In this centenary year, we pay tribute to the many, many young men who died in WW1. I’ve visited local history projects in Edlington and Conisbrough & Denaby that tell their stories. Ordinary people, who served and never returned. We won’t forget. Which is why a small group of us are determined to honour the graves of WW1 servicemen, lost for time in an abandoned cemetery in Old Edlington.
This week the Union flag was lowered at Camp Bastion, Afghanistan. The British mission draws to a close. A time for us to reflect on our commitment to the bravery and duty service men and women who fought in a far flung corner of the world, for a safer world.
The UK will support the Afghan Government with humanitarian aid, as well as a training mission, for years to come. We only have to watch the news to see that we live in an uncertain world, where terror that begins in one small country, can reach Britain’s streets before long. In 2001, it was New York’s twin towers; in 2007, London; last week, the Canadian parliament.
On Remembrance Sunday, when I attend one of the services in my constituency, we will honour lost heroes from wars, among them the 453 who gave their lives in Afghanistan. Including 18 year old rifleman Liam Maughan, a father for just thirteen days. And Sgt Lee Davidson, from Thorne, a 32 year old father. Many return with lifelong injuries. When Lance Bombardier Ben Parkinson sustained 37 injuries, medical experts thought he would never survive. Unconscious for three months, Ben proved his extraordinary fortitude when he not only walked again, but drew a crowd of thousands who cheered him every step of the way, when he carried the Olympic torch through Doncaster.
I was among a generation of MPs who had not seen national service, so I decided to undertake the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme: training, exercises and living alongside serving soldiers, to get a snapshot of service life. In 2003, I went to Iraq to spend time with troops in Basra. When politicians decide to deploy our armed services into conflict zones, we have to make an effort to understand the conditions on the front line, not just on the parade ground.
We also honour our dead by honouring our debt to our veterans. That’s why I fought to make the Prime Minister honour his promise to give Ben the medical support he needs. And why I’m proud that Labour has urged councils to pledge to support the Military Covenant, including appointing veterans’ champions, something Mayor Jones promptly did in 2013.
The Covenant is more than words. In my casework, I meet ex-service personnel who have returned after being based away. They may need a house to call home; they may need an interview when they apply for a job in public services; or advice on health, family or taxes. This week Doncaster Council appointed its own Veterans Liaison Officer to provide that support.
Let us express our pride in the work of our armed forces, doing a job we value, for a nation that is grateful; and let’s show that pride in our deeds, not just in words.