by George Davis-Marks (Chorister at Portsmouth Cathedral Choir and Year 9 pupil)
At the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, the guns of the First World War fell silent as the various countries involved in the conflict agreed to an Armistice. To commemorate this event, the Royal British Legion holds a Festival of Remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall on the day before Remembrance Sunday, and this year, the Portsmouth Cathedral Choir, together with the Cantate Choir were honoured by being invited to sing there for the two services on the day.
So, on Friday 11 November, I and other members of the choir were given the afternoon off school and boarded a coach to go to London for rehearsals. I am not sure what was more exciting, time off school or going to London and playing Flappy Golf multiplayer with everyone on the coach! Even though it was just a rehearsal, I can remember thinking what an awesome place the Royal Albert Hall was and how exciting the event was going to be.
Back in Portsmouth, Saturday turned out to be very wet and windy, but I can truly say it didn’t dampen our spirits as once again we headed towards London for not one, but two Services – one at 2pm for the general public and a special one at 7pm in front of the Queen, to be televised on BBC1. If the rehearsal had been exciting, it was nothing compared with the actual performances and as we processed down the central aisle of the Hall, to take up our places right at the front of the stage behind the drums which made up a makeshift altar, I could feel the hairs on the back of my neck rising, though not all for the right reason. The right reason would be nervous, but I felt scared that I would faint, as one of the choristers managed to pass out during the rehearsal leaving us all apprehensive.
Nearby were famous people like Alfie Boe, Michael Ball and Alexander Armstrong. Right in front of us were ranks of sailors, soldiers and airmen of the three Services – the Royal Navy, the Army and the Royal Air Force. Behind us were musicians from the three Services, including some familiar faces from the Royal Marines Band that sometimes comes to Portsmouth Cathedral. Then there ahead and slightly to the left, in the Royal Box was the Queen and what looked like the entire Royal Family. Sadly I couldn’t see my namesake, Prince George, although to compensate, the person who plays evil George from Poldark was also on the stage (not all Georges are bad, though!).
The Hall fell silent as thousands of paper poppies fell from the ceiling and rained down on us. I had several laying on my head and my friend had one lodged on his ear! This was a very powerful moment as it represented those people who had given their lives during both World Wars and lots of conflicts since. As this ended, the President of the Royal British Legion spoke these words:
“When you go Home, tell them of us and say, For your Tomorrow, we gave our Today”
After we sang the National Anthem, it was all over and eventually we boarded our coach back to Portsmouth. We have done a lot of special things during my 6 years in the Choir, including singing in St Paul’s Cathedral, Westminster Abbey and at the Menin Gate Memorial during the 2014 Choir Tour, but I can honestly say that this beats them all. What an experience it was and if I go there again, I will say. “I’ve sung there in front of the Queen and the Royal Family.”