Today is Remembrance Sunday. Unfortunately this is not the first – nor will it be the last time – when I start by marking a special day or event in our calendar by saying, it “looks very different to what we’re used to”.
There will be no crowds gathering in churches, at war memorials or gardens of Remembrance across Wales to pay their respects to the generations of men and women who have served their country. Yet, they will not be forgotten.
The cruellest aspect of this pandemic is that because the virus thrives on everyday human contact, we’ve had to minimise so much of the contact we all have with each other. A far smaller number of people will attend this year’s Remembrance services in person: they will attend on behalf of us all. But, despite the challenges posed by the virus, we remain committed in our honour.
The footsteps of serving personnel and veterans marching in unison will not be as loud this year; but Wales will once again be united in its appreciation of the incredible sacrifices, which have been made.
For the first time, the National Service of Remembrance at the National War Memorial in Cardiff will be broadcast live online and can be watched from home. I will have the great honour of laying a wreath at the ceremony on behalf of everyone in Wales.
Race Council Cymru will also hold a ceremony to honour the rich contribution, which has sometimes been overlooked in our national celebrations, by all the Black, Asian and ethnic minority service personnel.
I was delighted to take part in the virtual Welsh Festival of Remembrance, which was held by the Royal British Legion online on 31 October. Other invite-only and small-scale events will take place across Wales with many local communities hosting online events, online commemorations, and virtual Remembrance festivals.
This year has been a year of significant milestones. In May and August, we commemorated the 75th anniversaries of VE and VJ days. Both of these nationally important events were affected by the pandemic. However, harnessing the spirit of that generation who came through the Second World War, we gave thanks for what they did abroad and on the home front.
As I spoke to some of the veterans via telephone and video calls, I was struck by the amazing contributions people from Wales made to that national effort. Edna Leon, from Wrexham served as a chef, keeping the war effort going; Walford Hughes, from Aberystwyth, served in the Far East campaign and supported the Burma Star Association long after his service; and Gordon Prime from Pembroke Dock, was a motorcycle dispatch rider. They are the epitome of ‘service not self’.
Today is an opportunity to reflect on the contribution our Armed Forces continue to make. During this pandemic, many have used their skills and expertise to support our NHS and local services. Serving personnel have driven ambulances and delivered PPE, built field hospitals and supported paramedics – we are indebted to them and all our critical workers for helping to Keep Wales Safe.
Other servicemen and women have been deployed overseas – as they are every year – supporting communities in peacekeeping roles or providing security and training. Service life means families can be separated for long periods of time. This year especially, that will have caused added worry and stress as the world lives under the strains of coronavirus. Today we stand with them, too.
At a time when everyone in Wales is being asked to make sacrifices, we remember the generations before us who made their sacrifices for us to live our lives the way we do today. We also remember their dedication to the collective cause.
These are difficult times for us all. Coronavirus casts a long shadow over all of our lives; no more so than on those who have suffered the loss of a loved one this year.
As we today remember all those who served and all those who made the ultimate sacrifice, let us also reflect on the huge sacrifices which so many people across Wales have made and continue to make, as we work together to keep Wales safe.