The public turnout for Oxford’s Remembrance Service last Sunday was bigger than I have seen for many years. It was very moving to witness, at the end of the parade, a number of brave veterans from the Second World War marching down St Giles – which must have been hard for many of them, given their advanced years. This ceremony was especially poignant, coming one hundred years after the end of the First World War – portrayed then as the war ‘to end all wars’.
It is most important on days of remembrance that we recall those who have made the ultimate sacrifice to preserve our security and way of life. The horrors of the trenches, poison gas and bayonets are barely imaginable today – at least in Europe. In that context, it was very moving to see so many young people involved in the procession down St Giles on Sunday. As living memory of the two world wars sadly diminishes, we have to work harder than ever so that our young people understand what others gave up, to preserve our freedom.
In that context, I was pleased to see that the national commemoration involved a procession of 10,000 relatives of people who died in the First World War. It was very touching to see and read the mementos that many displayed during that procession to remember often very young men and women, whom their relatives had never had the chance to meet.
As many of the religious leaders said during the ceremony, we need to work harder than ever to promote and preserve peace. As readers will know, Oxford is now officially twinned with three cities in the EU, Wroclaw in Poland, Leiden in the Netherlands and Bonn in Germany, and we have a developing relationship with Padua in Italy. It was extremely moving to speak with friends from our twin cities following Sunday’s remembrance service, about the continuing need to promote friendship and understanding across national borders.
Sadly in some countries we are seeing increasing division, stoked up by unscrupulous politicians. President Macron’s message on Sunday, at the tomb of the unknown soldier in Paris, was very clear. Our continent has known this kind of division before, and it led to untold suffering. While we may have differences in opinion, we always need to preserve neighbourly relations between countries to preserve that peace which nowadays we take for granted.
We also need to ensure that currently serving servicemen and women receive the respect that they deserve. It has been worrying to hear about the situation of many ex-services people who have failed to receive the support they need, whether they be socially isolated, unemployed or homeless. Additional help must be made available for those with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and other conditions which can result from peoples’ activities in service. In addition, there should be a proper investigation into the number of ex-services people sleeping rough – and action taken accordingly.