All eyes will be on John Chester on Monday when as many as 4,000 people turn out to watch the Armistice parade to the Cenotaph in London.
John, chairman of the Spalding and South Lincs Branch of the Western Front Association, will be leading out the parade as he has the onerous task of parade marshall. This is the third time he has taken on the mammoth task of co-ordinating the military, musicians, police, the Foreign Office, Ministry of Defence and members of the Western Front Association for the parade.
John, who spent 26 years in the Royal Air Force as an air traffic controller, said he was recommended for the role by one of the vice-presidents of the association who knew him from his work on the national committee and thought he would be suitable for the job.
John ghosted his predecessor in 2010, but since then the task has been down to him, and he admits: “I start organising it in January.”
John writes: “At 11am on the 11th November, 1918, silence descended across the battlefields of Europe as an Armistice came into effect. The Great War of 1914-18 was over!
Twelve months later, at 11am on the first anniversary of the Armistice, across the country, in city, town and village, people spontaneously stopped what they were doing for several minutes as they remembered that momentous day exactly one year before.
The next year, following the lead of the people, at 11am on November 11, 1920, with the coffin of the Unknown Warrior halted close by, and “in the presence of his Ministers of State, the Chiefs of his Forces, and a vast concourse of the nation”, as it says on the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior, King George V unveiled the new National Cenotaph in Whitehall.
This was followed, at the King’s command, by the first official Two Minute Silence – “One minute to remember all those who went off to fight, and a second minute to remember all those who never came back”, he said. This tradition of remembrance continues to this day.
After this the King and the other dignitaries followed the Unknown Warrior’s cortege into Westminster Abbey for his burial near the great West Door.
So was born a ceremony that continued each year, copied throughout the nation at local memorials, where people gathered to remember the end of the Great War. Then came the Second World War, and when it ended, a more general Remembrance Sunday was initiated on the nearest Sunday to November 11.
And so it continued until 20 years ago when, under the leadership of former chairman of The Western Front Association, Tony Noyes, the ceremony at the Cenotaph on November 11 was re-instated. For the Association, whose motto is “Remembering”, this was an important occasion, and one that has been repeated every year since then.
Even though commemorations are still held nationally on ‘Remembrance Sunday’, the Western Front Association continues to mark November 11 with a ceremony at the Cenotaph in Whitehall.
In its early days, the revived ceremony saw association members risking the traffic to reach the Cenotaph to hold their ceremony and lay their wreaths.
But, the ceremony has grown and is now the most important annual event of the WFA. Over the years attendance too has grown, the service has become more formalised, many more people and the military attend, and Whitehall is closed for the duration of the ceremony.
In this, the 20th year of the ceremony, it is no different. Whitehall will be closed to traffic, men of 7 Coy Coldstream Guards will mount Guard at the Cenotaph, and members of the Western Front Association, led by the association’s president and chairman, schoolchildren representing the Youth of the Nation, and many more, all led by a piper of the 3rd Royal Dragoon Guards, will march along Whitehall to the Cenotaph to hold their Annual Act of Remembrance.
Crowds gather in their thousands to watch and participate, and in recent years the event has begun to attract national media coverage. Planning for the event begins in January by the parade marshall and ends only days before the actual ceremony.
The Western Front Association was formed in 1980 with the aim of furthering interest in the period 1914-18, to perpetuate the memory, courage and comradeship of those of all sides who served their countries in France and Flanders and their own countries during the Great War. It does not seek to glorify war. It is not a re-enactment society, nor is it commercially motivated and it is entirely non-political. The object of the association is to educate the public in the history of the Great War with particular reference to the Western Front.
The association currently has a membership of around 6,500. With some 50 branches nationally and another 20 branches worldwide, the WFA is one of the leading Great War international associations. Applications for membership are welcomed from anyone. To learn more visit their website on westernfrontassociation.com.
Or visit the Spalding & South Lincs Branch of the Association which meets in Fulney Church Hall at 7.30pm every fourth Thursday of the month. For further information call John Chester on 01775 766494.
As WFA members gather at the Cenotaph on November 11, and as a bugler of the Scots Guards sounds “Last Post” to herald the beginning of the Two Minute Silence, they are continuing a 90 year tradition. Truly, they are living their motto of “Remembering”.