Centenary of the Armistice

Part of Assessment and Treatment Units: Vulnerable People – in the House of Commons at 6:39 pm on 6th November 2018.

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Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Labour, Gedling 6:39 pm, 6th November 2018

It is a great privilege to speak in this debate. We started with two wonderful contributions from the Secretary of State and the shadow Secretary of State, and have heard from many Members across the Chamber.

We all have our own family references, and I want to start by referencing two individuals. The first is my uncle, Sergeant Vernon Coaker, who is buried in Normandy, in Ranville cemetery near Caen. He served with the 3 Commando Devonshire Regiment and was killed on 6 June 1944, so this is always a particularly poignant time for me. The second is my wife’s grandfather, Captain William Roper Weston of the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry, who won the Military Cross, and whom I had the honour of meeting on a number of occasions before his death in the mid-1980s. I have been trying to reflect on what people like them would think if they looked at our commemorations and our remembrance today.

We should be particularly proud of the number of young people who are involved in these commemorations and ceremonies. I have no evidence for this, but I think that the numbers have been increasing over the last few years, thanks to the uniformed organisations—the Scouts, the Guides and the cadets, who march with such pride and are phenomenal young people—and our schools. My colleague from Nottinghamshire, Anna Soubry, mentioned the schools in our area, but all of us can see this happening.

When you talk to these young people, they have an understanding—some at a very young age—of what they are remembering. All of us need to think about why that is, because it is so important that it carries on. I think it is happening because the schools and uniformed organisations teach the values; they teach that these people died because people failed to work together, to be tolerant, to respect one another and to co-operate. People sacrificed themselves to try to win that back, but it was also because of the failure of us all to respect those values that those people are in graves or became veterans. I may be wrong, but I think that young people understand that. It is really moving to go to a primary school and hear children of 10 or 11 years talking about the need for us to work together. It is with great pride that all of us, I am sure, will look at the uniformed organisations marching this weekend. The contribution they make is quite phenomenal.

Something else has changed in my area, and it is a great credit to us all. As well as the sacrifice that was made at the front, the sacrifice that was made on the home front is now respected and talked about. The role of women, the way they worked and all they did is respected and spoken about in a way that it has not been before, and we see that in the exhibitions all over the country.

I want to finish by reflecting on what this should mean for all of us now. I went to the marking of the 100th anniversary of the start of world war one at the St Symphorien cemetery, to which the Prime Minister is going on Friday. As has been mentioned, in that cemetery are the graves of the first British soldier killed, and the last British soldier killed. The horror and the poignancy of that brings home to all of us across our nation the sacrifice that was made. What was so powerful at the ceremony to mark the 100th anniversary of the beginning of world war one was the fact that in that very cemetery are German soldiers. On the occasion at which we marked the outbreak of the war, German military officers and German Government officials stood alongside our royalty and our politicians. Their standing together at that ceremony reminded us that the horror of what happened must be a challenge and an inspiration to us all to ensure that we do not let it happen again.