The standard of the War Widows Association and the Royal British Legion were paraded in the Lady Chapel of the Anglican Cathedral today in a service that was quintessentially British
Imagine this nightmare scenario. VE Day (Victory in Europe Day) has been declared. The bells are ringing throughout the land. The dancing had taken place and people are beginning to plan their lives on the basis that sometime soon their boyfriends or husbands would be on their way home and then the war would truly be over.
And then the telegram arrives. Your husband will not be coming home. He died on the last of the war in Europe. Whilst others continued to rejoice, celebrate and plan you had to mourn a loss and in some ways mourn in private so as not to break up others people’s joy.
This story is a true one and is the story of a constituent of mine. Kathleen Woodside. She is now 97 and never remarried and still bears a huge love for the husband who was so tragically taken away from her.
I was thinking about this today as I attended again the Annual Service of the War Widows Association in the Lady Chapel of Liverpool Cathedral. The Service always takes place in Liverpool because the WWA which is a national organisation was founded by Kathleen and a small group of women in 1971 for those whose loved ones had perished and were having to cope with lives, often involving children, by themselves.
A lot of the ‘standards’ of the War Associations such as those who fought in Normandy or Monte Cassino have now been permanently laid to rest in Churches and Cathedrals over the past few years. However, it is not yet the time for the WWA standard to be laid up. The heroism of our fighting forces, both men and women, means that we are still creating widows and widowers and those people need support.
Some might think that the wars that people died in were not wars – Northern Ireland was a good widow-maker and so was Afghanistan. But this is not a time to make points about just or unjust wars or whether the conflicts were really wars at all. These people died in the service of their Country doing what Parliament required them to do. They fought alongside other heroes who are more easily remembered because we can see them in our communities and can attend to their needs. But the widows and widowers are often left behind in all this and are often truly unseen heroes.
Today was also, in truth a very British Affair. The standards of the WWA and parts of the fighting services and the Royal British Legion were paraded in and lowered at appropriate times. A reading was made by a Squadron Leader of the Royal Air Force. We sang, “I vow to thee my Country” and, “God Save the Queen”. I joined in with these because although I am not a person of religious faith I do try and serve my Country in my own way. I do sing our National Anthem because, whether we like the words or not it is our National Anthem.
So, I will go as often as I can to remember the War Widows Association. So, I will continue to wear my poppy with pride in the run up to Armistice. So, I will continue to support The Royal British Legion; Help for Heroes and SSAFA and all those who help those who survived the ordeals but have become in some way damaged physically or mentally by their experiences. I remember that I can be a politician in a Country where public debate is still relatively free and I can live in a Country where racial and religious hatred is not encouraged by the State but punished by an independent judiciary.
It also gives me the opportunity to remember my Mum and Dad. Mum, who comes from North Liverpool, was engaged to a pilot in Bomber Command called Bill Moorcroft who came from a farming family near Ormskirk. He died and it was only when Mum was about 80 that she went to the grave that was kept for him and his comrades which were maintained by a small commune in France. That commune had a service every year on the anniversary of the deaths of the ‘boys who fought for them’. She marched off to war as a member of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force and never came home again. She met Sergeant Jack Kemp on an airfield in Lincolnshire and the result was marriage which produced my Sister and I!
At the going down of the sun and in the morning I will remember my Mum and Dad and all those that fought for my freedom and even more for those who did not come home and those that mourned them.