The ‘RSL Salute’

In London on Armistice Day 1920, during the ceremony to unveil and dedicate the Cenotaph in Whitehall, a funeral procession accompanying the remains of The Unknown Soldier, which had arrived from France the previous day, was to halt at the Cenotaph during the ceremony before proceeding to Westminster Abbey for interment.

The official party included the Empire’s senior soldiers, sailors and politicians and as many Victoria Cross winners as could be assembled.  The ceremony concluded with a march past.  The Regimental Sergeant Major of the Guards Regiment conducting the ceremony, faced with a gathering of highly decorated and high ranking military men (including the Victoria Cross winners), all wearing rows of medals, decreed that all would salute the Cenotaph as they marched past by placing their hand over their medals, signifying that “No matter what honours we may have been awarded they are as nothing compared with the honour due to those who paid the supreme sacrifice“.

The RSL maintains that tradition to honour the dead by placing the right hand over medals (not our heart, our medals) during a march-past at a ceremonial occasion, or at a wreath laying ceremony.


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