Monday, 17 November 2014

REMEMBRANCE

This year Remembrance services across the country carried particular significance marking both the centenary of the start of the First World War and also coming weeks after the last British troops finally withdrew from Camp Bastion and the mission in Afghanistan ended.

I attended services in Hayle and Illogan and there was a strong turnout at each. As usual the various Cadet groups, Scouts, Brownies and other youth groups were out in force. It is great to see these movements going from strength to strength and the young people representing them this year did us all proud. Two pupils from Hayle school read out the names of all those who died in the two world wars which really drove home the scale of the loss.

Last Friday, as part of the Cornwall Remember commemorations, I read a poem at Truro Cathedral which was written by Siegfried Sassoon. He was one of a number of famous poets who brought home the horrors of the Great War. It was the first industrial war and battleground tactics had not evolved to deal with advances of military technology. There were attempts to break the battleground deadlock and early attempts to develop the use of armoured tanks and aircraft but none of these were entirely successful so the horrors continued. It is right that we remember a generation of young men who carried such an extraordinary burden.

The recent wars that we have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan have undoubtedly increased attendance at remembrance services in recent years. The operation in Afghanistan has been long and hard lasting thirteen years, more than three times as long as the Great War and there have been many casualties and soldiers suffering life changing injuries. It is a relief that the mission is finally over.

In 2006 when I was an adviser to David Cameron, I visited our troops at Camp Bastion and Kandahar in Afghanistan. I was struck by the incredible professionalism and can-do attitude of our armed forces. The troops were casually running sweep stakes on where in the camp the next Taliban missile might land and a "rapid response force", made up of young men often not even in their twenties, was permanently on call to scramble out into the dessert to pursue the Taliban after each missile was fired. They didn't want to make it easy for them. It was a reminder that the reputation this country has as having the best armed forces in the world is very well deserved.

We have had more than a decade of engagement in very difficult conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and the problems of the Middle East seem as intractable as ever. When I visited Afghanistan, there was a real respect and gratitude for what Britain's forces were doing to try to help them and we should remember those who paid the ultimate sacrifice and the families they left behind.