Queen Elizabeth II is to unveil a national memorial honouring the service of the Armed Forces and civilians during the Gulf War and conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan today (9 March), amid claims that families of the bereaved have been snubbed from the major event.
The ceremony, held in central London, will be attended by British Prime Minister Theresa May, the Duke of Edinburgh, the Prince of Wales, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince Harry and senior figures from the Cabinet.
Among the 2,500 invited guests are also representatives of veterans, serving military, bereaved families, charity workers, civil servants and politicians who will attend a military Drumhead Service on Horse Guards Parade in Whitehall.
But despite the high-profile attendees, the event has been overshadowed by a row over the failure to include the families of the 682 service personnel who lost their lives in the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts.
The BBC reports that one widow of a soldier killed in Afghanistan claimed they had been snubbed, while another called the decision completely crass. Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron also said that the prime minister should apologise for what he called a careless oversight.
May claims that charities and groups representing the bereaved had been asked to put forward names of attendees, but the chairman of the War Widows Association, Irene Willis, told the BBC that while she had been invited, she had not been asked to nominate others. Willis said that the Ministry of Defence should have contacted all the families involved directly.
A total of 456 British personnel and MoD civilians died while serving in Afghanistan, while 179 died in the Iraq conflict. According to figures from the Ministry of Defence, 47 people died in the Gulf War.
The memorial unveiling will be followed by an unveiling ceremony of sculptor Paul Day's memorial in nearby Victoria Embankment Gardens in the shadow of the Ministry of Defence building. The artist also designed the nearby Battle of Britain Monument as well as The Meeting Place – a large bronze statue of a couple embracing at St Pancras railway station in Kings Cross, London.
The focus of the memorial is not the fallen and will bear no names, but instead, commemorates the duty and service of those who put themselves in danger to protect the nation's interests far from the UK. It is for individuals who helped those at risk or worked to improve the lives of people in the Gulf region, Iraq and Afghanistan from 1990 to 2015.
Lord Stirrup – chairman of the memorial project's board of trustees – was head of the Armed Forces as chief of defence from 2006-10. He said: "Literally hundreds of thousands of British military personnel and UK civilian citizens served this country in all sorts of various ways in support of those campaigns and we felt that it was extremely important that the way they had conducted themselves, carried out their duties and the service they had given to the nation was honoured and commemorated.
"So the memorial is exactly that, it's to commemorate duty and service, it's not about the campaigns themselves per se, it's about those principles which are important in any civilised society and have always been an integral part of who and what we regard ourselves to be as a nation. We wanted to acknowledge the contribution of the many who had served," he added.