Jasleen Singh takes part in Service of Thanksgiving at Westminster Abbey

We were incredibly proud of Jasleen and Becki, two Never Such Innocence poetry competition winners who were selected by the Department for Culture to take part in the Service of Thanksgiving at Westminster Abbey on Sunday 11th November 2018. The two winners were asked to read a prayer during the Service, in the presence of Her Majesty The Queen and His Excellency Frank-Walter Steinmeier, President of The Federal Republic of Germany.
Here is Jasleen’s account of the experience….

Jasleen speaking with the BBC at Westminster Abbey Credit: Dean and Chapter of Westminster

Jasleen speaking with the BBC at Westminster Abbey
Credit: Dean and Chapter of Westminster

Earlier this year, I was lucky enough to attend the Never Such Innocence Awards Ceremony in the Guards’ Chapel, Wellington Barracks, as my poem won first place in the age 11-14 poetry category. Following this fantastic event, Never Such Innocence emailed all the winners from the four years the competition has been running and invited us to the NSI Centenary Finale at Buckingham Palace. This was a fantastic and truly memorable experience. It was my first time inside the Palace and it is such a stunning building. As I had been asked to read my poem at the Ceremony, I arrived a few hours before the event was due to start. Upon arrival we were directed to the South Drawing Room, where all the winners who were performing were able to practice and take in the amazing views from the windows. The event itself was held in the magnificent Ballroom, it was ornately decorated with red, white and gold. After the performers had a rehearsal, the guests began to arrive as the RAF Salon Orchestra played the theme tunes from many popular films. We were also treated to the Marine Drum Corps and the band of the Scots Guards as part of the celebration. It was a fantastic experience to be able to read my poem in front of all the past winners and dignitaries.  The whole event had such a memorable atmosphere and it was inspiring to see the contributions of young people through poetry, art and song to remembering the centenary of World War One. A huge thank you must go to Never Such Innocence for organising the event and making sure it ran smoothly and was the enjoyable event it was.

Jasleen reading a prayer at Westminster Abbey, live on the BBC

Jasleen reading a prayer at Westminster Abbey, live on the BBC

On Sunday 11th November I was privileged enough to read a prayer at the National Service of Thanksgiving to mark the Centenary of the Armistice at Westminster Abbey. This was because Never Such innocence passed my name on to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport as someone who had made a significant contribution to the Centenary of World War One. This meant attending a rehearsal on Saturday 10th where we had a run through of our parts for the Service. We were also able to explore the Abbey which is incredibly rich in history. We were able to see the graves of many famous people such as Charles Darwin and Isaac Newton. We also saw the fresh flowers being carefully arranged around the grave of the Unknown Soldier in preparation for the Queen and the German President to lay wreaths there to mark the centenary. It was amazing to see the architecture, the stained glass windows and the elaborate memorials to famous figures throughout history.

I was also able to have a practice interview with the BBC about my personal connection to World War One. My poem titled 'The Indian Soldier' was inspired by my family history. My great great great grandfather Lehna Singh was a highly decorated soldier, as was his son Labh Singh and then it was his son Jagat Singh who fought in the First World War when he was just 17 years old and survived. The BBC wanted to capture my personal connection so I was interviewed about this, and the interview was aired as part of the ceremony on BBC One. I am incredibly proud of my family heritage and it was such an amazing experience to be able to share this on live TV. It was also fantastic to see behind the scenes of how they film the service and all the technology involved in capturing the ceremony.

Honorary Captain Subedar Major Sardar Lehna Singh, Sardar Bahadur, O.B.I. 1st Class, I.O.M. (1825–1916)

Honorary Captain Subedar Major Sardar Lehna Singh, Sardar Bahadur, O.B.I. 1st Class, I.O.M. (1825–1916)

The ceremony itself was so special and it had such a deep feeling of remembrance. The service featured readings from the Dean of Westminster Abbey as well as Theresa May, Prince Charles and the President of the Federal Republic of Germany, Frank-Walter Steinmeier. It was amazing to see the Royal Family and other important Members of Parliament. It was such an incredible experience as we were sitting only a few rows from the front so we had a perfect view of the podium where the readings were given. When it was my turn to read, it was a truly exhilarating moment. I could see the Queen was only about 10 feet away from me and I could see the Royals as well as the Prime Minister and other Members of Parliament. I took in that moment and read my prayer with conviction that I hope did justice to all the brave soldiers we were gathered to remember. We then read the Lord's Prayer together and the Prayer readers exited. I couldn't quite comprehend what I had done until I watched the Service back afterwards and I saw myself on TV and it was really interesting to see what I looked like to the millions of people watching at home. The prayer readers then sat down while a hymn was being sung. At the end we all sang 'God Save The Queen' while Her Majesty exited followed by other members of the Royal Family. After the ceremony, I received many congratulations from audience members which was lovely. We then were able to take in the beauty of the Abbey again as we made our way outside. It was beautiful to see the Abbey lit from the outside and take in the beautiful ambience of London on our way back. I am honoured to have been given the opportunity to take part in such an historic event.

by Jasleen Singh

Jasleen’s poem ‘The Indian Soldier’, along with all of the winning poems and artwork from the 2017-18 competition, can be viewed here.