Westminster pauses to remember war dead

By Alex Stevenson and Ian Dunt

Gordon Brown has called on Britain to “never forget” the fallen soldiers of the first world war, after attending a special service of remembrance in Westminster Abbey.

The prime minister, together with the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, were among those who attended the service, which was held to mark the passing of the world war one generation.

In the past 12 months the three remaining veterans of the first world war passed away. William Stone, aged 108, died in January. Henry Allingham (113) and Harry Patch (111) died in July.

The service began just before 11:00 GMT, when the two-minute silence traditionally begun by Big Ben’s chime was observed. A gun from the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery, fired from Horse Guards Parade, marked the beginning and end of the two minute silence.

During the service the address was given by the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams. Jeremy Irons read the poem Last Post, written by Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy following the death of Harry Patch, from Poet’s Corner.

The service’s emotional immediacy was heightened by the recent flurry of deaths of British soldiers serving in Afghanistan, and Mr Brown’s emotional attempts to explain his feelings about the war dead in his monthly press conference yesterday.

Speaking after today’s service, Mr Brown said: “It is our duty to teach our children and grandchildren of their heroism.

“And today of course our thoughts are also with all the men and women of our armed forces, serving with such distinction at home and overseas.”

Defence secretary Bob Ainsworth, Baroness Margaret Thatcher and Sir John Major also attended the ceremony.

Mr Ainsworth said: “The war left an enduring impact on those who survived. They were determined that the sacrifices made by those who lost their lives would never be forgotten. Today we join together as a nation to honour that promise, and we will always do so.”

Peers marked the silence in the House of Lords. The Commons delayed its sitting by three hours, meaning prime minister’s questions will take place at 15:00 GMT today instead of the usual midday time.

Today is the 90th anniversary of the first armistice day two-minute silence in 1919, one year after the guns fell silent on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.