The nation’s war dead were commemorated during a Remembrance Sunday service at the Cenotaph given added poignancy this year by the coronavirus limiting the number of veterans and military.
With the Queen watching from a government building, the Prince of Wales laid her wreath acknowledging the debt owed to all those who fought in past conflicts and paid the ultimate sacrifice.
Covid-19 and the national lockdown across England aimed at suppressing the virus has meant Whitehall in central London was sparsely filled, with the public advised not to attend, adding to the sombre mood.
In the past, hundreds of servicemen and women would have lined up around the Cenotaph and the event would have featured a march past by thousands of old soldiers, sailors and airmen watched by large crowds.
Across the country, the attendance at local war memorials was scaled back, with the Royal British Legion advising the public to commemorate remotely by displaying a poppy in their window or observing the silence on their doorstep.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said with growing Covid infection rates it was important the “balance” was “right” when asked about remembrance events staged with reduced numbers.
Speaking about the importance of the day, he added: “If we don’t learn from our history we are always destined to repeat the failures in the future.
“Fundamentally remembering why people gave their lives to this country, to our values, and to helping those around the world who couldn’t help themselves – that’s important to never forget.
“Right now, as we speak, thousands of men and women of the Armed Forces are helping the country’s resilience fight (against) Covid, they are in Liverpool in their thousands – that’s important for us to remember the troops are our backbone.
“These are the people that give Britain its strength, its security and are acting in all our interests. So, today is an opportunity to mark the contribution to Covid, but also remember all those that have gone before making sure Britain is a safe and stable country whose values are wanted all around the world.”
In recent years the Queen has watched the ceremony from a balcony of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office building overlooking the Cenotaph, which celebrates its centenary this year.
As the first chimes of Big Ben marking 11am rung out across a peaceful Whitehall in central London, all attending fell silent and stood still for two minutes.
Then, under grey skies, her son and heir carefully placed her floral tribute to the fallen at the base of the memorial, designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens and unveiled by the Queen’s grandfather George V on Armistice Day, November 11 1920.
Behind Charles stood senior royals including the Duke of Cambridge, Princess Royal and Earl of Wessex, who would soon lay their wreaths and nearby was Prime Minister Boris Johnson with his predecessors Sir John Major, Tony Blair and Theresa May – all standing two metres apart.
The Queen was joined on the balcony by her lady-in-waiting Susan Rhodes, who stood socially distanced from the monarch, while on another vantage point were the Duchess of Cornwall and Duchess of Cambridge standing more than two metres apart.
With no spectators, the police presence was more noticeable, with a large number of armed officers on duty.
Missing from the Cenotaph ceremony was the Duke of York, who has stepped down from official royal duties following fierce criticism after his Panorama interview about his friendship with sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.
The Duke of Sussex was also absent, having begun a new life in California after stepping down as a working royal, but a Buckingham Palace spokeswoman said any suggestion a space was left for Harry was not correct, the spacing was down to Covid two-metre distancing measurements between Charles and those behind him.
The Queen’s simple message on her wreath said “In memory of the glorious dead”, echoing the words on the Cenotaph, while Charles’ handwritten note said “In everlasting remembrance”.
The Prime Minister’s handwritten message said: “To the eternal memory of those who died to keep us free.”
The Duke and Duchess of Gloucester were also due to have attended the event but did not travel to Whitehall “on medical advice”, said a royal source who did not give further details.
Following the service, where the Bishop of London, Sarah Mullally, said prayers and the national anthem was played, just 25 veterans marched passed the Cenotaph, where in previous years their numbers would have been in the thousands.
Former Royal Marine Graeme Golightly, 58, from Crawley, West Sussex, took part in the much-reduced march-past, representing the Royal Marines Association.
The Falklands conflict veteran said: “It’s sad, I’ve been here in past years and there have been 10,000 of us on this road.”
Mr Golightly, who served with 40 Commando for 14 years, went on to say: “It is vitally important that as a country we should continue to remember our fallen forefathers, who fought for our country.”
On Sunday the Metropolitan Police said they were aware of a video circulating online which “shows an officer using force” after a man had tried to enter a restricted area in Whitehall.
The Met said the actions of the officer will be looked at in the wider context of the incident, adding that a man was arrested on suspicion of assaulting a police officer.