UK

First World War Commemorated In Moving Ceremony At Westminster Abbey

04/08/2014 23:39 BST | Updated 04/08/2014 23:59 BST

The Duchess of Cornwall joined senior politicians tonight for a service of solemn commemoration at Westminster Abbey. Key figures present included Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, former foreign secretary William Hague, Labour leader Ed Miliband and Metropolitan Police commander Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe. Mr Clegg said: "Sixteen million people perished in World War One. It's an almost unimaginable number of people who died in a war which still shapes the world as it is today." The service included the gradual extinguishing of candles, with an oil lamp snuffed out at the grave of the unknown warrior at 11pm - the exact hour war was declared.

In the same hour, the nation had been urged to switch off lights in places of worship, public buildings, workplaces and homes, and leave one light burning as a symbol of hope in darkness. The project was a reference to then-foreign secretary Sir Edward Grey's famous remark on the eve of the outbreak of war, when he said: "The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime."

In a foreword to the service, the Dean of Westminster Abbey, the Very Rev Dr John Hall, said it aimed to focus attention on the last moment of peace before Britain declared war on Germany. He wrote: "The bloody conflagration lay ahead; tonight we catch glimpses of people's anticipation of what was to come. But we also have an opportunity to reflect on the attitudes of those preparing for war: some, frankly, relished the prospect; others dreaded it. Most were stumbling into the darkness, increasingly bound by the chains of their own and others' making, their hope of avoiding war ever fading."

The Duchess, along with the remainder of the 1,700-strong congregation, carried a lighted candle.

Actor David Morrissey read from war poet Wilfred Owen, and Defence Secretary Michael Fallon gave a reading from the Bible, from Joel 2. Able Seaman Kam Clarke extinguished the first candle, followed by all those seated in the North Transept, then actor Rachel Stirling read On Receiving News Of The War by Isaac Rosenberg. Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, said a prayer, and as candles in the historic Abbey continued to be extinguished, there were readings from actors Dame Penelope Keith, Pippa Bennett-Warner and Mark Gatiss.

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