Planting my cross in the Constituency Garden of Remembrance.
I have no doubt that the overwhelming majority of my constituents will have been appalled at this weekend’s cenotaph violence – angry, no doubt, at the way in which dignified remembrance for the victims of past conflict was ruptured by a fanatical few, manipulating the tension arising from today’s bloodshed in the Middle East to whichever side needed to justify their aggression. The Prime Minister was right to chastise those who so sullied our armistice tradition. For me, the lesson here is the very one that the poppy is meant to permanently remind us – to never forget; to never take peace for granted; to learn the lessons of history rather than risk repeating them.
I was utterly shocked that one protester at the weekend was holding a poster that seemed to endorse the unprecedented atrocities at Auschwitz in World War Two. We are talking about deliberate extermination of innocent people of all ages, based entirely upon their race. This suggests to me that some are starting to forget, to lose their bearing of appreciating the true horror of war. There is no doubt that social media plays a role here, antagonising the minority hardcore to take the most extreme positions, and for that reason it is vital to emphasise how the overwhelming majority of people participated in our Remembrance tradition with due reverence, wearing their poppy with pride and showing the respect due to those who died so that we might be free – and, yes, free to protest; free to debate and differ (respectfully in our views).
Whilst disturbances were breaking out in Whitehall on Saturday, I was attending the annual service of Remembrance at the National Memorial Arboretum, Staffordshire. I had the honour to participate alongside the Princess Royal and senior members of the Armed Forces, in my capacity as Minister for Defence Procurement. The Arboretum is a truly magnificent construction, and we were fortunate to be present on a crisp, clear, and very sunny blue-sky day. Thus, at precisely 11am, as is the intention of the memorial’s design, we were able to see the sun cast its shadow through the slit designed specifically for that purpose in the main memorial setting – an awesome sight that illuminated our remembrance, as others elsewhere were seeking to darken it.
Of course, I also observed the armistice rituals in my constituency capacity at St Mary’s Church in East Bergholt on Sunday morning, alongside local Royal British Legion representation. One striking feature of the service was when the Vicar relayed to us the personal story of one World War One victim from East Bergholt. He was an infantryman who died whilst serving in the Essex Regiment, as part of the Battle of Gaza, where we fought forces from the Turkish Ottoman Empire. It was a sobering reminder of how that part of the Middle East is not new to violence.
Unfortunately, I was not able to attend the Sudbury service on Sunday afternoon as intended, with my wife deputising in my stead. This is because I had to fly out to the Middle East that afternoon, with my first port of call being Saudi Arabia. Given the risk of current fighting triggering a wider escalation, this surely underlines why Britain’s role as such a close partner of the Saudis brings strategic benefits, without which, our ability to influence events would be much diminished. As such, I’m pleased to be following the recent visits to Riyadh by the PM, Foreign Secretary and Defence Secretary, ensuring that we continue to maintain the strongest possible dialogue at this critical time.
Whilst we are rightly making every effort both to support Israel, and to seek ways to ensure the humanitarian cost is minimised, we must not forget about Ukraine. I can confirm that the Ministry of Defence is continuing to do everything possible to find further ways to aid Ukraine’s endeavours. For all the reporting of a ‘stalemate’, we must not forget how unlikely it was thought that Ukraine would survive to this point. Yet the cost of fighting to date has been terrible.
And so, it remains the case that we hold our remembrance services amidst the terrible reality of new blood continuing to be shed in conflict around the world. We must keep remembering and not forgetting, in the dignified fashion of the silent but vast majority. Finally, we must use that lesson to avoid complacency, and for me at Defence Procurement, that means the vital task of replenishing the capacity of our own armed forces, following huge support for Ukraine.
Published in the Suffolk Free Press.