On a long-ago Remembrance Sunday, it fell to me, as a new service equerry, to present the Prince of Wales with his wreath to lay at the Cenotaph. The fact that the Cenotaph in question was in Hong Kong — still a British Crown Colony at the time — gives the memory a sepia tint. Adding to the retro imperial theme, His Excellency the Governor wore full dress uniform, complete with pith helmet and ostrich feather. As I waited nervously to play my walk-on part, I had time to realise how lucky I was to witness such vanishing theatre.
The rest of Hong Kong cheerfully went about its business while we performed our solemn rite. Yet any locals who paused to watch the immaculate little ceremony couldn’t have guessed that a tetchy protocol impasse had only narrowly been averted. In the absence of the Queen, the first wreath would normally be laid by her representative, the Governor. But the Prince’s advisors argued that since he was present in person and surely the next best thing to the sovereign herself, he should take precedence. As I recall, after a rather tense phone conversation with Buckingham Palace, a ruling was handed down. The Prince’s wreath — though laid with consummate dignity — was laid after the Governor’s.
So to this Remembrance Sunday, from which Her Majesty’s absence inevitably stirred anxious speculation about her health. Only six times in her reign has she missed the sacred act of tribute to the Glorious Dead, and then only because she was either pregnant or overseas on tour. We’re told the reason is unconnected with her recent period of enforced rest but such assurances give only chilly comfort. We hope in our hearts she’ll be back next year.