Remembrance ceremonies

A wreath laid in Sheffield by Defence Humanists and Sheffield Humanist Society.

We campaign for public civic ceremonies to be equally inclusive of those of all religions and beliefs.

While we are pleased that Humanists UK is now represented at the annual Remembrance Ceremony at the Cenotaph in Westminster, we recognise that there is still a long way to go to ensure that all civic ceremonies across the UK are secular and fully inclusive occasions for all.

Humanists UK and Defence Humanists have been working to achieve this through the For All Who Serve campaign.

In depth

For decades we have been speaking out in support of inclusive Remembrance ceremonies, but our efforts have intensified since the establishment of Defence Humanists in 2010. We have worked with them through the annual For All Who Serve campaign which most recently succeeded to ensure the inclusion of a humanist representative at the National Remembrance Day Ceremony at the Cenotaph in Whitehall.

Figures from October 2022 indicate that over 35% of serving members of the Armed Forces described themselves as having ‘no religion’ – the largest group after Christianity, which has seen continuous decline since records began. The non-religious number is more than 14 times all the non-Christian religions combined, including Hindus, Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, and Buddhists

It is therefore vital that the contribution of non-religious personnel to the armed forces is recognised.

Beyond Westminster, we’ve been working in towns and cities across the UK, in partnership with local humanist and Royal British Legion groups, towards more inclusive ceremonies. Here we have also seen encouraging openness to inclusion.

What we’re doing

Our work leading the campaign towards inclusive Remembrance ceremonies includes:

  • In 2010 we welcomed the decision that humanist representatives could lay wreaths in Edinburgh and Belfast; but our request for participation in Whitehall was at that time rejected on the grounds of ‘limited space at the Cenotaph’ and a need to receive permission from the Royal Household. Our request was again rejected in 2011.
  • In 2012 we launched the For All Who Serve campaign with Defence Humanists, in order to amplify our call, and the family of Major Sidney Excell, the committed humanist who arrested Heimlich Himmler, spoke out in support.
  • In 2013 we worked with Dan Snow to raise the issue and together we have continued to speak out since and put pressure on the responsible bodies. And in 2015, the Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life – of which our Chief Executive was a Commissioner – recommended that ‘The pluralist character of modern society should be reflected in national and civic events so that they are more reflective of the UK’s increasing diversity’.
  • In 2016 Defence Humanists held their first Remembrance Ceremony. This was followed in November 2017 by the second annual Remembrance Ceremony which was held in Fitzrovia Chapel.
  • In 2018 together with Defence Humanists, we succeeded to gain humanist representation for the very first time at the annual Remembrance Ceremony at the Cenotaph in Westminster.

Looking forward, we will continue our campaign to ensure that all Remembrance ceremonies are secular and inclusive to all.

Defence Humanists have also taken part in a number of other remembrance ceremonies – both those on Remembrance Sunday, and others like the International Day of UN Peacekeepers, International Conscientious Objector’s Day, World Humanitarian Day, and at national remembrance ceremonies in Belgium, supported by the Belgian Government.

Get involved

To participate in your local Remembrance ceremony, we recommend contacting your local humanist group to see what resources they have available.

You can also support Humanists UK by becoming a member. That helps in itself, and you can help even more by supporting our campaigns in the ways suggested above. But campaigns also cost money – quite a lot of money – and we also need financial support. You can make a donation to Humanists UK.