This Sunday marks a very special day in our country’s history. The 11th November is not just Remembrance Day, but 100 years since the day the First World War ended. For me, Remembrance has always been one of the most poignant and special times of the year. This area has lost a great many people to wars past and recent, and their loss will never be forgotten.
The tremendous turnout at local Remembrance services and parades is always testament to their memory. This year, tributes have already been even more numerous, thoughtful and moving. The Lest We Forget campaign has seen beautiful poppy displays and moving activities emerge in local businesses, churches, schools, parks, public buildings, community groups and beyond. Thank you to each and every person who has worked on or supported these. We can be incredibly proud of our area’s heritage and contribution towards keeping the country safe and securing and maintaining peace.
I am particularly impressed by the work that has gone into Hollingworth’s Lest We Forget activities. Through the efforts of The Friends of Hollingworth, Hollingworth War Memorial now has Listed Building status. With the help of a generous grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, and the support of Tameside Borough Council and local councillors, it will be re-dedicated during their service on Sunday morning. The villagers have also spent months on other engaging activities in memory of the 360 local people who joined up to serve in WWI. From poppy trails to Remembrance walks, school celebrations and visits to crochet circles, the whole community has been involved. You can find more out about their activities here: https://hollingworth100.wordpress.com/
Just up the road in Mottram, I am looking forward to being part of the Festival of Remembrance service at Mottram Parish Church on Saturday, alongside The Bishop of Stockport, the Right Reverend Libby Lane, along with local schools, Cubs and Brownies groups. Prepare to see the church transformed and fallen villagers remembered in a very special and family friendly service.
Over in Stalybridge, three projects have especially caught my eye. Firstly, there will be a candle lit vigil by the Jack Judge statue on Saturday evening, led by Alderman Mike Ballagher, to remember the 300 soldiers from Stalybridge who lost their lives, many of whom are not yet remembered on the memorial. Secondly, tiny toy soldiers have been hidden around the town centre for children to find and re-hide, a wonderful way to engage younger children in Remembrance and ensure future generations never forget. Thirdly, and movingly, local veteran David De Souza has a wonderful exhibition on display this month at The People’s Galley. After several tours in Northern Ireland and Bosnia, during his deployment in Iraq in 2007, David suffered a broken back, a severe head wound, and a brain haemorrhage that left him temporarily blind after he used his jeep to block the path of an assassin driving a truck laden with explosives while on protection duty. Still struggling to recover from his injuries and the effects of his nightmare ordeal 11 years on, David has found creative expression combining his love of engineering and the arts by crafting metal poppies and painting emotive images, using art therapy to overcome PTSD. Do catch his exhibition if you can.
Across Hyde, tremendous poppy displays in shop windows and images of Tommy the soldier adorn the town furnishings. A moving poppy tribute covers The Mill Girl statue outside George Lawton Hall in Mossley, who has been transformed into Clarinda Rowbotham, sister-in-charge at Mossley’s First World War military hospital.
TransPenine Express have also contacted me to announce they will be providing free travel for armed forces members on their services on both Saturday and Sunday. Open to serving members of the armed forces, veterans, cadets as well as volunteers selling poppies, they hope this will make it as easier for people to attend any Remembrance Day events or collect funds on behalf of the Royal British Legion.
To commemorate another centenary this year, a hundred years since women were first able to vote and stand in the December 1918 General Election, Stalybridge and Hyde Women’s Forum will be laying wreaths at several war memorials, a reminder of the many and varied important roles that women played in the First World War, in our farms, factories, hospitals, armed forces and communities. I also think of the contribution of the 49thBengal Infantry Regiment, some of the 1.3 million Indian soldiers who fought alongside Britain in World War I. Bengali troops in particular served aboard the war ships, and merchant vessels were fundamental to keeping the supply lines of British forces flowing. This is a time to celebrate our borough’s history but also its diversity, and to remember, in an increasingly divisive and reactionary world, that as my colleague and friend Jo Cox MP said, “we have more in common than which divides us.”
Every family has war stories to recall as part of their family history. My own grandfathers and great grandfathers were miners, and as coal supplies were crucial to British perseverance. They were prevented from serving in the forces, a matter which remained sensitive until their deaths. My wife Claire’s great grandfather returned home several afters after the receipt of a telegram declaring him missing, presumed dead. The human impact of this war touched every family in the land.
At the national celebration at the Cenotaph on Sunday, the usual service will be followed by a parade of tens of thousands of civilians paying a “nation’s thank you”. I want to echo this locally – thank you, thank you for to those who served, those who supported them, those who died and those who grieve them. I also want to say one very specific thank you, to Peter Edwards, Chair of the Stalybridge and Dukinfield British Legion, who for many years has kept local Remembrance services running smoothly – thank you Peter for all that you do.
I know for many of you, Remembrance may be a difficult time, as we join together to sing Abide With Me, and quietly recall our personal losses, military or otherwise. Know that you are not alone and that your community is alongside them. We will remember them.
Full details of all the Remembrance parades and services happening in Stalybridge and Hyde this weekend can be found here