Millions fall silent to remember war dead

Millions of Britons fell silent today to remember those who have died in war.

But in London the solemn moment was marred by a small group of protesters styling themselves Muslims Against Crusades, who burned a model of a poppy.

As the clock struck 11am, the nation paused to mark the anniversary of Armistice Day, when peace returned to Europe at the end of the First World War.

The agreement between Germany and the Allies after four years of fighting took effect at the "eleventh hour of the eleventh day" of 1918.

Wearing their poppies with pride, people joined in the two-minute silence as various commemoration services and events were held around the country.

The protest, in Exhibition Road, Kensington, involved about 30 people.

About 50 counter demonstrators gathered nearby but the two sides were kept apart by police.

Police clashed briefly with members of the Muslims Against Crusades group at one stage and at least one man was dragged to the floor and arrested.

But order was quickly restored as officers completely surrounded the small group.

Defence Secretary Liam Fox and the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams joined war heroes, service personnel, veterans, military associations and schoolchildren for a service of remembrance at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, central London.

The road was closed and crowds lined the street for the poignant ceremony and wreath-laying.

Amid grey skies and damp conditions, there was applause as Victoria and George Cross holders took their places around the monument.

Among those attending was Lance Corporal Matt Croucher, of the Royal Marines Reserve, who was awarded the George Cross for bravery after he threw himself on to a bomb to smother the explosion while serving in Afghanistan in February 2008.

The 26-year-old, from Birmingham, survived the blast unhurt.

After today's annual service, organised by the Western Front Association, he said: "Even without the medals it's great there is so much support.

"People in the military don't really ask for much but just to have the support of the crowds here, it means a lot more than anything else.

"As long as that public support is there, people will continue to serve their country."

He said although the focus of remembrance tended to be on the First and Second World Wars, it was important to think about troops currently on operations.

L/Cpl Croucher was joined for the ceremony by other members of the Victoria Cross and George Cross Association including 92-year-old Gurkha Lachhiman Gurung and Private Johnson Beharry.

A bugler from the Scots Guards sounded the Last Post to mark the start of the silence, during which the chimes of Big Ben could be heard.

After the bugler played the Reveille, children laid wreaths, along with representatives of the Western Front Association and other associations and military personnel.

Wearing a beret and the medals of relatives who lost their lives in war, seven-year-old Jonny Osborne, from New Southgate, north London, placed a cross with poppies at the monument which read: "Thank you, not forgetting."

Jonny was accompanied by his grandfather, Terry Burton, 67, who is president of the Association for Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Mr Burton, who lives in Georgia, US, returns to Britain for the event every year.

He said it was vital the younger generation learned about the sacrifices made by previous generations.

"There are so many countries that are still under oppression," he said. "It's important people understand what they have got and not take their freedom for granted."

Brother Nigel Cave, who led the prayers, said: "We remember with thanksgiving and sorrow those whose lives in world wars past and present have been given and taken away.

"We pray for all who through bereavement, disability and pain continue to suffer the consequences of fighting."

Accompanied by music by a piper from the London Scottish Regiment, the procession and guard of honour marched away from the Cenotaph at the end of the ceremony.