Remembrance Sunday to proceed with covid restrictions affecting commemorations

6 November 2020, 11:25 | Updated: 6 November 2020, 12:47

Remembrance Sunday will look different this year
Remembrance Sunday will look different this year. Picture: PA

By Maddie Goodfellow

Remembrance Sunday events in England will be allowed to go ahead despite the lockdown in place, Downing Street has said.

Events to honour those who gave their lives will be allowed to take place outside as long as social distancing measures are in place.

A national ceremony at the Cenotaph in London will also take place, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said.

However, limits on gatherings, cancelled events and health concerns mean many of those who served in the armed forces will be unable to mark the day in their usual way.

Read more: Public banned from cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday due to covid

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “It’s important that the country can continue to come together to remember the sacrifice of those who have died in the service of their country and we will ensure that Remembrance Sunday is appropriately commemorated while protecting public health.

“We are certainly not cancelling Remembrance Sunday events but we must be mindful of the risks such events pose, especially to veterans who are often elderly.

“What we are saying to local authorities in England is that they may organise remembrance services but they should be outside and social distance should be maintained. We will be updating the guidance shortly.”

People have been urged to pay their respects at home
People have been urged to pay their respects at home. Picture: PA

The decision comes as veterans urged the public to "take a few minutes" to pause and reflect on Remembrance Sunday despite coronavirus restrictions affecting traditional commemorations.

Bill Parr, 87, who fought in the Korean War, hopes to be able to join an outdoor service at his local church in Hackney, north London, due to the ban on communal worship under the second national lockdown.

In previous years he has taken part in a local march, enjoyed listening to schoolchildren sing at the service and headed to the pub with this friends - all now impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

He urged the public to "take a few minutes to remember" on Sunday.

"Wherever you are, just take a few minutes out your life, whatever you're doing, stop," he said.

"Years ago, remembrance day, the buses used to stop, wherever the bus was it would stop for a couple of minutes, that's all.

"That's all it takes just to remember and think about why you're here now, that's the main thing."

And Mildred Schutz, 96, who served in the Special Operations Executive (SOE) during the Second World War, will be watching on television rather than attending the scaled-back Cenotaph service this year.

The grandmother-of-six, from Worcester Park in south-west London, was aged just 18 or 19 when she joined the secretive SOE - which help organised resistance movements across Europe.

Mrs Schutz's secretive role meant she told friends and family she was a lorry driver, and she highlighted that the history of SOE and the work and sacrifices of its staff were not known by many people.

She said it was important that the public "don't forget the cost of peace" and observe remembrance events this year.

"It isn't glorifying war, really, it's just reminding people how important it is to keep peace and reminding people that people did actually lose their lives, that meant families lost their breadwinner," she said.

Commenting on the Covid-19 pandemic she added: "When there was actually a war on people I think adhered to what they were asked to do, whereas now, I know people are supposed to not gather but loads of people do still do that.

"They don't seem to accept that it is a very destructive thing in the same way that war is destructive."

Some local councils will still host Remembrance events
Some local councils will still host Remembrance events. Picture: PA

Downing Street have confirmed that this year's event will be on a much smaller scale, with people to stay away from the Cenotaph and watch the service at home on TV.

Defence minister Johnny Mercer encouraged people to watch the national Remembrance Sunday event at the Cenotaph “on television”.

The national ceremony at the Cenotaph is usually attended by senior politicians and members of the royal family, along with around 10,000 veterans and members of the public.

Mr Mercer told the Commons: “This is a very important time of year for the country, we encourage people to remember in their own way.

“There will be guidance given out by local authorities but remembrance events will be able to go ahead.

“There will be a small national ceremony at the Cenotaph that we encourage people to watch on television.”

And Conservative MP Andy Carter said the virus restrictions could impact the Royal British Legion's annual poppy collection.

He told the Commons: "Those restrictions also mean that poppy sellers, many of them themselves veterans, won't be able to stand on the streets and raise funds for the Royal British Legion."

With Covid-19 restrictions impacting the traditional sale of poppies ahead of Remembrance Day, an MP has urged the public to "download a poppy" and donate online instead.

During business questions, he asked Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg: "I wonder if he will join with me in encouraging everyone to log online to the Royal British Region's website and download a poppy and donate so that the work of the Royal British Legion can continue to support both veterans and their families?"

Responding, Mr Rees-Mogg said: "Poppy sellers are such a wonderful part of the fabric of our nation.

"They are such a varied group of people who have such a commitment to remembering those who gave their lives to ensure that we could live in freedom.

"And therefore my honourable friend is right to say that people should go to the website and donate that way if they can't do what they would usually do and allow some coins, or preferably notes, to clink - although obviously, notes don't clink - into a poppy collector's tin - although it's not a tin is it, it's a plastic container.

"But I think everybody in this House knows what I mean."

Britain's Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, patron of The Poppy Factory, visits the Field of Remembrance
Britain's Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, patron of The Poppy Factory, visits the Field of Remembrance. Picture: PA

However, Theresa May said veterans deserve better than online Remembrance services to commemorate their sacrifices.

The Conservative former prime minister warned of the "unintended consequences" of the Government's ban on communal worship during the second lockdown in England.

Speaking during a Commons debate on the restrictions, Mrs May said: "My concern is that the Government today making it illegal to conduct an act of public worship, for the best of intentions, sets a precedent that could be misused for a Government in the future with the worst of intentions.

"And it has unintended consequences.

"The Covid-secure Remembrance service in Worcester Cathedral is now going to be turned into a pre-recorded online service.

"Surely those men and women who gave down their lives for our freedom deserve better than this?"