The Cenotaph is enclosed in a square formed by detachments from branches of the Fighting Services, a contingent from civilian services vital in times of war and a large body of ex-servicemen and women. Wreaths are laid by the Queen, and other Royal Family members, the Prime Minister, leaders of major political parties, the Foreign Secretary, the Commonwealth High Commissioners and representatives from the Army, Navy, Royal Air Force, Merchant Navy and Fishing Fleets and the Civilian Services.
A two-minute silence is held at 11 am. This silence is marked by the firing of a field gun on Horse Guards Parade to begin and end the silence, followed by buglers sounding The Last Post.
The Cenotaph was first prepared as a temporary wood and plaster structure for use as a saluting base in Whitehall during the First World War Victory Parade, held on 19 July 1919. The immediate and overwhelming public acclaim for this hurriedly prepared design of Edwin Lutyens afforded the Government a ready solution to the potential problem of providing a suitable national memorial to the war dead. A swift decision was taken to re-erect the Cenotaph in a permanent form on the same site.
The unveiling of the stone structure on 11 November 1920 was combined with a ceremony to mark the passing of the body of the Unknown Warrior for re-burial in Westminster Abbey.
The first of the annual ceremonies of remembrance took place at the Cenotaph on the same date the following year. The Household Cavalry and one of the Foot Guards Battalions provide a small dismounted marching contingent. The Household Cavalry leads the three Services on to parade.