Article originally on Labour List, available at: http://labourlist.org/2014/03/our-armed-forces-standing-up-for-todays-and-remembering-yesterdays/
This weekend, Ed Miliband and I are in Afghanistan visiting the Armed Forces in Camp Bastion. The British combat mission may be coming to an end, but it’s clear from what I’ve seen here and what our service men and women have told me: there is much work yet to be done.
The loss of 448 members of our brave Armed Forces is an every day reminder of the service and sacrifice that men and women from communities across the UK make for us and on our behalf. That’s why Ed’s announced today that Labour will include a Bill in our first Queen’s Speech to outlaw discrimination against the Armed Forces, and make it a specific criminal offence to attack servicemen and women. It will be welcomed by the Armed Forces, past and present, and their families. And it’s the least they deserve, to be treated with the same dignity and respect with which they serve.
Like many British families, my own has its special memories of a loved one who died fighting for our country in the Armed Forces. My uncle, Vernon Coaker, was a Sergeant Major in the Devonshire Regiment and was killed aged 23 on D-Day, 6th June 1944. He died when his company’s position was shelled as they advanced ahead of the Normandy beach landings to protect those who were to follow. We as a family are very proud of him. He was my father’s older brother and when I was born a few years after Vernon died, my dad named me after the brother he had so much looked up to. I feel very honoured to carry it and I often wonder what Vernon would think about his nephew now serving as the Shadow Defence Secretary. I hope he would be proud.
Like previous major anniversaries of the D-Day landings, the 70th will be marked in France, with HM The Queen will leading tributes by travelling to the Normandy beaches during a state visit to France. That’s a good and important thing. But I can’t help but be disappointed that the Government has said it will not be marking the anniversary by having any national or official commemoration in the UK.
There are fewer numbers of World War II veterans left with every year that passes, and the 70th anniversary of D-Day gives the British public one of the last opportunities to recognise those we still have with us. In fact there are only 600 D-Day veterans left, and the Normandy Veterans Association is to disband after Remembrance Day this year.
That’s why Labour is calling for the Prime Minister to change his mind and allow the British people to salute the service and sacrifice of those who fought for Britain, in the capital city of the country they fought and so many died for. We want a national commemoration in London with a wreath laying ceremony at the cenotaph and the involvement of all three services – the Army, Royal Navy and RAF – in paying tribute to the heroic surviving D-Day veterans and the many fallen from that day.
The nation is united in its admiration and support for our brave servicemen and women. Many of us have a personal or family connection. We all remember with pride those who gave their lives for our country, and all those who served.
A national commemoration in our capital city to mark the 70th anniversary of D-Day would mean my family and millions of others like ours could salute those who died and pay tribute to the surviving veterans of that historic and heroic day. It’s the least that we owe them, the bravest and best of our country.