Today most people are looking back at the remarkable celebrations of the Jubilee weekend. It’s right that we do, but today we should also reflect further back on those moments when our country’s survival was secured.
History, pride and patriotism defined the Jubilee celebrations. Today, the 68th anniversary of the Normandy landings, those emotions are heightened even further.
68 years ago 150,000 Allied troops landed along a 50-mile stretch of French coastline to roll back Nazi Germany on the beaches from which they planned the invasion of the UK. More than 5,000 ships and 11,000 aircraft supported the invasion. The outcome of the landings was far from certain, but by the day’s end the Allies had gained a foot-hold in France and by August 1944 all of Northern France was under Allied control.
D-Day was the biggest seaborne invasion and the greatest military campaign the world has ever seen. It was planned for over two years and every last detail was considered, from landing beaches being meticulously considered to Norfolk House in St James’s Square being installed with a private bar so staff could talk freely without risking ‘loose talk’ in local pubs.
The cost was huge. On the day it is estimated that there were 10,000 casualties, including 2,500 killed. There were approximately 2,700 British casualties, 940 Canadians and 6,600 Americans. It’s our responsibility today to guarantee that those individual sacrifices are never forgotten.
For some today will evoke painful memories of those events and of those who were lost alongside them. For others it will be memories of loved family members lost. For many grainy images will instil a sense of pride and resolve: pride in our Forces’ actions and a resolve that they will be honoured. So as we commemorate losses we must also celebrate their heroism and all it achieved.
For me, I am again reminded of the value of our military. The world at that moment was faced with a violent and evil ideology whose atrocities are unmatched and which could only be defeated through Allied military might. This was a battle for territory and values. Military action is always a last resort, but that day ushered in an era of unprecedented stability and peace and symbolises the liberation of Europe. There are many intense or intractable conflicts around the world and we should never underestimate the strength of our potential influence to foster resolution.
That day also reminds me of the importance of international unity. The majority of those who landed in Normandy were from the UK, Canada and the US, but others from Australia, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, France, Greece, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland and many more also participated. Today more than ever such multinational action, based on collective interest and solidarity, will determine our security and so should characterise our approach to defence.
In particular that day embodies the strength of the UK-US relationship, one which is still so vital to the defence of our interests and our values.
The most important element of today for me, however, is remembering the courage of each individual who took part. Those that did so carried the expectations and fate of their nation on their shoulders and acted with a dedication and professionalism which continues to characterise our Armed Forces.
We must always consider how public support can match this personal sacrifice. One such way is ensuring the support showed to the Service community on their return home is as great as possible. Labour in government made strides in this area, improving healthcare and housing, and this Government has taken some positive measures, for example enshrining the principles of the Military Covenant in law.
We can, however, go further. A recent poll showed that 18% of service personnel have been refused service in hotels, pubs or elsewhere, while there have been other reports of discrimination, for example in employment and securing loans. Everyone will agree that such treatment is unacceptable and we are therefore calling on all parties to join together in talks on ending discrimination against our Forces.
There are many examples of government legislating to protect specific groups from discrimination, harassment or abuse, but no specific legislation to protect the Service community from such attack. We believe the time has come to explore similar legal protections for those who protect our country.
Today is an important national moment. Alongside our commemorations I hope that the political community can make a statement about the esteem in which we hold the Service community.
The Jubilee celebrations have showcased our Armed Forces. Today is a day to remember, to celebrate and to pledge to give something back.
Jim Murphy is the Shadow Defence Secretary