Armed Forces Day debate

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith). I welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate to celebrate our armed forces’ past and present service to our nation on this the 11th Armed Forces Day.

We as a country have a proud history of stepping up on the world stage and it is our armed forces that ensure that we play a major role. This year, as we celebrated 75 years since the D-day landings, I have been learning about the incredible contribution that my constituency, Chichester, made. There are wonderfully vivid accounts of tanks rolling over the South Downs and of our still quaint villages being disturbed by our American allies playing baseball on the village cricket grounds. All along the south coast, there were practice landings before the assault was launched. There are tales of Eisenhower, Montgomery and Churchill watching a final rehearsal of the landings from the Bracklesham Bay Hotel as their men ran drills.

RAF Tangmere, near Chichester, played a huge part, taking operation control of 56 squadrons from 18 airfields and pilots from all around the world—from allied and occupied nations such as Canada, New Zealand and Poland. Our local history is full of incredible stories, although today there is little left of our wartime past. That is why I have been supporting the Save Tangmere Tower campaign, which is working to restore the former RAF control tower and to preserve a part of our military heritage, remembering not only the RAF pilots during the battle of Britain, but our brave Special Operations Executive agents, often women flying into occupied Europe.

Our wartime history has been woven into the fabric of our society. Even our generation have lived with the memories all around us. My grandmother served in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force and my grandfathers were in the Royal Navy and the Merchant Navy. My husband is named after his uncle who served and died with the Royal Artillery in Italy in 1944. We all grew up with a living history, and today very few who served are here to tell us the stories of our past. We often take the fact that we live in peace for granted. It is more important than ever to preserve the monuments that remain so that younger generations can understand how the sacrifice of others has enabled their freedom.

Today, Chichester still plays an important role in the defence of the realm, as Thorney Island is within my constituency. Thorney is home to the 12th Regiment Royal Artillery, which provides close support air defence to the UK’s manoeuvre forces, protecting critical assets from a range of airborne threats. I have met some of the men and women serving at the base a couple of times and once totally by chance when we went to sell poppies at Westminster tube station and they were already there rattling their buckets.

My background is in business, so I must admit that I have a lot to learn about the armed services, but being in this place I have already begun on that journey and I am looking forward to continuing it, having signed up to the armed forces parliamentary scheme. With Portsmouth just down the road—and to follow in my grandfather’s footsteps—I have enrolled in the naval course, where I will have the opportunity to get a real insight into what it means to be in the Navy by being in their shoes for a ​short while. This is becoming a theme in my office as one of my staff, Elena, is already a reservist and another, Tom, hopes to go off to Sandhurst soon to begin his officer training.

Our armed forces really are the pride of our nation. They place themselves in harm’s way so that we may enjoy the liberties and freedoms that we all cherish and value, and today we are all here just to say thank you. In return, we must fully fund our defence capability and veterans’ services, which is why I welcome the Chancellor’s commitment earlier this year of £1 billion extra funding. I hope that we can continue to keep the memory of past service alive through sharing the stories of our ancestors and preserving the relics that remain here. The British armed forces are the envy of the world, and we and our allies rely on their professionalism and skill, both now and in the future, especially in such uncertain times as the ones in which we live.