Secretary-General remembers Commonwealth soldiers who served in two World Wars

11 March 2024
Commonwealth Secretary-General lays a wreath at the Commonwealth Memorial Gates during Commonwealth Day

The Commonwealth Secretary-General, the Rt Hon Patricia Scotland KC, paid tribute to the five million soldiers from Commonwealth countries who fought in the First and Second World Wars.

She was attending the annual wreath-laying service at the Memorial Gates in London today. It was one of a series of events being organised to observe Commonwealth Day under this year’s theme, ‘One Resilient Common Future’.

During the ceremony, the Secretary-General joined veterans, members of the armed services, speakers from Commonwealth countries, high commissioners and other dignitaries in observing a two-minute silence to recognise the service of the soldiers.

Commonwealth wreath laying ceremony

She also laid a blue and yellow floral wreath – representing the colours of the Commonwealth flag – to honour men and women from Africa, the Caribbean and the Indian subcontinent who volunteered to serve with the British Armed Forces in the two World Wars.

After the ceremony, the Secretary-General said it was fitting to start Commonwealth Day celebrations by coming together to remember those whose service gave us our freedom and future.

She continued:

“It is such a profound privilege to stand here and reflect on their immeasurable contributions with gratitude.

“We are living through particularly turbulent times. May the bravery, selflessness and integrity of those Commonwealth servicemen and women continue to inspire us in the noble cause of peace. Let us be a living memorial to their service.”

This year marks the 80th anniversary of the Battles of Kohima and Imphal, which were crucial turning points in the attempted Japanese invasion of India during World War Two. The ceremony focused on remembering soldiers of the Fourteenth Army – also known as the ‘Forgotten Army’ – whose efforts led to victory against the Japanese.

Reflecting on their contributions, Lord Bilimoria CBE DL, Chairman of the Memorial Gates Council, said: “The sacrifice and bravery of those who fought in the battles of Imphal and Kohima will be an inspiration to us all forever.”

Pointing towards the memorial site, he added: “These gates are about remembering the horror of war, but most importantly, these gates are about peace, which is needed more than ever in our world today.”

Commonwealth Secretary-General at the Commonwealth Memorial Gates

The ceremony also honoured the late Baroness Shreela Flather, who served as the Life President and founder of the Council. The Baroness helped establish the Memorial Gates which were officially inaugurated in 2002.

“The role Baroness Flather played in establishing the Memorial Gates guarantees her legacy for generations to come,” said the Secretary-General. “Without her, the recognition and appreciation of the immense contributions which five million Commonwealth soldiers made to successive war efforts would not be so widely understood.”

Later today, as part of Commonwealth celebrations, the Secretary-General will attend a multi-faith service at Westminster Abbey and host an evening reception, where Her Majesty The Queen will meet with heads of state, government ministers, high commissioners and other dignitaries.  

Photos from the event are available on our Flickr gallery

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  • Snober Abbasi Senior Communications Officer, Media and Public Affairs, Commonwealth Secretariat

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