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Armed Forces (Recognition)

Volume 584: debated on Monday 14 July 2014

9. What steps he is taking to ensure that the commitment and sacrifice of the armed forces is recognised by the public. (904808)

15. What steps he is taking to ensure that the commitment and sacrifice of the armed forces is recognised by the public. (904814)

I am in no doubt whatsoever that the British public are incredibly proud of the men and women who serve in our armed forces. This pride was emphatically displayed at this year’s Armed Forces day, which was a resounding success. The national event in Stirling was attended by more than 35,000 members of the public, and across the rest of the UK more than 200 regional events were organised by local authorities and community groups, including one at Woolwich barracks, which I was delighted to attend. I am told that social media activity around Armed Forces day this year reached more than 3 million people.

Will the Minister join me in congratulating organisations such as ABF The Soldiers’ Charity, for which I recently jumped out of a plane; the Essex Military Support Association, which organised the excellent South Essex Armed Forces day; Basildon council, which has awarded the Royal Anglian Regiment the freedom of the borough; and a group of residents who have recently refurbished the Stanford-le-Hope war memorial? As well as the Government having a role, does he agree that the community has a wider role as well?

In the 1990s, I served on Basildon council, once described as the only local authority in the United Kingdom where at council meetings the council has actively heckled the public gallery. I commend what it has done for the covenant, I commend the Essex Military Support Association, an event that I attended in Armed Forces week, and I particularly commend my hon. Friend for courageously jumping out of a perfectly serviceable aeroplane in support of ABF The Soldiers’ Charity and the wider armed forces community. He did a brave thing and we commend him for it.

May I also draw the Minister’s attention both to my local regiment, the 1st Battalion the Rifles, which demonstrated commitment and sacrifice on its two tours of Afghanistan when, sadly, it took a number of losses, and to Captain Angus Buchanan VC who won his Victoria Cross in the first world war saving two of his wounded comrades? His Victoria Cross has been bought by the noble Lord Ashcroft and is shortly to go on display in the Imperial War museum.

I pay tribute to all those who have won the Victoria Cross, the highest award for valour that this country can possibly convey. As we approach 4 August and the commemoration of the first world war, I am sure that Members from all parts of the House are very conscious of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in defence of our freedom. It was Pericles who said:

“Freedom is the sole possession of those who have the courage to defend it.”

They had that courage and we remember them.

I recently had the honour of attending the rededication of a refurbished war memorial in Whitburn village in West Lothian, which had been taken in hand by the local community, aided by local councillor George Paul. Added to the memorial was the name of Sapper Robert Thomson of the 35th Engineers, who was killed in Iraq in 2004, and one of the most poignant moments was when his mother laid flowers beneath his name. What are the Government doing to encourage and assist communities to add the names to war memorials of those members of the armed forces who have died in recent conflicts?

I have been impressed by a number of schemes across the country in which local authorities and schools have taken a greater interest in war memorials. For instance, I have heard about projects where primary schools have been invited to research the names of those who are on war memorials. We all know why that is fundamentally important. I was at the National Memorial Arboretum yesterday to attend the unveiling of a monument to the Essex Regiment, the Second Battalion of which came up the beach on D-day. We say on Remembrance Sunday, “They will never be forgotten.” They never will.