It is a privilege to speak in today’s debate and to follow Kevin Hollinrake. I associate myself with the remarks of a number of hon. Members. I was particularly impressed by the speeches from the shadow Secretary of State, Bob Stewart and Mr Simpson, as well as those from other colleagues.
Like many Members, I lost relatives in both world wars and I have found today’s debate deeply moving. I want to briefly mention one particular relative, my wife’s great uncle Albert Woodhead, who died at the Somme aged 19. He has no known grave. Our family visited the Thiepval memorial a few years ago. It was incredibly moving.
My constituency of Reading East, like the whole of the UK, Ireland and the Commonwealth, was deeply affected. I pay tribute to all the men and women who served in our armed forces, as well as in other roles such as in the merchant navy and the munitions factories, and on the wider home front. Britain owes a huge debt of honour to the Commonwealth and to what was then the British empire. It is important to remember the bravery and sacrifice not only of British forces, but of all those who served from Ireland, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Africa and the West Indies, as well as Australia, Canada, South Africa and other dominions such as New Zealand. Indeed, 1.5 million men served in the Indian army alone. Commonwealth and British empire forces were engaged on a wide range of fronts across the globe.
I would like to turn to the effect of the great war on Reading and Woodley and to mention some outstanding local people. Thousands of people from Berkshire served in many capacities. In particular, I would like to mention the story of Trooper Potts, who is the only person from Reading to have won a Victoria Cross. Frederick Potts, who came from the Katesgrove area of Reading, which I used to represent as a councillor, was awarded a Victoria Cross for his outstanding bravery. He saved the life of an injured comrade by dragging him to safety from no-man’s land during extremely heavy fighting in the Gallipoli campaign. Although injured in the thigh himself, Trooper Potts dragged his severely wounded comrade 600 yards on a trenching shovel. Fred Potts ultimately survived the great war, dying at the age of 50 in 1943. Arthur Andrews, whom he saved, lived until he was 89. This moving story reminds us again of the service and self-sacrifice of the first world war generation. It is just one of many incidents we remember today.
In my own life many years later, my son used to play football with one of Trooper Pott’s descendants, and I got to know the family well, which was a huge privilege. In this strange way, our history is all around us. For me, it has been a personal privilege to take part in this debate and to commemorate a small part of that history with colleagues from across the whole House.
Before I finish, I would like to thank the many organisations involved in commemorating this important anniversary. In particular, I would like to mention Berkshire branches of the Royal British Legion and Wokingham and Reading Borough Councils. Woodley Town Council has put up an extremely moving display featuring some of the servicemen from what was then the village of Woodley. Woodley is now a large suburb of Reading, with thousands and thousands of residents. Sadly, many of the small number of soldiers from that once village never returned. I also thank the many clubs, charities, employers and other organisations who have helped to mark this important commemoration and the local historians who have taken part.