The Queen unveiled a memorial in London today, recognising the Armed Forces contribution in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.
The stone sculpture, in Victoria Embankment Gardens, features a large, two-sided bronze medallion depicting the memorial’s theme of “duty and service”. Its creator, sculptor Paul Day, said it gave “equal prominence to the civilian and military contributions.” Alongside Forces personnel, the memorial honours those involved in humanitarian efforts in the region and those families and individuals supporting troops back at home.
The 25-year conflict in the Gulf and the Middle East saw over 680 service personnel killed and many more wounded between 1990 and 2015. British troops left Iraq in 2009 and final operations ceased in Afghanistan, five years later, in 2015.
Writing in the order of service, Lord Stirrup, Marshal of the Air Force and Chairman of Trustees of today’s memorial, said: “The campaigns in Iraq from 1990 to 2009 and Afghanistan from 2001 to 2015 were complex and challenging. Over the course of those years, hundreds of thousands of a British military personnel and UK citizens ran great risks, endured great hardship, and worked tirelessly in support of the Government’s objectives.
“Duty and service are important concepts in any civilised society, and we in this country have always valued them highly; the men and women who contributed so much to the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan were the very embodiment of those enduring principles. This memorial is for them.”
Paul Day, the memorial’s sculptor, is no stranger to creating statues. Since his first solo show in Paris in 1995, the artist has designed the Battle of Britain Monument, The Queen Mother Memorial and the Meeting Place in London’s St Pancras station; a bronze statue of a couple embracing. Giving The Queen and Prince Philip a guided tour of his latest work, Day said the Memorial is not designed to exclusively focus on those who lost their lives, pointing out that it bears no names.
Before the unveiling, the Duke of Edinburgh and senior members of the royal family joined Her Majesty for a service of dedication at Horse Guards Parade.
Bands of the Royal Marines, Scots Guards and Royal Air Force played as servicemen and women, their families and dignitaries awaited the arrival of the royals.
Led by Chaplain of the Fleet, The Venerable Ian Wheatley, the service was a whole family affair, with Prince Charles, the Duchess of Cornwall, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince Harry, Prince Andrew, the Earl and Countless of Wessex, Princess Anne and the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester all attending to pay tribute to those involved in the conflicts.
Many of the royals have served in the Armed Forces, have a link to them through patronages or hold honorary ranks. Prince Harry — whose 10-year career with the Army saw him serve twice in Afghanistan — made a reading at the service, from the book of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8. The Prince left the Army in 2015 and has since been an advocate for service personnel and veterans’ welfare.
As poems sent by those separated from their loved ones during the conflict were read, the Metropolitan Police Choir sang to the silent parade ground, before readings from the Gospel and prayers were led by Chaplain-in-Chief, Air Vice Marshal Jonathan Cheffey.
Prime Minister Theresa May said: “The missions in Iraq and Afghanistan called on hundreds of thousands of our military and civilian personnel to put their lives on the line in an heroic effort to help secure greater peace and stability in some of the most hostile environments we have ever known.
“Today we honour the extraordinary courage and dedication of every one of those British men and women who stepped forward to answer that all. We pay tribute to those families who spent long periods apart and we stand with the friends and families of all who lost loved ones.”
May was joined by Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon, who looked on sombrely, alongside Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon and Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond. Mr Hammond previously served as Defence Secretary from 2011-14 and Foreign Secretary from 2014-16.
Former Prime Ministers David Cameron and Sir John Major also paid their respects, alongside their Labour counterpart, Tony Blair, whose decision to take the UK to war in the region has been widely criticised and whose invitation to the ceremony sparked anger with bereaved families earlier this week.
After the unveiling, the royals joined a reception for 2,500 service personnel. Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge chatted to veterans of the conflicts, as the Duke of York spoke to families close by. Like his brother, William has served in the forces, spending time with all three services while the Duke of York served as a helicopter pilot in the Royal Navy during the Falklands War.
The Countess of Wessex, who has previously visited Afghanistan with her husband, met 2-year-old Alfie Lunn, whose tantrum in front of Queen after the unveiling raised chuckles from the crowd. The Countess chatted to the youngster and his parents Sergeant Mark Lunn, 29, and Corporal Michele Lunn, 26. Both Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, Sergeant Lunn was awarded the Military Cross for his actions during a fire-fight in Basra.