Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

First World War (Commemoration)

Part of Bill Presented – in the House of Commons at 4:23 pm on 26th June 2014.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Stephen Doughty Stephen Doughty Opposition Whip (Commons) 4:23 pm, 26th June 2014

It is a pleasure to follow the excellent speech of Dr Coffey. I will come on to mention my family’s connections with Suffolk, which are very much related to the history of world war one.

Like many other hon. Members, I have read many excellent pieces of literature about the world war one period. One book that touched me as a young person was “The Wars” by Timothy Findley, an excellent Canadian author. It recounts tales of those from the Commonwealth and the dominions who lived through those tragic and terrible times. This passage has always stayed with me:

“Someone once said to Clive: do you think we will ever be forgiven for what we’ve done? They meant their generation and the war and what the war had done to civilization. Clive said something I’ve never forgotten. He said: I doubt we’ll ever be forgiven. All I hope is—they’ll remember we were human beings.”

That very much reminds us of the individual human lives, from our or our constituents’ families, that were irrevocably changed by the war and its consequences, as well as by service in the armed forces in general.

I have looked into my family history, as other hon. Members have done. It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Lady because my great-grandfather Ernest Hubbard lived in the village of Euston in Suffolk. His family, and many of my relatives, were in service to the Duke and Duchess of Grafton at Euston hall. They were farm labourers, servants, cooks and cleaners there. Uniquely, as servants, they were remembered on the family’s roll of honour in the church on the estate at Euston hall. My great-grandfather, his cousins and brothers, others who fell and those who returned are all memorialised there. I was privileged to go and see that myself a number of years ago.

On the other side of the family, my great-grandfather Peter Marsh served with the King’s Own Scottish Borderers. I never knew Peter but my mum remembers meeting him as a child. He was still suffering the effects, many years later, of being gassed in the trenches. The King’s Own Scottish Borderers was an old and historic regiment formed in 1689 in Edinburgh following the Glorious Revolution. Numerous battalions were raised at the start of the war and a number of new battalions were created. The KOSB served and fought at Gallipoli, the Somme, Ypres, Vimy ridge, the battle of Gaza and many others. The 6th battalion in particular suffered heavy casualties at the battle of Loos in September 1915 and later fought at the Somme. The 7th lost two thirds of its men and the 8th battalion lost over a third. That shows the scale of the losses.

It was particularly emotional for me to discover in the national archives one medal records card that matches my great-grandfather, Peter Marsh. It has the medals he was awarded throughout the first world war, but at the end there is a line though the card, and the phrase, “Forfeited by desertion in 1919.” He survived and was not one of those who were tragically shot at dawn. We do not know the full story in the family. We know that he was terribly scarred by his experience, both physically and mentally, for the rest of his life. We do not know if he was traumatised, if he was sent somewhere else and wanted to be demobilised and was not, or whether he simply could not cope any more. His story is similar to those of many who returned and saw their lives irrevocably changed.

These were two stories from my family but, like many Members, I have been looking into those of my constituents. I am pleased to say that St Augustine’s church in Penarth—one of the most historic churches in the area—has undertaken a project to restore its roll of honour from the first world war. It is a fantastic piece of art and remembrance in the church. The project has been generously funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and the War Memorial Trust, and there has been a significant amount of local fundraising to remember all those from Penarth and the district who fell.

The roll of honour was designed by John Batten and carved by Joseph Armitage, who, interestingly, also designed the oak leaf symbol of the National Trust. Unfortunately, the memorial has degraded over the years. Some of the names have been lost but fantastically, thanks to this project, the roll is being restored. An online archive has also been created to detail the lives of many of those who appear on the roll, and of their families. I very much look forward to attending the re-dedication of that shortly.

Many members have spoken about the work of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. I had the privilege of meeting Andy Knowlson from the commission last Friday. He took me on a fascinating and emotional tour round a number of war graves that I had absolutely no idea were in Penarth cemetery and St Augustine’s church. I am also hoping to go to see some of those in the Cardiff area. As we have heard, the CWGC looks after many thousands of graves in 153 countries. I was staggered by the scale of its work, and the absolute dedication and care with which it memorialises the heavy price paid by many constituents, including Gunner Bendon of the Royal Field Artillery, whose grave I saw; he died in 1917 at the age of just 32, which is younger than I am.

Thinking a lot about first world war memorials has made me think carefully about how we memorialise those from all the conflicts of the past 100 years, whether we are talking about Afghanistan, Iraq, the Falklands or any of the other conflicts that British service people have been involved in.

I recently met a constituent, Sian Woodland, and the mother of Paul Woodland. Sian and Paul were due to be married, but sadly Paul, a Royal Marine, was killed during operational training with the Special Boat Service in October 2012. Sian has done amazing work since raising money for charity, and to memorialise her fiancé. She has rightly raised the question of how we should memorialise all those who have died on active service and training since world war one. We should all think carefully in this year of remembrance about how properly to memorialise people, not only at fantastic facilities such as the National Memorial Arboretum, but in our communities up and down the country.