how small the world is and how generations are connected and impacted upon by conflicts.”
The Royal British Legion is also celebrating its centenary this year, marking 100 years since the nation’s collective remembrance traditions were first brought together.