Invitation to Westminster Abbey

Invitation to Westminster Abbey

By Margaret Graham

Late last summer I was amazed and delighted to get an invitation to a Service to mark the Centenary of the Armistice in the presence of Her Majesty the Queen and His Excellency the President of the Federal Republic. The service was being held on Sunday 11th November at 6pm in Westminster Abbey. Across the length and breadth of the country 1000’s of “ordinary folk” who had been involved in WW1 commemorations had been invited. I had led a nursing project to commemorate professionally trained nurses from across the Province who had served with the “Queen Alexandra’s, Red Cross or the Territorial Forces.

Naturally, on the day, security was extremely tight, attendees had to arrive at least 2 hours beforehand and the queue to enter stretched along streets and around corners. All in the queue were in good form and very chatty. Thankfully the weather was crisp and dry and the check-in was very efficient, similar to going through airport security. We all entered by the Great West Gate to be warmly welcomed by Minster clergy and staff. It was cosy and warm inside and I was directed, past the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior, to a row of seats which gave me a wonderful vantage point to see close up, all who were arriving. The band of the RAF Regiment played familiar pieces by Bach, Elgar and Vaughan Williams to name but a

few and their sound filled the Abbey. They walked slowly up the long aisle to take their seats. Next came the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, then the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge followed soon after by the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall and His Excellency Frank- Walter Steinmeier, President of the Federal Republic of Germany. All stood at the entrance chatting to the Dean and Prime Minister. Finally, just before the Queen arrived, the younger royals processed down the aisle to take their seats at the front of the Abbey. Megan and Kate walked upright, as straight as a poker, with shoulders back despite wearing extremely high heels! Last to arrive was the Queen and so, the service began.

First of all, flowers were placed on the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior by the two heads of state. The Queen, Prince Charles and Camilla, the President of the Federal Republic along with Abbey officials, then processed down the aisle to take their seats at the front, to the hymn “Thou whose almighty word.” The service continued with book readings by actors and Bible readings by the Prime Minister, Prince Charles and His Excellency, the German President. A diverse group of children and young adults read prayers and placed flowers on the grave. One reader had a very familiar accent and was from Co. Armagh.

Following the service, we were asked to remain in our seats until not only the Royal party had left but other dignitaries who included politicians and clergy wearing robes of all colours and an array of head attire that I have never seen before. Leaving the Abbey, the bells were ringing and a beacon had been lit in the grounds. A very very special occasion and one I will never forget.