Westminster Abbey Remembrance Day Service

_46711514_beharry_paI had the great privilege of attending the Remembrance Day service in Westminster Abbey when the passing of the First World War generation was commemorated. It was a most impressive service. What made it all the more interesting was the insight I was given into the arrangements and planning that is required for such a notable, national occasion.

The Dean of Westminster, the genial Dr John Hall, provided accommodation for us in the Deanery on the night before the service. Over breakfast on the morning of the service he shared his concern that everything would run on time, and in the event, everything came together perfectly. Her Majesty The Queen was due to arrive at 10.54 am precisely, which she did. The Mall and Whitehall had been sealed off to make her journey from Buckingham Palace straightforward. The Dean had a small digital clock attached to his order of service and was able to adjust the speed of his speech during The Bidding so that he finished at precisely 10.59 am and 30 seconds. That was to coordinate with Big Ben ringing out at 11 am which marked the beginning of the Two Minutes’ Silence. After that, everything flowed smoothly. Over lunch afterwards, the Dean reported that Her Majesty had been well-pleased with the service.

One of the minor canons of Westminster Abbey is Graham Napier, who hails originally from Donaghadee, and who was responsible with others for planning the service. He told me that lots of thought had been given to the words and music that were used, not least building the service towards a climax with the singing of a piece by John Tavener based on the closing verses of Romans 8, specially commissioned for this service. The service planners had also given much thought to the participants in the service so that all parts of the United Kingdom were represented on what was seen as a national event.

On the evening before the service, we watched the Colour Party, comprised of members from the various armed services, being put through their paces, and every move being carefully orchestrated and timed. As we made our way into the Abbey just prior to the service, I overheard the officer in charge of the Colour Party exhorting his men to “relax and enjoy the occasion”. Clearly even those who are used participating in formal occasions have butterflies in their stomach before such an event.

Administering Westminster Abbey and managing all its work and ministry is no small task. Altogether there are 200 people employed in the Abbey. The canon responsible for the finances and fabric revealed that it takes around 10 million pounds per year to run the Abbey and that 91% of this income comes from tourism. So while the Remembrance Day service brought huge publicity to the Abbey, its closure to regular tourist visitors meant a loss of over 20,000 pounds of income for that one day alone.

It was a great event and it was an honour to be part of it.

2 Replies to “Westminster Abbey Remembrance Day Service”

  1. hello – I am trying to find out the name of the gentleman who sang the solo with the choir at the service but cannot find the info anywhere. Could you help??
    Many thanks

  2. Hello! I also attended the service and have never been so unwelcome into a religious place as I was at Westminster Abbey on the 11th. This due to the marshalls who didn’t appear to have heard the saying “Treat others as you would wish to be treated”. They also forgot that many people had travelled long distances to be at the Abbey at considerable cost. Perhaps never visiting the Abbey before or at least not for many years. I felt herded to my seat and if I had sat where initially I was told to I would have been staring at a stone wall! Of course many others were……….. The screens situated too low down so only when congregation sitting could you view what was going on but once everybody standing unable to view the screen. On one occasion I could just about peek the Queen as well as the Royal Marine’s white helmet. In my opinion the best part of the service when he played The Last Post. In my opinion perfection.

    I did enter the church with Jeremy Irons and his companion and sat throughout the service next to Ian Hislop who autographed my service book. But overall I found the service extremely disappointing.

    When the service ended we were told to wait until the marshalls indicated would could disperse. But when it came to me another door to the left opened and I was told to leave in that direction. When I wanted to view the tomb of the unknown warrior and browse a bit. Ultimately staying for communion. Marshalls telling me communion at 12.30p.m. not taking place and if I wanted to browse to re-enter the Abbey again which was impossible.

    In the end I felt as if together with many others I was simply a crowd filler. Feeling especially sorry for the many elderly guests.

    Obviously you had VIP treated something I did witness prior to entering the Abbey when a limousine draw up and the marshall greeted with “Hello Ambassador how nice to see you”. Pity this politeness not afforded to everyone!

    I intend to email the Abbey to let them my views as I feel only by relating to such comments can future services improve.

    Best wishes. Lindi A Smith

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