Centenary of the Armistice

Part of Assessment and Treatment Units: Vulnerable People – in the House of Commons at 4:50 pm on 6th November 2018.

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Photo of Anna Soubry Anna Soubry Conservative, Broxtowe 4:50 pm, 6th November 2018

It is a great pleasure to follow all today’s speeches, but I want to pick out and commend the excellent speeches of both Front-Bench spokesmen and the preceding speech from John Cryer. He touched on one of the outcomes of the first world war, talking about the rise of trade unionism. If there were benefits from the war, they were few, but we have also heard about the beginnings of the suffrage for women and the gaining of the vote.

I want not only to pay tribute to my constituents who gave their lives and made the ultimate sacrifice, but to say how much I have learned over the past four years since we have been marking the centenary of the first world war. Whatever our generation or background—I was proud to serve as the first female Minister for Veterans at the Ministry of Defence—we have all learned things. Only the other week—perhaps to my shame, but this will be fresh to many—I learned that some 2.5 million Muslims served with the allies, something which has not really been heard of or understood.

I mention my constituents and the sacrifices that many made, but the commemorations in Nottinghamshire did not begin only in 2014. In fact, they go back way before then, and I pay tribute to my constituent Dr David Nunn, who has led eight groups of mostly volunteer historians to create the most remarkable resource on Nottinghamshire County Council’s website. Building on some of the work done by the “Trent to the Trenches” programme, they have created a roll of honour by visiting every single war memorial in the county, looking at every name and then researching each one to create an online picture of all those who fell in the great war.

By way of example, there is John Fowler, whose father was the blacksmith in Trowell. There is Charles Clarke from Awsworth, who was killed aged 19. Like many of my constituents at the time, he worked down a pit—he was there at the coalface. Then, of course, there are some even greater heroes who are not on our war memorials. For example, Walter Parker, who earned a Victoria Cross, was not made in Nottinghamshire, but he certainly settled in the town of Stapleford after his great service. He was a marine who served with great distinction in Gallipoli, where he was a volunteer stretcher-bearer, earning his VC while acting with great courage in the face of appalling gunfire.

Like everywhere in the country, Nottinghamshire’s war memorials are numerous. Kimberley’s war memorial was unveiled in 1921 and has just been restored. It was dedicated by the vicar, whose own son was killed in action, and bears 60 names from world war one and, interestingly, 26 names from the second world war. It was in Kimberley in March that I was so proud to join children from a local school in creating a poppy stream, sowing the seeds that then flourished with such beauty in the summer, when we had a freedom parade and the Royal Engineers marched through the town. Unfortunately, Bramcote’s stream of poppies was not so successful. However, it put on a wonderful play, which gave to the children of Bramcote, in particular, an understanding of the lives of the 15 locals who were killed in the first world war.

I have mentioned the role of women in the first world war. We had a shell-filling factory in Broxtowe—the Chetwynd factory—that employed 1,000 people, many of them women. They were called “canary girls” because their skin turned bright yellow due to the chemicals they used. There was a terrible explosion, and it was the biggest loss of life in any explosion during the first world war. The explosion was of such magnitude that not only did 134 people lose their life but its effects were felt as far away as Beeston, some three to four miles away. We finally opened a proper memorial to them in July, 100 years later.

I have not yet mentioned Greasley, where the war memorial lists a woman, Lilian Holmes, who served in the Women’s RAF.

I conclude with an “in memoriam” that was placed in the Nottingham Post by Elizabeth Chettle. Three of her four sons were killed in the first world war, and she wrote:

“Bitterly oh bitterly we miss them: aching hearts alone can tell: the circle of our home is broken, for why none but God can tell.”

I am proud to say that, all these years later, at least she has a woman MP to read out that fitting tribute to the sacrifice and loss.