Princess Anne pays tribute to National Service veterans

‘We owe them a huge debt of gratitude’ Princess Anne pays tribute to National Service veterans at war memorial in Staffordshire

  • Princess Anne, 72, looked solemn at the event in Alrewas, Staffordshire today
  • READ MORE: Princess Anne kicks off another day of Coronation events

Princess Anne cut a solemn figure today as she took part in a ceremony of remembrance for National Service veterans. 

The royal, 72, visited the National Memorial Arboretum in Alrewas, Staffordshire this afternoon to commemorate ex-servicemen. 

The National Service was introduced as a form of peacetime conscription for British men after WWII and was demobilised in 1960, with the last servicemen discharged in 1963. 

60 years on, Princess Anne paid her respect during a ceremony today, where she addressed the crowds and laid a wreath at the Armed Forces Memorial to commemorate the 395 National Servicemen killed on active duty from 1947-1963.

The event was the culmination of the national ‘Ask Dad’ and ‘Ask Grandad’ campaigns by the Royal British Legion to find the ‘unsung heroes’ of National Service. 

Princess Anne, 72, took part in a ceremony at the National Memorial Arboretum in Alrewas, Staffordshire this afternoon to commemorate those who took part in the National Service from 1949 to 1963

In her speech to the crowd assembled at the Remembrance event, the Princess Royal said National Service conscripts ‘understood all too well the price of freedom’

For the occasion, the King’s sister wore a forest green dress and a white blazer. 

She accessorised her outfit with a black leather across body bag, leather heels and some black gloves. 

Her hair was pinned into an elegant updo, and Anne wore discreet jewellery for the occasion, donning a pair of small drop earrings and two golden brooches on the lapel of her jacket. 

She finished off her look with a dash of mascara and some bright red lipstick. 

Anne paid her respects today as she laid the wreath at the Arboretum, before bowing her head as a sign of respect and quiet reflection. 

In her speech, the Princess Royal said National Service conscripts ‘understood all too well the price of freedom and shouldered that burden on our behalf’.

Princess Anne added: ‘This nation owes all of them a huge debt of gratitude.

‘Some thrived, others endured, but all were called upon to give up some of their time for this country and they did just that.

The Princess royal carried the wreath to the National monument during the emotional ceremony 

Anne, dressed in an elegant forest green dress and white blaser, gently put down the wreath this afternoon 

The royal addressed the crowds who had come to mark the 60th anniversary of the end of the National Service 

‘As the mists of the Second World War cleared and Britain tried to forge a new future, these men were stationed across the globe and also here at home. 

‘Some saw active duty while others did not. But they understood all too well the price of freedom and shouldered that burden on our behalf.

‘All were prepared to step forward and serve our country when we needed them. We recognise that this nation owes all of them a huge debt of gratitude for that service.

‘If I may, on behalf of the entire country, take this opportunity to thank them all.’

National Service saw more than two million men aged between 17 and 21 conscripted. 

Hundreds of thousands of servicemen are estimated to still be alive, aged between 80 and 97.

Members of the Armed Forces all took part in the ceremony and laid wreath to pay their respects 

The actor Robert Powell also took part in today’s solemn event and addressed the crowd as well 

Conscripts had to serve for 18 months, which was extended to two years during the Korean War, before becoming a reserve for four years.

An average of 150,000 men were conscripted every year, but some were exempted due to their professions.

While many served in the UK, tens of thousands were stationed worldwide, including in Iraq, Korea, Egypt, India and Germany.

Conscripts experienced frontline combat in conflicts including the Suez Crisis, and the wars in Korea and Malaya.

The RBL says it was not unusual for demobbed servicemen to immediately return to their job they left two years earlier, which was legally required to be kept open for them.

Anne was joined by members of the Armed Forces and other officials for today’s event in Staffordshire 

Many decorated veterans could be seen standing behind Anne, who was wearing civilian clothing

Members of the armed forces proudly wearing their uniforms walked in a line to lay down their respective wreaths

After the Princess Royal laid down her wreath, the representative of the Armed Forces laid down theirs in groups of three

An official in civilian clothes is pictured laying down their own wreath during today’s ceremony of remembrance 

Peter Backlog, 86, signed up for National Service aged 18 in 1955 and ‘really enjoyed it’, before joining the Royal Marines Reserves, leaving as a Major in 1983.

He said: ‘Once a Marine, always a Marine. I think it taught us to never give up, and that takes you right through civilian life.

‘It also teaches you timing. Never be late, never be early, so I annoy my grandchildren by being furious if they’re more than five minutes late or five minutes early.’

During his service, Mr Backlog, who now lives in Fareham, Hampshire, fought in the Suez Crisis as part of Operation Musketeer and received the Naval General Service Medal.

But he did not believe it would ever return, adding: ‘It became normal to do National Service. Nowadays, without National Service, would it come back? No.

‘I don’t think the ‘snowflake’ generation would put up with it, and nor should they.

‘What’s the point in training people to shoot other people, unwillingly? It wouldn’t work.’

Members of the public watched a Flypast launched to mark today’s commemorative event, which included a spitfire plane 

Veterans and other officials excitedly waited for today’s ceremony to get underway in Alrewas today

Mr Backlog met Ray Harrington, 87, in 1962 while training for the Special Boat Service – the special forces unit of the Royal Navy – and the pair have remained friends ever since, continuing to meet up.

They also completed their jungle warfare training with Paddy Ashdown – who went on to become the leader of the Liberal Democrats – in Malaysia.

Mr Harrington, from Flint Mountain in North Wales but originally from Liverpool, served in Germany after starting his National Service in 1953 and stayed in the military as a reservist for a further 37 years.

He said: ‘National Service is completely forgotten. The majority of people don’t even know what National Service was.

‘When you went on National Service, it changed your life completely, because you had regimental restrictions on you and you did what you were told.’

The service, led by the actor Robert Powell, included readings, performances from a choir and buglers and films, followed by a rendition of The Exhortation and the Last Post and a two-minute silence, before a Spitfire flypast.

Philippa Rawlinson, director of remembrance at the RBL, said: ‘We are proud to be recognising this unique generation of today – men who were called away from their everyday lives, their jobs, their families, their partners, to do something extraordinary and serve their country.

‘This event at the National Memorial Arboretum acknowledges the service, bravery and sacrifice of the two million men who were conscripted into National Service.

‘Many of the men who completed National Service played down the fact that they served their country and haven’t really talked about it in the years that have passed.

‘Today will give them the opportunity to share their memories, meet others with similar experiences, remember the fallen and for all of us to mark an important moment in history.’

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