Fight­ing the past: lessons of Win­drush must be ap­plied in forces re­cruit­ment

The Press and Journal (North-East) - - AGENDA -

hope we may say that thus, this fate­ful morn­ing, came an end to all wars.”

These were the words ut­tered by then-Prime Min­is­ter David Lloyd Ge­orge to an­nounce the Ar­mistice at the Com­mons Despatch Box on No­vem­ber 11 1918.

This week, at a spe­cial ser­vice held in West­min­ster’s St Mar­garet’s Church to mark its cen­te­nary, they were re­cited once more, this time by Speaker John Ber­cow.

His hope­ful op­ti­mism made sense in the con­text of a coun­try des­per­ate for good news, but it’s un­likely Lloyd Ge­orge be­lieved his own rhetoric.

In­deed he is also said to have re­marked to­wards the end of the con­flict that “this war, like the next war, is a war to end war”.

Re­gard­less, we all know that, sadly, just over 20 years later, the UK was at war again.

And I hardly need to list the many con­flicts we have been in­volved in since.

His­tory shows us that hu­man­ity is prone to war and it would be naive and ide­al­is­tic to sug­gest an “end to all wars” is likely.

But we do have a re­spon­si­bil­ity, surely, to – at the very least – learn from the past.

Yes, it’s a cliche and we seem to keep fail­ing to do so, but that’s no rea­son not to keep try­ing, and re­mem­brance helps us re­main fo­cused on that goal, as well as honour­ing the over­whelm­ing sac­ri­fices that peo­ple – MPs in­cluded – made.

As Labour deputy leader Tom Wat­son put it in the Com­mons de­bate to com­mem­o­rate the 100-year an­niver­sary, this be­comes even more im­por­tant now the Great War has passed from “liv­ing mem­ory to his­tory”.

We un­doubt­edly have a duty to en­sure that these sto­ries aren’t al­lowed to die now that those who lived them are gone.

It’s also im­por­tant to re­mem­ber that those liv­ing them came not just from all cor­ners of the UK, but from across the globe, too.

More than three mil­lion sol­diers and labour­ers from the Com­mon­wealth and Em­pire served along­side the British Army in the First World War, con­tribut­ing again in the Sec­ond World War.

I was hor­ri­fied to read this week that thou­sands of Com­mon­wealth veter­ans of the British mil­i­tary are at risk of liv­ing in poverty.

The De­part­ment for In­ter­na­tional De­vel­op­ment (Dfid) has re­vealed that al­most £12 mil­lion of aid money is go­ing to help pro­vide meals for more than 7,000 veter­ans, wid­ows and widowers in over 30 coun­tries, in­clud­ing In­dia and Kenya.

The project aims to make sure veter­ans re­ceive two meals a day – or 2,400 calo­ries – to pre­vent them liv­ing in poverty in later life.

Hope­fully this step will let them know they haven’t been for­got­ten, but it may have come too late for some.

And it is deeply sad that peo­ple who put their lives on hold in the way my grand­par­ents did, but for a coun­try thou­sands of miles away, haven’t been able to reap the ben­e­fits of post1945 Bri­tain as they could.

This news came just days af­ter the Min­istry of De­fence an­nounced more for­eign na­tion­als liv­ing abroad will be able to join the armed forces amid a per­son­nel short­age, the worst since 2010, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Au­dit Of­fice.

Pre­vi­ously, only 200 Com­mon­wealth ci­ti­zens per year could ap­ply without hav­ing lived in the UK for five years, but this cap has been lifted in the hope it will lead to an ex­tra 1,350 peo­ple be­ing re­cruited an­nu­ally.

First waived in 1998, the res­i­dency re­quire­ment was rein­tro­duced in 2013.

It seems our reliance on Com­mon­wealth ci­ti­zens to boost man power is on­go­ing.

Of course, for many a ca­reer in the UK, armed forces will be highly sought-af­ter.

And I would not want to sug­gest the ben­e­fits are one way in this ar­range­ment.

But at this junc­ture, where the num­bers join­ing are ex­pected to in­crease dra­mat­i­cally, we need to be care­ful not to take peo­ple for granted.

It is vi­tal that any new re­cruits – as well as those al­ready en­listed – are treated ex­actly the same as UK based ser­vice­men and women.

With the num­bers of armed forces re­cruits set to in­crease dra­mat­i­cally, Lind­say feels it is very im­por­tant that we take care not to take any of those peo­ple for granted

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