Every year, a week after the National Royal British Legion Remembrance Parade, the Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen and Women (AJEX) hold their Annual Remembrance Ceremony and Parade to the cenotaph.
I regularly attend the National Parade and was looking forward to helping out with AJEX at my first parade with them on Sunday. I arrived at Horse Guards Parade where a large number of marchers had already gathered and the JLGB (Jewish Lads and Girls Brigade), wearing their bright red cloaks, were practising their marching.
I found the AJEX van and the rest of the museum staff and watched as the marchers assembled and the Standard Bearers picked up their AJEX standards. In military organizations, the practice of carrying standards acts both as a rallying point for troops and to mark the location of the commander. Regimental flags are generally awarded to a regiment by a Head-of-State during a ceremony. They are therefore treated with reverence as they represented the honour and traditions of the regiment. Colours may be inscribed with the names of battles or other symbols representing former achievements.
Matt and I were given the job of handing out the order of ceremony to the crowds lining Whitehall. Most people in the crowd knew what the parade was for, but others had simply stumbled across it, with one asking ‘Is the Queen coming?’
After we’d handed out the order of ceremony we returned to the Foreign Office opposite the cenotaph to watch the parade.
This year the Hon Rear Admiral HRH Prince Michael of Kent was the Reviewing Officer. Here he is arriving at the Foreign Office.
The Central Band of the Royal Air Force began the proceedings by leading the parade up to the cenotaph.
The AJEX members then began to parade. Each branch of AJEX from around the country, as well as Jewish Veterans from France, Gibraltar and Israel, carried their standards ahead of the other marchers.
The parade is attended by ex-servicemen and women and their relatives. There were many people marching in memory of a relative wearing their medals on the right hand side. Seeing the ex-servicemen and women march through Whitehall always brings a tear to my eye. I feel so privileged to be able to watch them and the pride with which they march is clear to see, even on such a bitterly cold day.
Both Prince and Princess Michael of Kent inspected and chatted to the standard bearers and marchers before joining the wreath party next to the cenotaph.
The Ceremony of Remembrance was conducted by Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, Rabbi Reuben Livingstone, AJEX Chaplain and Padre to the AFJC and Rabbi Harry Jacobi. This was the most interesting part of the parade for me as it included many more prayers than that of the National parade, including the Memorial Prayer and the Mourner’s Kaddish which were read in Hebrew and English. The sound of Jewish prayer resonating around Whitehall was very moving.
The Wreath Party was led by Captain Adam Shindler, whose Desert Issue uniform from his service in Helmand Province in 2007, is on loan to the museum.
The wreaths used are in the shape of a Magen David (Star of David). Among the wreaths laid at the cenotaph, HRH Prince Michael of Kent laid the Special Wreath in memory of all Jewish Personnel who died in WWI and WWII and Lord Sterling of Plaistow laid the Special Wreath in memory of those who fell in the Arctic Convoys. National Chairman of AJEX, Jeffrey Fox, laid the Special Wreath in memory of those who fell in the Merchant Navy and the Special Wreath in memory of the Women who served in World War II was laid by Therese Shelley and Beryl Bean. Poppy posies were also laid in honour of relatives who served in the armed forces.
It is interesting to see the Magen David wreaths and the Royal British Legion wreaths laying side-by-side.
Once the parade had finished we went to the AJEX Annual Reunion Tea at 8 Northumberland Avenue. I helped to check the tickets of the attendees before we enjoyed a tea of salmon, fish balls and potato salad…
Following speeches by the National Chairman, Lord Sterling and Prince Michael of Kent, a special moment came when Leslie Sutton stepped down as National Standard Bearer after 20 years. An active member of the museum’s veteran speakers panel Leslie spoke fondly of his time as National Standard Bearer and passed on the honour to Jeffrey Jay.
I enjoyed my first AJEX Remembrance Ceremony and Parade and am proud to have been part of such an interesting and moving day.
The Museum team