As the Royal British Legion marks its centenary, this year's Festival of Remembrance recognises the work of our people, branches and communities, their support for our Armed Forces community, and how we can continue to provide this support in future.
Whilst we celebrate the work of the Royal British Legion, we'll also consider what Remembrance means, and how we can best ensure
Remembrance lives on within all our communities for the next 100 years.
Presented by Huw Edwards, the Festival will feature
The Orchestra of the Household Division
The Countess of Wessex’s String Orchestra
String Ensemble of the Royal Marines Band Service
The Royal Air Force Salon Orchestra
Under the direction of
Lieutenant Colonel Simon Haw MBE, Commanding Officer Household Division Bands
The Festival Chorus
The Bach Choir
The Service, conducted by
The Venerable Martyn Gough, National Chaplain to the Royal British Legion
Follow tonight's programme and performances as they happen.
Entry of the Standards
Represented Standard Bearers of the Royal British Legion
Cadet Banner Bearers
- Sea Cadet Corps Standard
- Combined Cadet Corps Banner
- Army Cadet Force Banner
- Air Training Corps Banner
Ex-service Associations’ Standard Bearers
- Air Force Association
- Royal Marines Association
- Queen’s Own Highlanders Regimental Association
- Royal Scots Dragoon Guards and First Aid Nursing Yeomanry
- Army Catering Corps Association
The Entry of the Standards will be accompanied by the Royal Marines Corps of Drums and organist Peter Crompton.
Arrival of Their Royal Highnesses The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall
Royal Fanfare by the State Trumpeters of the Household Division under the direction of Trumpet Major Julian Sandford.
Alfie Boe OBE performs 'Greatest Day' with Tri-Service Display Bands
Alfie's big break came when he took the lead role in Baz Luhrmann's Broadway production of La bohème in 2002. Since then, he's built up a huge fan base, achieving platinum album sales and performing sold-out tours, singing in the world's most prestigious opera houses and musical theatre roles.
In a world premiere, Tomos Roberts aka Tomfoolery performs 'Alive With Poppies', specially commissioned for the Festival
Spoken-word poet Tomos Roberts became a YouTube sensation when his post-pandemic bedtime tale 'The Great Realisation' captured the hearts of millions.
Two poems written more than 100 years apart draw on the symbolism of the poppy to connect us with Remembrance and an understanding of service and sacrifice.
One fresh Sunday morning in early May 1915, 22-year-old Alexis Helmer, a Lieutenant in the 1st Brigade Canadian Field Artillery, stepped out of his dugout just north of Ypres and was killed instantly by an incoming German shell. His remains were gathered up and buried that evening in a small graveyard where scarlet poppies had self-seeded among the wooden crosses. Alexis's friend Leiutenant-Colonel John McCrae, a military doctor and second in command of the brigade, conducted a simple service at the graveside. That night, it's thought, John wrote the first draft of his poem 'In Flanders Fields' and he was seen the next day, gazing out across the burial ground from his seat on the rear step of an ambulance, working on his text that urges readers not to break faith with the battle dead.
Poppies thrived in the churned-up earth of battlefields, and soldiers sometimes picked and pressed them between the leaves of a notebook, then posted them home to loved ones as a keepsake from the front line. McCrae's 'In Flanders Fields', published in the popular magazine Punch in December 1915, made them an even more potent symbol of the conflict. When the newly formed British Legion adopted the poppy as its emblem of Remembrance and held the first British fundraising Poppy Day on 11th November, 1921, it was tapping into a strong emotional connection between the poppy and Remembrance that veterans' organisations elsewhere had made, inspired by McCrae's poem.
Over a century later, spoken-word poet Tomos Roberts' specially commissioned work, 'Alive With Poppies', takes on the challenge of distilling what the poppy means today. Tom was invited to share his creative response to the poppy after writing 'The Great Realisation', a poem prompted by the global Covid-19 pandemic, which has been viewed by millions since he posted it on his YouTube channel last year.
“Every year around this time you see the whole country burst into bloom with poppies,” he says. “I used this poem to interrogate a familiar tradition, the challenge being to not write a poem just about the First World War. With this, I tried to write as if my eight-year-old brother Cai had come to me and asked what I was doing and what it meant. The poem is a story as if for him, talking him through our history and aspirations for the future. My hope is that 100 years from now, children still understand what the symbolism of the poppy means.”
Images: A poppy seller in the Blitz, a poppy from 1942 reflecting the shortage of materials and austerity caused by rationing, the first lines of McCrae's poem spelt out in poppies in the grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea.
Gregory Porter performs 'He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother'
Over the past decade Gregory Porter has taken the jazz world by storm, winning two Grammy Awards and performing on the Pyramid stage at Glastonbury.
“‘Without Battle Back, I wouldn’t be here,’ is a comment that people commonly make,” says Paul Flood, who heads up the RBL’s Recovery Services.
It’s a powerful thing to say about the Battle Back Centre’s multiactivity courses, which have helped thousands of serving and ex-serving personnel change their lives for the better.
“People may think we run sports courses, but sport is just the vehicle for what we do,” says Paul, explaining how coaching dovetails with adaptive sport and adventurous training to support and improve people’s mental wellbeing.
“I see the difference in people turning up on a Monday morning on the first day of a course and how they look going home on Friday after that injection of positivity. Our follow-up evaluation shows that our courses give people the tools to take better control of their lives and help increase confidence and self-esteem. And when that person goes home focusing on what they can do rather than what they can't, it has a positive effect not just on their wellbeing but those around them too.”
The RBL invests significant amounts of money in both recovery and rehabilitation for service personnel and veterans who are wounded, injured or sick. “We donated £5 million to build a Complex Trauma Gym at the Defence National Rehabilitation Centre near Loughborough,” says Paul. At DNRC Stanford Hall, as the centre is known, patients who have suffered major trauma or injury during service work with an expert team to regain mobility and fitness. It’s an example of how donations can directly help those who have experienced amputations, multiple fractures, spinal injuries and more, to lead independent lives.
“Whereas DNRC Stanford Hall deals with rehab, the clinical side of things, the Battle Back Centre supports recovery, coaching people to develop a positive mindset, examine why they make certain decisions and take control of that process, so they can either return to serving or adjust to a fulfilling civilian life,” says Paul.
The annual £2.3 million put into Battle Back has had a massive impact. The Centre, located in the National Sports Centre at Lilleshall, was established in 2011 to support wounded and injured service personnel returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, and the science-backed courses it runs are the result of the RBL’s collaboration with Leeds Beckett University. After temporary suspension last year, adapted courses are now running with reduced numbers and COVID-19-safe arrangements for activities such as mountain biking, climbing and archery.
“The landscape has changed in terms of who needs support. In the early years, we primarily worked with people who were adapting to life following physical trauma, but in recent years we have seen a significant increase in the number of people who require support with their mental wellbeing – or indeed both,” says Paul.
Display by the Bands of HM Royal Marines Portsmouth (Royal Band) and Collingwood
Under the direction of Principal Director of Music, Lt Col Jason Burcham RM
Led by the Corps Drum Major, WO2 Bugler Chris Mace RM
The Four-Five-Seven (Drum Static)
Entrance of the In-Pensioners from the Royal Hospital Chelsea
Guard of Honour provided by the Band of HM Royal Marines, performing 'Boys of the Old Brigade'.
30th Anniversary of Operation Granby
The black granite in the centre of the First Gulf War memorial at the National Memorial Arboretum represents the spill in the oil fields. The sand-coloured stones have started to leach and acquire a patina, as if oil was seeping into them. And when the memorial was unveiled, 25 years to the day after the conflict ended, “quarrying in the background produced great heaps that looked like sand dunes – you could imagine it being in the desert,” says Tony Matthews, who served in the Royal Artillery, volunteers at the Arboretum and chairs its branch of the RBL.
The oil references in the design are apt. When Iraq’s armed forces seized control of Kuwait on 2nd August, 1990, it was with the apparent aim of acquiring that nation’s large oil reserves. By the following day, they were poised on the border with Saudi Arabia. With his country’s own stockpiles, Iraqi president Saddam Hussein was in a position to potentially control almost half of the world’s oil.
The invasion of Kuwait triggered almost universal condemnation and led to the UN Security Council setting a deadline of 15th January, 1991 for Iraqi troops to withdraw unconditionally. A US-led coalition of 39 nations came together to liberate Kuwait, providing military, humanitarian and economic resources. When Iraqi forces did not leave, Operation Desert Storm was launched, made up of forces from many of the coalition nations.
Under the codename Operation Granby, more than 53,000 personnel from the British Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force joined Desert Storm. RAF Tornados participated in weeks of intense air strikes, and from 24th February, ground forces, among them the 1st Armoured Division, then pushed forward from the west in ‘Stormin’ Norman’ Schwarzkopf’s left-hook manoeuvre, which tricked and trapped the Iraqi army.
By 28th February, Iraqi troops were in retreat, setting fire to 500 oil wells as a final act of destruction. Due to his late deployment and the swift resolution of the conflict, Tony was only in theatre for a very short time, but he vividly recalls the skies over the desert turning black. “The air stank with burning oil and the horizon was like a bed of candles, flickering,” he says.
The memorial at the Arboretum was funded by veterans and the Kuwaiti government. Three pillars represent Britain’s three Armed Forces who took part, with the ring at the top showing the bond between them. Forty-seven paving stones beneath the memorial bear the names of each of the British service personnel killed during the conflict. It gives families and friends a place to remember, connect with others, share memories and talk about the conflict to new generations.
Although the war may be over, its impact continues: RBL research suggests that 33,000 UK Gulf War veterans could be living with Gulf War Syndrome, a serious long-term illness that the charity is still campaigning for the UK government to investigate properly.
Images: Tony Matthews and the First Gulf War memorial at the National Memorial Arboretum.
The Central Band of the RAF and The Queen’s Colour Squadron
Under the direction of Principal Director of Music, Wg Cdr Piers Morrell
Led by Senior Drum Major, Flt Sgt Paul Phelan
The U.S. Air Force Song 47 Squadron
March ‘The White Russian’
Tornado: To the Last
RAF March Past
Tribute to the Bereaved
Sallie and David Wright tell the story of their son, Marine James Wright, who was killed in Afghanistan 10 years ago.
Cynthia Erivo performs 'You're Not Here'
London-born Cynthia was nominated for an Oscar, Golden Globe Award and Screen Actors Guild Award for her lead role in 'Harriet'.
Soul Sanctuary Gospel Choir
In celebration of the Royal British Legion's centenary, the Soul Sanctuary Gospel Choir perform 'You Raise Me Up'.
RBL support of the Armed Forces community
For 100 years the Royal British Legion has been helping serving and ex-serving personnel and their families.
From our origins in the devastation of the First World War the services provided by the RBL have adapted and expanded to provide the care and support needed by those that have served.
From the creation of a dedicated TB hospital, to supporting veterans back into employment, to supporting veterans living with dementia, the RBL has been, and will be, there, supporting the men and women from Britain, the Commonwealth and beyond who have sacrificed so much defending our nation and protecting our way of life.
During the Festival, actress Jenny Agutter reads the testimony of a First World War mother who went on the Great Pilgrimage to the Menin Gate to see the name of her son.
Actor Kirk Bowett tells the story of a disabled veteran of the Second World War who was given a loan by the Legion to start his own shop, when no one else would give him employment.
Second World War Veteran Dennis Woolons, who joined the RBL after the war for comradeship, talks about the importance of this to veterans. He now works as a volunteer for the RBL.
Lamin Manneh, injured Afghanistan veteran, tells how the support he was given means so much to him. Lamin's son, Musa, tells the story of how his family were helped after his father was seriously injured.
When the spotlight swings onto 100 individuals on stage at this year's Festival of Remembrance to mark 100 years of the RBL, they are a tiny representation of the volunteers, members, ambassadors and staff at the heart of the organisation who have made the charity such a force for good. They symbolise what hundreds of thousands up and down the country do for the Armed Forces community, making the organisation what it is today and supporting its evolution over the century to come.
This film reflects on the importance of Remembrance including all those form the UK and Commonwealth who have defended our nation and its values. Told through different perspectives and personal stories, we will celebrate how Remembrance reflects all our family histories and unites us all.
Colour Sergeant Johnson Beharry VC speaks about the need to remember those black servicemen and women who fought for Britain in the First World War, and passing the baton of Remembrance to next generation.
Major Brett Bader’s family have all served in uniform, and he wants to make Remembrance more inclusive. His grandparents were a mixed race couple who fought in the war.
Emily Folorunsho is a history teacher in Barnet who wants to make history more relevant to next generation and ensure they see themselves in the narrative.
The immortal words 'Lest We Forget' have been at the core of the Royal British Legion’s Remembrance work since its creation 100 years ago.
It is with regret therefore that earlier this year a report by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission revealed that anywhere between 116,000 and 350,000 predominantly African service personnel, who lost their lives during the First World War, were not commemorated by name, or even commemorated at all.
Below is a map pointing to 28 memorials across Africa and the Middle East, where the names of nearly 3,000 personnel from Africa, the Middle East and undivided India who had died in service during the First World War, had not been added at to memorials at the time of their inauguration. While many of these individuals have since had their names added, over 400 still remain to be added.
This year, RBL is asking us to reflect on those who were not commemorated, such as Driver Dyal Singh from undivided India, Private Chimsoto from then-Rhodesia, and Hussein Ahmed from the Egyptian Labour Corps. Wherever people came from, they were all part of the Legion’s Remembrance family. They served and they sacrificed for us.
Laying Up of the Drums
Actor, singer and composer Ramin Karimloo performs 'You'll Never Walk Alone'.
This year’s Muster demonstrates the diverse and inclusive nature of today’s Armed Forces and civilian Emergency Services, whilst also highlighting the broad range of skills, talents and expertise that is present across all ranks and trades.
The Royal Navy
The Royal Air Force
Royal British Legion
- Poppy Collectors
- RBL Volunteers
- Poppy Factory
- Royal British Legion Industries
- The Black Watch Association
- British Red Cross
- St John Ambulance
- The National Fire Chiefs
- The Ambulance Staff Charity
- The National Police Chiefs Council
- The War Widows’ Association
- British Evacuees Association
Book of Remembrance
Carried by Brigadier Dan Blanchford to 'Summon The Heroes', accompanied by military personnel who served in Afghanistan.
Follow the Festival of Remembrance service
'Guide Me O Thy Great Redeemer'.
Words by William Williams and music by John Hughes.
The Bidding Prayer and The Multifaith Prayer led by The Venerable Martyn Gough, National Chaplain to the Royal British Legion.
The Lord's Prayer performed by the Soul Sanctuary Gospel Choir.
The X Factor winner and West End Star, Alexandra Burke performs 'Abide With Me'.
The Last Post
Two Minute Silence
Silence is observed while the poppy petals fall.
Led by the Royal British Legion's National President, Lieutenant General James Bashall CB, CBE.
'Eternal Father Strong To Save'. Words by William Whiting and music by John Bacchus Dykes.
Led by The Venerable Martyn Gough, National Chaplain to the Royal British Legion.
The National Anthem
Her Majesty The Queen
Lieutenant General James Bashall CB, CBE
Una Cleminson BEM TD
Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Flazone OSJ BEM
Festival Executive Producer
Festival Music Director
David Cole MVO OBE RM
Creative Director, BBC Events
BBC Executive Producer
BBC Festival Producer
Royal Albert Hall Chief Executive
Craig Hassall AM