As the choir's voices resounded around St Paul's Cathedral yesterday, a mother gently placed a hand on her sobbing son's back.
Amid the pomp and the continuing questions about the validity of going to war, Edward Malone's grief provided a reminder of the personal cost of the conflict.
His 28-year-old brother, Lance Corporal Ian Malone, of the 1st Battalion Irish Guards, was killed in action in Basra three days before the fall of Baghdad.
Yesterday his family and the families of 50 other soldiers and one civilian contractor, sat amid a sea of uniforms at a service of remembrance. The Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh, the Prince of Wales, the Duke of York, the Earl and Countess of Wessex and the Princess Royal were among 14 members of the Royal Family who joined Tony Blair, government representatives, military chiefs and diplomats at the multi-faith service attended by 2,000 people yesterday.
Keen to steer away from any sense of triumphalism, the Ministry of Defence vetoed a Falklands style victory parade in favour of a service to remember the Iraqi people as well as those Britain lost.
There was no guard of honour, the act of remembrance took into account Iraqi military and civilian dead as well as our own and the only mention of victory could be found in the closing national anthem. Among those representing numerous faiths was Ghanom Jawad, of the Al-Khoei Foundation, whose Shia cleric father was killed in Iraq recently.
Speaking before the service, the Dean of St Paul's, the Very Rev Dr John Moses, said: "I don't believe in today's world we can have a national service behaving like little Brits. We live in an increasingly fragile world and if we are not sensitive to other traditions, other experiences and other faiths, we are sowing the seeds of greater disharmony in the future." He said the idea for the service had been the Government's but added that some people doubted the propriety of the timing while conflict still rages in Iraq. "The backcloth to the service is that the nation was deeply divided over going to war and peace has not been won," he said.
During the service, Dr Moses also remembered those still serving in the Gulf. "We ask for a new understanding, a new resolve, a new obedience to the law of love. We pray for peace," he said.
"And we pray in particular for Iraq, and for all who work in the face of great danger day by day to establish peace and security and the well being of all its people."
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams - an outspoken critic of war - said in a message which could have been directed at Mr Blair, sitting with John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary, and other ministers: "We have made ourselves accountable for peace and justice in Iraq, and leaders and people alike will indeed be called to account for it."
For some of the relatives, the presence of the Prime Minister was a sore point. Two sets of families chose to boycott the event.
Gordon Evans, who lost his 24-year-old son, Lance Bombardier Llywelyn Evans, said: "He did die in vain and the reason I don't want Mr Blair there today is because if it was not for him ... there would not be a memorial service because the troops would never have gone out in the first place." Others went further, one man shouting "You bastard" as Mr Blair left the service. The man was later escorted away.
The sounding of Last Post proved too much for many. Even the smallest child stopped fidgeting and kept quiet as the two-minute silence filled the cathedral. A small girl clung to her mother's leg as she looked up in confusion at her weeping face.
Emerging from the service, Peter Brierley, who lost his son Shaun, a member of 212 Signal Squadron, said: "It was very moving. I have never experienced anything like that before in my life.
"The important thing for us is the act of remembrance, Last Post, the silence, the reveille," Colonel Paul Brook said.
He explained that the service was for those who had served during the period of war, adding: "Six months from the end of their war, it is appropriate to look back, to reflect, to remember, to bring together and try in an appropriate way to mark those sacrifices and those achievements, and that is why this service is so important."Reuse content