Last Sunday, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of the year, people from across the United Kingdom – and the world – marked one hundred years since the end of the First World War.
It was a devastating conflict, and monuments in almost every town and village mark the huge holes it tore in families and communities, and I was very proud to join thousands of local residents in Shirley for our own act of Remembrance.
Amongst the crowds were the Deputy Mayor and Deputy Lord Lieutenant, as well as many representatives of all of our town’s diverse communities. They were joined by big employers such as Asda, voluntary groups like Citizens Advice. The march itself included people of all ages.
The most poignant moment was when the names of all the local men – and boys – who were killed in action were read aloud. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who struggled to imagine losing so many friends and family members in just a few years, as that generation did.
Later that evening, I was again joined by hundreds of local people in Elmdon for the lighting of a commemorative beacon.
I have always believed that Remembrance Sunday is important not just for its own sake, but because it serves as an important reminder of the debt we owe to ex-servicemen and women today. We might no longer draft troops by the millions, but we are free and safe because of the extraordinary people who put their lives on the line to defend this country.
That’s why I welcome that the Government has this month announced a new Veterans’ Strategy to help former soldiers find secure, fulfilling employment when they move back into civilian life. Amongst the new initiatives will be the Defence Employer Recognition Scheme, which awards employers who help ex-servicemen and women find work.
Ministers also announced an extra £19 million in funding for a variety of important projects, including more support for veterans’ mental health and the maintenance and restoration of memorials.
Finally, I am very pleased that British aid will now be used to support thousands of former British soldiers from Commonwealth countries who now live overseas. Soldiers came from across the Empire to serve in Britain’s times of need, and it’s quite right that we look after them in turn.