Times of Tonbridge Column - Remembrance Day - 7 November 2018
On Sunday 11 November, we will mark 100 years since the end of the First World War. A century ago the news that the ‘war to end all wars’ was over came as one of great joy; a British victory, and an end to the fighting, bombing and grief that had left no home unaffected for half a decade. But, it was not just a day to celebrate and look forward to a new world and a brighter future, it was also a day to honour those who have given everything to defend us, and we continue to commemorate their sacrifices every year.
Remembrance Sunday isn’t just for those who gave their lives for us during the First World War. It’s also a day to remember all those who suffered in every war before and since then, and to remember our allies who fell alongside our own soldiers. Having served in combat alongside many from around the world, I am humbled by the courage of those who came from around the world to fight for our freedom before achieving their own. This is a day for the living to remember the ties that bind us as a nation and the sacrifice of those who have helped build our nation.
When we think of all those who lost their lives defending the British Empire, we tend to think of those who lived on the British Isles, but more than 3 million came from what is now the Commonwealth. Half of those came from British India, the countries of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka today. Of the 1.3 million who fought, and over 70,000 lost their lives.
Too often, they are omitted from both our military history, and from our memories. Indian soldiers played key roles in some of our most decisive battles, and were recognised at the time for having been essential to the victory that was won. They displayed huge courage too. In 1914, Khudadad Khan was awarded the Victoria Cross when he held the line against advancing forces in time for reinforcements to stop vital ports being taken.
That is why I am delighted that I have been invited to visit India and lay a wreath on behalf our nation in Delhi, reflecting the gratitude we feel to those who came to stand with us in our hour of need both in the First, and the Second World Wars, and those who left our shores to fight abroad. I will be remembering Flight Lieutenant Biddell, from Cowden, near my home, who was killed aged only 22 in July 1944 and is now buried in Delhi.
At Prime Ministers Questions last week, I asked the Prime Minister to join me in wearing a Khadi poppy, a symbol of remembrance for all the Indian soldiers who fell during the First and Second World Wars and was delighted to see that she was wearing one when I met her later in the week. These poppies are made from home spun cotton, to symbolise India’s contribution to the war effort, and were launched by Lord Jitesh Gadhia and the Royal British Legion this year.
While I’m away, I will be united with all those who stop for one moment every year to remember, and with the men of Kent and Kentish men who are lying in a foreign fields alongside those who died fighting in the cause of freedom.