Centenary of the Armistice

Part of Assessment and Treatment Units: Vulnerable People – in the House of Commons at 5:48 pm on 6th November 2018.

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Photo of Bob Stewart Bob Stewart Conservative, Beckenham 5:48 pm, 6th November 2018

I thought the speech by Hilary Benn was very touching; I thank him for giving it.

I want to talk about an incident in my life that connected me to the first world war. On Friday 17 December 1982 at St George’s church, Stockport, I attended the funeral of a young soldier from my company who had been killed in Northern Ireland. Sadly, it was the sixth funeral that I had attended that week; all were for men from my company—the company I was commanding was A Company of the 1st Cheshires. In all, 11 soldiers and six civilians—five of them young women, one of whom died in my arms—were killed by an Irish National Liberation Army bomb on Monday 6 December at Ballykelly, County Londonderry.

As I came out of St George’s, a very old lady was weeping quietly on the far side of the road. I had not noticed her in the funeral, but she might have been there. I crossed the road and spoke to her. I think I said, “The soldier is out of his pain now, you know.” She looked up at me and replied, “You don’t understand.” To be honest, I was somewhat irked by that comment, as I was with my soldier when he died and I was grieving, too. I must have shown unworthy irritation to her, because she said, “No, you really don’t understand.” I remember asking her why, and she said something like, “When I was a young girl, I stood where I am now and watched 800 young local boys of the 6th Cheshires go into that church. I knew many of them. That must have been in 1915. They went off to the war. When they came back home there were only enough of them to fill three pews in that church.”

That brought me up short. That lady was recalling hundreds of boys who certainly did not want to die in battle—battles such as the Somme, where, as we all recall, 19,240 of our soldiers died on the first day alone. Those soldiers had very little choice. Of course, we must remember them, but personally I always remember everyone, soldiers and civilians, killed in conflict, and right now I am remembering every day the soldiers, the girls and the one boy killed at Ballykelly on 6 December 1982.