First World War (Commemoration)

Part of Bill Presented – in the House of Commons at 3:33 pm on 26th June 2014.

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Photo of Damian Collins Damian Collins Conservative, Folkestone and Hythe 3:33 pm, 26th June 2014

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. I was about to mention Never Such Innocence. The charity, which has been working closely with Australia house, has done a fantastic project of work this year, and I hope that it continues. I know that, like me, Dan Jarvis is also a supporter of the charity. I am grateful that the charity made a contribution to the Step Short project in Folkestone, and that it provided support to military charities such as Combat Stress.

It is interesting to note that Combat Stress marks its own centenary in 2019. It was formed to deal with the unique challenges, injuries and needs of people coming back from the war. It was only after the first world war that we really understood the nature of stress—mental stress from the battlefield—and the fact that it required special treatment. Combat Stress is a very relevant and important charity in its own right, and it is significant that it should be linked to the good work of Never Such Innocence.

I also want to underline the role of the Commonwealth in the war effort, especially that of the Anzac troops. Anzac day is marked now in increasingly growing numbers in this country as well as around the world and is of huge significance and importance to the history of the Commonwealth as well as to Australia and New Zealand.

I want to come back to the point about how there was this sense during the war of us all being in it together. The lesson of the war was that we need a strong society, and that to function properly there should be rewards and benefits for the whole of society coming out of that war. We also learned that the ability of a nation to fight wars in the future would depend on the strength not just of the armed forces, but of the whole country, and that our duties and responsibilities lie beyond our shores. We should fight not just wars of defence but wars to uphold the values of democracy and freedom that we have in our country. We went to war not just to defend ourselves but to liberate other people from oppression. There can be no nobler cause than that.

The first world war changed the whole of this country; it changed society. Anyone who had lived in the 20 years before the war would not have seen a huge amount of change before 1914. If they had come back to this country 20 years after the war had ended, they would have noticed that society had changed for ever. That is why these centenaries are so important. It is to remember that period of change.

Finally, I thank the Minister and the Government for the support they have given to the Step Short project. I also thank the Ministry of Defence, which is providing parading soldiers and the band of the Brigade of Gurkhas for the commemorations in Folkestone on 4 August. Soldiers will march through the memorial arch in the steps of the soldiers who went to war. It is right that the armed forces should be involved in the commemoration of the war. We are in no way seeking to make this a military occasion or to glorify war; we just want to remember that it is the servicemen who made the sacrifice and got on the ships to go and fight, and they did so in the service of their country and in the service of others. It is right that they should be involved in the commemorations that day.

I am also grateful for the support of Shepway district council and Kent county council, who provided financial support for the project. More than half of the money that has been raised by Step Short has been given as private donations. Private organisations have raised money. It is right that local authorities should support heritage projects in their areas, but also that we should seek broader support. It is right to recognise that the greater part of the support that we have received has come from other sources.

I thank the property company Lend Lease, which has provided its services for free to build the memorial arch in Folkestone. They have given a dedicated team to project manage it. That is an enormous contribution on its part. The company exemplifies the point made by my hon. Friend Neil Carmichael that this is a Commonwealth effort. Lend Lease is based in Australia, but it is giving its resources to support the project in Folkestone. It has also led on the work to restore the Imperial War museum.

I would also like to thank—this is a bit of an Oscar thank you speech, but I would like to get it on the record—the large number of organisations that have helped us with our centenary project in Folkestone. The National Army museum has brought an exhibition to Folkestone that tells the story from enlistment to embarkation. Parts of their collections have been brought to Folkestone and the museum has worked with local historians and history groups to put on the exhibition, which opened on Tuesday this week and will run for 10 months. It provides an excellent educational resource telling the story of going to war. I hope that the people who come to Folkestone to see the memorial arch will also take a look at that exhibition and that it will complement the exhibition that will be put on in the Sassoon room in Folkestone library shortly, which tells the story of the Folkestone community during the war in pictures.

I also urge all my Kent colleagues to look at the excellent online resource called Kent in World War One. We are asking people to share their data and information, pictures and stories. Such local projects and the online work of the Imperial War museum are merging official data—war records, service records and medal records and charts—with personal data such as diaries, letters, stories and photographs. That will create a wonderful resource, bringing those stories together.

It is fantastic not just to hear a citation for bravery and read someone’s war record but to hear a personal story. The Kent in World War One project maps that on local streets so that people can see what people who lived in the road where they live now did in the war, bringing the stories alive in the community. It is an excellent way of marking the centenary of the first world war.

I am sure that 4 August will be a day of moving, fitting and appropriate commemorations right across the United Kingdom, but in many ways it will be the start of a process. We will see more and more such commemorations on the important anniversaries that fall throughout the four and a half years up to the centenary of Armistice day in 2018. It is a programme that we should all celebrate and be proud of.