Armed Forces Day and the centenary of the Battle of the Somme provide stark reminders of the extraordinary service of our armed forces, and the ultimate sacrifice they are prepared to make to keep us safe.
A hundred years ago, brave soldiers from the United Kingdom and the British Empire paid that ultimate price on the battlefield of the Somme, the stage for one of the bloodiest battles in human history. It saw more than one million wounded, killed or missing on both sides — affecting the lives of millions more back home.
The first day of the campaign saw almost 20,000 British Empire soldiers lose their lives — the deadliest day in the history of the British Army.
Last week, commemorative services took place across the country, and pivotally at the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing, which towers over the rolling Picardy fields in northern France, the site of those awful 141 days.
The memorial itself is the largest Commonwealth war memorial in the world, carrying the names of more than 72,000 officers and men from the UK and South Africa killed on the nearby front, who have no known grave. Rarely can you find a bleaker reminder of the horror of armed conflict, and the sheer human loss of that Great War.
So often when we think of war our minds are taken back (and in many ways quite rightly) to the First and Second World Wars. However, for me, the Falklands conflict is also a real reminder that, even today, at any moment, 140,000 British servicemen and women stand ready to face danger to protect us all.
In February this year I visited the Falkland Islands to pay tribute to the 255 troops who lost their lives during the 1982 conflict.
I travelled at the invitation of the Falkland Islands Government, and as part of a cross-party group of Labour and Conservative MPs to support the Falkland Islands’ right to self-determination and their continued desire to remain British. In 2013, the people of the Falkland Islands voted in favour of remaining a UK overseas territory. Of the 1,517 votes cast in the two-day referendum, on a turnout of more than 90 per cent, a firm 1,513 were in favour, while just three votes were against.
The presence of British troops is still warmly welcomed by the islanders, with the memory of the conflict of 1982 firmly lodged in hearts and minds, and with the work of our armed forces on the Falklands fundamentally underpinning their ability to self-determine as British.
While there, I was most honoured to meet the forces commander, and many of our fine troops, at the Mount Pleasant military base. The service they provide and stand for, is truly humbling.
It is a valuable reminder that Armed Forces Day is about remembering those troops on active service, who at any given moment are willing to give up their lives for Queen and Country, just as so many did in 1982.
On my trip, I presented the Falklands Governor, His Excellency Colin Roberts, with some special bottles of Farne Islands and Tyneside Blonde Beer, which had been given to me by Hadrian Border Brewery. It was a real honour to present the local ale as a reminder that back home would be raising a glass to our brave servicemen and women on Armed Forces Day.
It was also great to see a full programme of events in Hexham for the day on June 25, including the display of military vehicles and equipment with personnel from the 3rd Regiment Royal Horse Artillery and a troop inspection of the Fifth Fusiliers. I was also sure to attend a weekend service at Hexham Abbey to mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme.
Our country owes our veterans a debt of gratitude, not just in the Falklands and the Great War, but across the world and through the centuries. Armed Forces Day, and the centenary of the Somme, are important reminders of the need to recognise the contribution that their service makes to our country, and an opportunity to offer thanks for their efforts.
I think I speak for all my constituents when I say how proud and indebted we all are for keeping us safe.