On Armistice Day, we remember generations of brave servicemen and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice in the defence of our democracy—the same freedoms that the Ukrainian people are fighting for today. Will my right hon. Friend join me in thanking the Long Eaton and Ilkeston branches of the Royal British Legion and, indeed, branches up and down the country who facilitate this act of remembrance each year and who work tirelessly in support of our veterans day in, day out in our communities?
Yes, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Our armed forces have fought throughout time for the safety and security of our country and they continue to do so today against all aggressors. Each year, this country unites to remember their sacrifice. I am grateful to all branches of the Royal British Legion who work tirelessly in the community to help to keep Armistice Day in the public conscience.
The battle of the Somme and the wider theatre of world war one were devastating for northern communities. I am sure that the Secretary of State will be aware of the Accrington Pals, the 700-plus strong battalion that was effectively wiped out on the first day in the Somme. I grew up at a time when living veterans still provided a direct link. As the younger generation today will not have that direct link, what can the Secretary of State do to ensure that the sacrifice and legacy of those brave men is remembered not just on Armistice Day, but more generally?
I remind the Secretary of State that the Chorley Pals were part of that Accrington contingent.
Never forget the Chorley Pals, Mr Speaker. The Accrington Pals played a hugely significant role on the frontline as part of the 94th Infantry Brigade. In many areas, they bore the brunt of the casualties that the British Army suffered. Of the 700-plus men who went over the top that morning, 585 became casualties, with 230 killed in the first 30 minutes. It is only right that that immense sacrifice continues to be remembered in communities across the United Kingdom. All of us have a role in doing that, whether that is through supporting our British Legion, buying a poppy or attending a parade, but it is also about recognising that we remember these people best by investing in today’s armed forces.
I am sure the Secretary of State agrees that at this time of year it is important that we honour the sacrifice of the merchant navy, which endured such a high proportion of fatalities in conflict. Will he join me in paying tribute to the Merchant Navy Association, including active branches such as ours in Newport, which does so much to commemorate and support the families of those who undertook such critical and dangerous service?
Every year, when I write my wreath, I write “Lest we forget,” not only because we must not forget the lessons of the war, but because we must not forget that war involves our whole population and all our armed services—not just the Army, Navy and Air Force, but groups such as the merchant navy and the women who helped and supported on the civil front. That is what we should never forget: that all of us—all our families, in different ways—stood to defend this country from fascism.