Centenary of the Armistice

Part of Assessment and Treatment Units: Vulnerable People – in the House of Commons at 5:07 pm on 6th November 2018.

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Photo of Albert Owen Albert Owen Labour, Ynys Môn 5:07 pm, 6th November 2018

I know a lot about Coventry. My son-in-law comes from Coventry, as my hon. Friend knows; I think that he was his MP for some time. My speech is concentrating on the families of seafaring communities. I welcome Mr Simpson mentioning that many were lost at sea, so their bodies were never recovered and there were no proper funerals to honour them.

A lot of hon. Members have rightly spoken about the personal experiences of their own families. My grandmother was born in 1888. As a single parent who had lost her husband to disease, she became a nurse and worked in the convalescent home at the port of Holyhead during the great war. Many people came to her with severe shellshock, including her youngest brother, who did not recognise her for two years because of the trauma that he suffered on the battlefields. It is worth bearing it in mind that many mothers and other family members had such experiences.

The other stark memory that I am sure we all have after seeing first world war graves is the age of those who died. Many who suffered were young men and boys; I do not know the exact average age, but these men were in their 20s. Their parents will never have forgotten that throughout their lives. My grandmother’s son—my father—served in the second world war, and she always told me that every day that he was away was a dark day until he returned home safely.

One hundred years after the guns fell silent, the House of Commons is right to remember our communities, and those who sailed across the Irish sea and around the coastline. The RMS Leinster reminded me that vulnerable people were shot by U-boats. Going to sea—I speak as an ex-merchant seafarer who worked on that route—is dangerous enough. Crew members look after each other, but imagine being faced with the potential of being sunk by a U-boat, as cruelly happened to the RMS Leinster. The irony of that story is that the German submarine UB-123 was itself shot and blown up on the north coast of Britain as it went back to Bremerhaven.

My hon. Friend Tom Watson is right that we must also respect the bravery of our opponents because they carried out their duties. It is hugely appropriate—I give the Government credit for this—that the German President is attending ceremonies this year, because we want to look forward as a nation.

Our forefathers made the pledge in 1918 that we would remember those who died, and we are honouring that pledge today, as we have done over the years. As an ex-seafarer representing a proud seafaring community, I will be proud to stand up on 11 November and say to all those people and their families, “We will remember them; we will remember.”