My Lords, as always, it is a very great privilege to speak in your Lordships’ House, but it is especially so on this occasion when we commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of the Great War and pay our tributes to those from all across the world, and from all sides, who fought in that horrendous conflict and who gave their lives in the cause of freedom. It is even more important to me to be able to speak in this Chamber today, because my grandfather is named in the Royal Gallery war memorial.
I am a Staffordshire man, and I am very proud to have been born and bred in that county, as countless of my forebears have been. When I put my name down to speak in this debate, I read a note from the Royal British Legion which suggested that it would be appropriate if speakers could perhaps recall the parts played by their county in the Great War. I immediately thought that to be an excellent idea. So much has been said, and needed to be said, over the past four years of remembrances, that perhaps this might be a slightly different but exceptionally important angle to embark on. Therefore, in this speech—which, you will be delighted to hear, is very short—I would like to recall my county’s role.
Next Sunday, I shall have the immeasurable honour of representing the Lord Lieutenant, and therefore Her Majesty, at the service of remembrance at Lichfield Cathedral. Services will be held throughout our county, from the Moorlands and Leek in the north, to Stoke-on-Trent, to Burton-on-Trent in the east, our county town of Stafford and Enville in the south.
Staffordshire is the home of the National Memorial Arboretum at Alrewas, near Lichfield, which commemorates not only those who have fallen in so many military conflicts but those who sacrificed their lives in other tragic circumstances. The arboretum also serves as a memorial to the animals which suffered and gave their lives while supporting the military in conflict. I believe that in the course of the First World War over 1 million horses were killed.
In the county of Stafford, we remember the Prince of Wales’s regiment, the North Staffordshire Regiment, known to us as the Black Knots. Raised in 1758 as the 64th Regiment of Foot, and disbanded in 1959, when they amalgamated with the South Staffordshire regiment, they formed the Staffordshire Regiment. Known as the Staffords in those days, today they form part of the Mercian Regiment, who have had a distinguished fighting career.
Many of those who volunteered from my family’s former estates at Alton Towers and Ingestre, joined the North Staffords. Some of their names—far too many of them—are on the war memorials in Alton and the surrounding villages near where I live. I remember with particular fondness George Greatholder, my father’s head forester, who fought in the Battle of the Somme at age 16, and at Ypres—he called it “Wipers”—and won a military medal and bar. George was wounded, returned to the Front and eventually came home to Staffordshire. It was his task to look after me during the school holidays when I was a teenager, and I adored him and his wealth of stories. His stories were mainly about the countryside and wildlife, and I was enthralled by them. But there were never stories about his wartime experiences: those were far too horrible for him to recount.
The North Staffords saw action on the Western Front at Gallipoli, in the Middle East and in India. The South Staffords fought at Mons, Ypres, Loos, Delville Wood, Arras, Passchendaele—the list goes on and on. The sons and daughters of Staffordshire gave their all, and achieved the highest battle honours. They came from communities throughout the county: from the rural areas and agriculture; from the Moorlands; from the Potteries; from the breweries at Burton-on-Trent; from the Black Country and its industrial heartlands; and from the Staffordshire mining communities of Hednesford, Cannock and Rugeley, to name but a few. The miners were especially significant, because they were the sappers who dug the trenches and mined under the lines, very often working in appalling conditions.
When I was a teenager, my father took me to the military cemeteries in France on a regular basis. I continued that tradition with my children, and my friends and I still do it to this day. Last time, it was Ypres and the Menin Gate. We had tears running down our faces at the Menin Gate, at 8 pm on a Sunday. My father taught me to honour and respect the memories of the fallen, especially those from Staffordshire, and to remember that today we enjoy the freedoms and privileges which men and women—including those from Staffordshire, many of whom were connected to my family—gave their lives for. This is why we should hold all of them in the highest honour and esteem, and never allow their sacrifices to be forgotten.