Centenary of the Armistice

Part of Assessment and Treatment Units: Vulnerable People – in the House of Commons at 3:30 pm on 6th November 2018.

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Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport 3:30 pm, 6th November 2018

I join the hon. Lady in welcoming that occasion. I am sure that it will be a particularly special year for her and for all those who attend.

The high-profile ceremonial events that I mentioned have been complemented by an extensive and engaging programme of cultural and educational activities. In 2012, the Government established the 14-18 NOW cultural programme to work with artists to tell these important stories through the mediums of culture and art. There has been a particular focus on engaging children and young people, with events including the great war school debate series and school battlefield tours, in which nearly 6,000 students and teachers visited the battlefields of northern France.

The groundbreaking 14-18 NOW programme has used its remit to enthral people from all walks of live. More than 35 million people have engaged with the centenary, including 7.5 million young people under the age of 25. It has clearly demonstrated that contemporary artworks in public places can attract large, diverse audiences. Whether it was turning the country dark as part of the “lights out” programme or the ghost soldiers that appeared across the country to mark the centenary of the battle of the Somme, these events have all captured the public’s imagination and have given remembrance prominence in our daily lives.

The ceramic poppies at the Tower of London were another moving tribute, bringing the programme to one of our most popular and cherished attractions. The poppies have since travelled to 19 locations, from Belfast to Southend and from Orkney to Plymouth, and have been visited by more than 4 million people. From next year, they will be part of the collection of the Imperial War Museum, where they can be viewed for many years to come.

As part of our programme, we have sought to highlight the enormous contribution made by those who came to our nation’s aid from across the world. Some 2.5 million men and women from the Commonwealth answered the call to fight, with 200,000 laying down their lives. They left their homes thousands of miles away to serve the allied cause with unstinting bravery, often in unimaginable conditions, and they must not be forgotten or overlooked.

Works by an extraordinarily diverse range of artists from the UK and abroad have helped us to highlight those contributions. Poets from the Caribbean diaspora, visual artists from India and Bangladesh, performers from South Africa, musicians from Syria and many more have all highlighted the global reach and impact of the war. That was shown vividly in March 2015, when an event commemorating the second battle of Neuve Chapelle took place at the Imperial War Museum North. The event was co-ordinated by British Muslim, Hindu and Sikh organisations, supported by the Government. It compellingly showed the partnerships and friendships that we hold so dear and that were so instrumental during the war.

We have seen all too well how history can divide, but one clear and ambitious goal throughout this centenary period has been to seek to use history to bring us together. The Government have worked closely with the Irish Government, for example, over the past four years to mark these events. That was most clearly demonstrated in the shared approach to the battle of Messines Ridge commemoration in June 2017, which was attended by both His Royal Highness the Duke of Cambridge and the then Taoiseach, Enda Kenny. The battle has considerable historic and symbolic significance for the UK and Ireland, as it was the first time that the 36th (Ulster) and 16th (Irish) Divisions fought alongside each other during the great war. The event provided a valuable opportunity to remember the service and sacrifice of those who fought, as well as to explore our shared history and support efforts to build a peaceful future.