An anti-war message silently wound its way up the river Thames yesterday as conceptual art found its way into Remembrance Sunday commemorations.
Veterans from the Second World War to the Gulf War were used to pass on the words: "War turns us to stone. In remembrance we shine and rise to new days," through semaphore, a flag signalling system.
Beginning at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, south-east London, the signalmen communicated the words on an eight-mile journey along the Thames towards Admiralty Arch in Trafalgar Square, before being passed down Whitehall and decoded at the Cenotaph, where the message was laid on a wreath.
The artist responsible for the National Maritime Museum project, Beth Derbyshire, said she was motivated by a desire to allow the voiceless in society to be heard.
But as the signalmen did not know what the message would be until the moment it was passed to them during yesterday's ceremony, she was also wary about imposing her own beliefs on others.
"I was very conscious of that," she said. "I was reticent to speak for these people who have lived through war, and kept thinking 'who am I to speak about war?'".
For Roy Dudleston, the only active serviceman taking part, a veteran of the Gulf War who is now based at HMS Collingwood, the silence gave the ceremony a particular salience.
"It gave you the chance to think, 'what does this mean to me?' I will always remember standing for the two-minute silence while my brother was in the Falklands, not knowing whether he was going to come back. This is what families are going through now. It means different things for different people, but the silence gives you the space for that."
Harry Farmer, a former chief signalman who fought on the battleship Duke of York during the Second World War, and at 81, the oldest member to take part, said: "It's so important that this day is not just a ceremony. It's got to mean something. So many of our youngsters today don't know the history of war. We've got to make it relevant for them."
More than 8,000 veterans marched to the Cenotaph to pay tribute to the servicemen and women who have died in conflicts from the First World War to the present day.
A two-minute silence was observed on the first stroke of 11 from Big Ben and after the sounding of the Last Post, the Queen lay a wreath of poppies against the monument, followed by other members of the Royal Family.
Wreaths were also laid by Tony Blair and leaders of other main parties, including the Conservative leader, Michael Howard, the Liberal Democrat leader, Charles Kennedy, and the Democratic Unionist leader, the Rev Ian Paisley.Reuse content