Severely wounded British soldier joins veterans on Remembrance Sunday

Matthew Lodge

London: The most severely wounded British soldier to survive the war in Afghanistan joined thousands of other veterans across the country in paying his respects on Remembrance Sunday.

Ben Parkinson MBE, who had both his legs amputated, broke his back and suffered lasting brain damage in an explosion in 2006, bravely stood with the aid of crutches for the minutes silence at a memorial in Doncaster.

The former paratrooper, who was injured when the Land Rover he was in struck a landmine, was one of thousands of veterans across the country who have marked the solemn occasion.

In London, hundreds of Second World War, Falklands, Afghanistan and Iraq veterans packed into Whitehall for a memorial service led by King Charles III to honour members of the Armed Forces killed since World War One.

At 11am the country fell silent and wreathes were laid by members of the Royal Family, senior politicians and faith representatives at the Cenotaph in London.

Service personnel watched the sombre scene as Big Ben chimed eleven times, while a visibly emotional King Charles laid a new poppy wreath incorporating a ribbon of his racing colours, with the design a tribute to the ones used by both his late mother and his grandfather.

Up and down the country similar services took place, with local leaders and veterans paying their own tribute to those who have given their lives in defence of the United Kingdom.

In Edinburgh Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon laid a wreath of poppies at the stone of remembrance outside the city chambers, the first such gathering since all Covid restrictions were lifted.

Irish Taoiseach Michael Martin joined Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris as they laid wreathes at a ceremony in Enniskillen, 35 years after the event was bombed by the IRA.

Irish premier Micheal Martin and Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris laid wreaths at a Remembrance Sunday ceremony in Enniskillen, 35 years on from an IRA bomb at the event.

Hundreds gathered in the Co Fermanagh town to mark the occasion at the war memorial.

They stood in silence for two minutes before wreaths were laid.

Martin continued a recent tradition begun by former taoiseach Enda Kenny in 2012 by attending and placing a laurel wreath at the base of the memorial.

This was after Mr Heaton-Harris had laid a poppy wreath on behalf of the UK Government.

Jayne Brady, head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, was among others who laid wreaths during the commemoration.

Earlier this week, events took place in Enniskillen to mark the exact day of the Poppy Day bomb, including a service at a newly installed plaque to the victims.

Eleven people who had gathered to pay their respects to the war dead were killed and dozens more were injured in the no-warning blast on November 8 1987, just minutes before Remembrance Sunday was due to start.

A 12th victim of the bombing died 13 years later having never woken from a coma.

Mr Kenny became the first taoiseach to attend a Remembrance Day service in Northern Ireland when he took part in commemorations at Enniskillen in 2012.

This move was symbolic of the greater recognition now afforded in the Republic of Ireland to those Irishmen who fought and died serving in the British Army in the First World War.

Other remembrance services took place across Northern Ireland on Sunday morning.

In Belfast, Lord Caine represented the UK Government at the cenotaph at City Hall, with Irish cabinet minister Heather Humphreys also in attendance.

Deputy Lord Mayor Michelle Kelly laid a wreath on behalf of Belfast City Council.

Hundreds gathered both inside and outside the grounds of City Hall to observe the ceremony.

This year’s service also marked the 40th anniversary of the war in the Falklands, in which 255 British soldiers lost their lives.

Veterans of that conflict were also present at the Cenotaph, with Terry Bullingham, from the West Midlands among them.

The Chief Petty Officer was left completely blind when the ship he was serving on, the HMS Antrim, was struck by two Argentinian bombs on May 21, 1982.

While the explosives failed to detonate, he was left injured when a cannon shell hit him, leaving him blind in an instant.

He told charity Blind Veterans UK: ‘With this year being the 40th anniversary of The Falklands, I’ll be thinking of those who didn’t make it back.

‘Especially those men we lost on HMS Glamorgan two days before the end of the war.

‘I knew some of them very well and they will be in my thoughts on Remembrance Sunday.’

Also among those present was retired Brigadier Jon Mullin, who served as a Lieutenant in the 9 Parachute Squadron Royal Engineers in the Falklands.

He marched with South Atlantic Medal Association 82 during the service today, and said: ‘I wanted to be part of a national commemoration to commemorate all those people who did this wonderful feat of arms and put it all together, and many have passed on in the intervening years.

‘I think it’s important that the nation doesn’t forget the sacrifices.’

Joining those at the Cenotaph in London today was Margaret Wilson who served as a wireless operator and then as a codebreaker with the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) in the Second World War.

The 99-year-old, who now lives in Mansfield, said she signed up to the WAAF despite her mother’s initial resistance, with her father approving of her decision.

She would later be transferred to Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire, where the German Enigma code was broken.

She said: ‘It means the world to be joining the commemorations at the Cenotaph. I’ll be thinking of my dad, who served in the second world war and was the only one in my family who wanted me to sign up.’

The day was marked around the UK, with services also taking place at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire and the WW1 Memorial in Portsmouth.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, speaking to broadcasters in Westminster, said: ‘Today is a reminder that we’ve suffered wars in Europe before and tens of thousands of British service personnel gave their lives as a civilian to defeat fascism.

‘Here we are again, tragically, decades later with a war on continental Europe in Ukraine, where a similar Russian regime is trying to impose its will on a sovereign state, costing tens of thousands of lives.

‘And, of course, what remembrance is about is recognising that freedom isn’t free – people make sacrifices and this nation made the ultimate sacrifice on two occasions in the great wars, but also (in) other conflicts, and remembrance is a time to reflect on that.’

Speaking about the King, Mr Wallace said: ‘I think he will obviously remember his mother, the late Queen Elizabeth II, because … for him, he’s been standing at this cenotaph for many, many years alongside her and, obviously, he is now the new monarch of this country.

‘I think he’ll reflect that she gave her service to the very end, she never stopped being the sovereign, she didn’t abdicate and all these other things that people used to speculate on. She was married to this country and her duty.’

Chief of the Defence Staff, Admiral Sir Tony Radakin, said there is a ‘special poignancy’ to Remembrance Sunday this year given the Queen’s death and the war in Ukraine.

In an interview broadcast on Sky’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme, he said: ‘I think Remembrance Sunday is always poignant.

‘I think it’s poignant for the whole nation, this special moment when we pause to reflect on the sacrifice and commitment of others to provide our freedom today.

‘I think there’s a special poignancy this year with both the loss of Her Majesty, another loss of a Second World War veteran.

‘I also think it’s poignant when we have once again the spectre of war in Europe and all that that entails, and a country that’s been invaded and is fighting for its freedom.’