Centenary of the Armistice

Part of Assessment and Treatment Units: Vulnerable People – in the House of Commons at 7:25 pm on 6th November 2018.

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Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Conservative, Chelmsford 7:25 pm, 6th November 2018

It is somewhat overwhelming to speak at the end of such an amazing debate with so many moving speakers, and to follow my hon. Friend Stephen Kerr. I was particularly moved by the comments from my neighbour, my hon. Friend Alex Burghart, who spoke so movingly about the role of women.

The Essex Regiment Museum is based in Chelmsford and it is well worth a visit. We are proud of a number of the exhibits, not least the Napoleonic eagle captured from the French at the battle of Salamanca in 1812. There are also some grim memories there, however. There is a picture of the last stand at Gundamuck, when almost the entire 44th Regiment lost their lives in the first Anglo-Afghan war. We also have memorials to world war one, in which 9,000 members of the regiment died in Gallipoli, Egypt and Palestine, and at Arras, Cambrai, Ypres and the Somme. I visited Ypres four years ago and joined students from a British school based deep in the East Anglian fens and students from a twinned school in Germany. They visited the battlefields together and unveiled a memorial that they had jointly designed, at the site of the Christmas day football match in 1914. It was deeply moving to be there with the next generation as they came together to remember the previous ones. We must never forget.

My own childhood was spent, half a century ago, in Northern Ireland during the troubles, and I would like to put on record my personal thanks to those who stood up against terrorism in the United Kingdom. I first sold poppies 40 years ago on the streets of Omagh, County Tyrone. We had armed servicemen on our streets in those days. The weekend before last, I joined poppy sellers in Chelmsford and it was a very happy occasion. The town is covered with poppies, many of which are like the knitted one that I am wearing today. I am also wearing the shamrock poppy, to remember those Irish soldiers who lost their lives and who have never been commemorated.

I also want to remember another group. Chelmsford has a long history of Quakerism. Quakers are members of a peace church who take a moral stand against participation in armed conflict. At the beginning of the first world war, a group of young Quakers created the Friends’ Ambulance Unit. Its 1,200 members were all civilians, but they worked closely with fighting soldiers. The unit provided those conscientious objectors with a way to support the wounded, and an alternative to military service. They worked on the frontlines providing medical support for troops and civilians, and on hospital ships in the channel and the Mediterranean. They cared for everyone they found wounded, including Germans. By November 1918, 21 members of the Friends’ Ambulance Unit had given their own lives. In 1947, the Quakers were awarded the Nobel peace prize. Even today, Quakers act as ecumenical accompaniers, working in Israel and Palestine to provide a protective presence and to monitor and report human rights abuses. They wear brightly coloured jackets to accompany children to school across the battle zones. Jesus said,

“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” but he also said,

“Blessed are the peacemakers” and we must remember them, too. We must remember them all.