2018 has been a year of looking forward. To what our country will be like after Brexit; to the potential of a newly revamped England Team to take the world be storm after a sterling World Cup effort; to the arrival of the long awaited first ever woman Dr Who. Yet it has also been a year of looking back- to the centenary of women’s suffrage; to the formation of the NHS 70 years ago; and to the 100th anniversary of the end of First World War.
November’s centenary Remembrance celebrations were one of my proudest ever moments as our MP. The tremendous turnouts at local Remembrance services and parades were profoundly moving and a fitting testament to the memory of those our area has lost. Local tributes were more numerous, thoughtful and moving. The Lest We Forget campaign saw beautiful poppy displays and activities emerge in local businesses, churches, schools, parks, public buildings, community groups and beyond.
Over in Stalybridge almost 500 people joined or observed the Remembrance Parade. There was a wonderful candle lit vigil by the Jack Judge statue, led by Alderman Mike Ballagher, to remember the 300 soldiers from Stalybridge who lost their lives, many of whom are currently missing from the memorial. Tiny toy soldiers were hidden around the town centre for children to find, a wonderful way to engage younger children. Up at Stamford Park Boating Lake, the Tameside Rocks craze was given a fresh twist as young people painted Poppy rocks to hide, find and re-hide.
Movingly, local veteran David De Souza has a wonderful exhibition 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 after he used his jeep to block the path of an assassin driving a truck laden with explosives. Still struggling to recover from his injuries and the effects of his nightmare ordeal 11 years on, David has found creative expression combining his loves of engineering and the arts by crafting metal poppies and painting emotive images. His work is breath-taking.
Across Mossley, tremendous poppy displays adorned shop windows, and Tommy the Soldier statues popped up amid town furnishings. A moving poppy tribute covered The Mill Girl statue outside George Lawton Hall in Mossley, who was transformed into Clarinda Rowbotham, sister-in-charge at Mossley’s First World War military hospital. The Good Vibrations Choir sang some classic war time songs by The Mill Girl, and St George’s Church had a display of war poetry, and moving, ghostlike transparent Tommy figures sitting amid the congregation on the pews.
Well done to Stalybridge and Hyde Women’s Forum who laid wreaths at war memorials in Stalybridge, Hyde, Mossley and Mottram for the first time, a reminder of the suffrage centenary and the many and varied important roles that women played in the First World War, in our farms, factories, hospitals, armed forces and communities.
I was also reminded of the contribution of the 49th Bengal Infantry Regiment, some of the 1.3 million Indian soldiers who fought alongside Britain in World War I. Bengali troops 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 friend Jo Cox MP said, “We have more in common than which divides us.”
This was supposed to be the war to end all wars, yet almost every single year since, British men and women lost their lives in conflict. Let us always find more capacity for hope than hate. Let us remember them, and the sacrifice they made that we may be free. Let us resolve that whatever our political disagreements, 2019 will be a year that brings communities closer together, not further apart.