The Cenotaph was unveiled by King George V on 11 November 1920, the second anniversary of the Armistice with Germany which ended the First World War. The ceremony was part of a larger procession bringing the Unknown Warrior to his tomb nearby in Westminster Abbey. The funeral procession route passed the Cenotaph, where the waiting King laid a wreath on the Unknown Warrior’s gun-carriage before proceeding to unveil the memorial which was draped in large Union Flags.
During WW2, the National Service was moved from Armistice Day ito the preceding Sunday to minimise any loss of wartime production. In 1945, 11 November fell on a Sunday but in 1946, following a national debate, the government announced that the Cenotaph ceremony would henceforward on take place on Remembrance Sunday.
The ceremony begins at precisely 10:36 a.m. with a programme of music known as “the Traditional Music”, beginning with “Rule Britannia!” which has remained largely unchanged since 1930.This comprises a selection of National Airs and solemn music representing the four nations of the United Kingdom performed by the massed bands of the Household Division with Pipes and Drums from the Highlanders 4th Battalion Royal Regiment of Scotland. The massed band represents the four nations; the Gren-adier Guards, the Coldstream Guards, the Scots Guards and the Irish Guards. As the band plays “Dido’s Lament” by Henry Purcell, the clergy and the choir of the Chapel Royal process. The service is led by the Dean of the Chapels Royal, usually the Bishop of London. During Solemn Melody by Henry Walford Davies, politicians, high commissioners and religious leaders from many faiths assemble, joined by humanists representing the non-religious. The parade stands to attention in silence as the Royal Family emerge.
As Big Ben strikes 11 a.m., the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery fire a single shot salute from First World War guns on Horse Guards Parade. Two minutes’ silence is then observed. The silence represents the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, when the guns of Europe fell silent. This silence is ended by Gunners of the Royal Horse Artillery firing a gun salute, then Royal Marines buglers sound The Last Post.
The first wreath is traditionally laid on behalf of the nation by His Majesty the King, followed by other members of the Royal Family.
Wreaths are then laid by senior members of the royal family. Other members of the Royal Family watch the ceremony from the Foreign Office balcony.
The Massed Band plays Beethoven’s Funeral March No.1″ as wreaths are laid by the Prime Minister on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government and other Commonwealth leaders . the Leader of the Opposition, then leaders of major political parties; the Speaker of the House of Commons and the Lord Speaker; the Foreign Secretary; the Home Secretary (in 2019); Commonwealth High Commissioners, plus former liv-ing UK prime ministers and the ambassadors of Ireland and Nepal.