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The Queen paid tribute to the many thousands of UK military and civilians who served in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Gulf as a new memorial was unveiled on the banks of the Thames.

The Queen , prime minister, Duke of Edinburgh, Prince of Wales, Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince Harry and senior figures from the cabinet attended a military drumhead service on Thursday alongside 2,500 invited guests on Horse Guards Parade in Whitehall, London.

They were joined by former prime ministers Tony Blair, David Cameron and Sir John Major before the unveiling of sculptor Paul Day’s £1m memorial in nearby Victoria Embankment Gardens in the shadow of the Ministry of Defence (MoD).

Commemorating the twin themes of duty and service and featuring two large stone monoliths supporting a bronze medallion, the memorial will stand as a permanent reminder not just to members of the armed forces, but also to all British citizens who worked in areas such as aid distribution, education, healthcare, infrastructure and governance.

It honours the 680 military who died in the regions – a total of 456 during Operation Herrick, the MoD code name for the war in Afghanistan, 179 on Operation Telic, the deployment to Iraq in the US-led 2003 invasion, and 47 killed during the first Gulf war. There is a memorial to the lives lost at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire.

This new memorial bears no names and its design gives equal prominence to the military and civilians, with the double-sided medallion bearing images of doctors, schools, wells, and aid distribution.

Before the service some military widows criticised organisers for failing to inform them about the event or offer invites to all the bereaved families. The MoD, which said invitations had been handled by various charitable and support organisations, said at the eleventh hour arrangements would be made for any bereaved who wished to attend.

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