It is a real privilege to speak in this debate and to follow such wonderful, heartfelt speeches.
H. G. Wells, who attended school for a time at Midhurst in my constituency, described the great war as the war that will end all wars. However, the fact that we refer today to the first world war shows that his belief was sadly misplaced. Only two decades after the war to end all wars, the world was again plunged into conflict, with millions of British and Commonwealth soldiers slain on faraway battlefields after fighting, for a second time, for the survival of our democratic institutions, our freedom and our liberty.
Not far from H. G. Wells’ school is a village called East Wittering. It was the only parish in Sussex not to lose a single soldier during the great war. Just 53 parishes in the country can claim that and together they make up the thankful villages. More than 16,000 villages across Britain were not as fortunate as the 53. The names of the 6,800 servicemen from the Royal Sussex Regiment who gave their lives are fittingly inscribed on the regimental walls in Chichester cathedral, which also commemorate the 351 soldiers from the Chichester district who gave their lives. Soldiers died in lands they had only heard of in books so we can stand here today as free men and women. Private Samuel White was born in Chichester. He enlisted in Brighton and is now buried in Jerusalem’s war cemetery after being assassinated by a sniper in 1917. Private William Turner, also born in Chichester, drowned in the battlecruiser HMS Queen Mary, which was sunk in the North sea during the battle of Jutland in 1916. He was just 20 years old.
For many like William, their final resting place is on the ocean floor. The ships they once served on are now their coffins. It is for that reason that I welcome the work of organisations such as the Maritime Archaeology Trust, which raises awareness of the forgotten shipwrecks of the first world war along our coastline. Thanks to Heritage Lottery Fund money set aside to mark the centenary of the Armistice, the trust’s online interactive map serves as a poignant reminder of not only the sheer volume of ships that were destroyed, but crucially the number of crew members who went down with them. Not far from the Selsey coast lies His Majesty’s Australian Transport Warilda. Converted to a hospital ship from a requisitioned transport vessel, she was torpedoed by a German submarine on 2 August 1918, with 123 of the 801 passengers and crew on board losing their lives. Violet Long, who had received an OBE earlier that year for her service in Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps, was one of those who drowned that night. Thanks to the hard work of researchers and funding, her story is now available for us all to hear and commemorate. It is appropriate in this Armistice debate that we call for everything possible to be done to preserve these war graves.
Equally, it is vital that we continue to honour everybody who has given service in defending us. Although this centenary year has made us all more aware of the sacrifices made by past generations, we cannot let names like Samuel White and William Turner vanish from the record. It will be a humbling experience again to join city leaders at Chichester cathedral to pay our respects in this Sunday’s centenary commemorations and to remember the bravery of the people who gave their lives.
Over the past year, volunteers at the University of Chichester have been researching the accounts of local residents who were sent overseas during the war, and that work allows us to remember and honour their role in the conflict. As part of the Priory Park 100 Armistice celebrations in Chichester, a life-size model of a local soldier, Maurice Patten, was created by our celebrated local sculptor Vincent Gray. Maurice enrolled in Chichester and died in battle in France in 1916, aged just 24. One can hardly imagine the bravery of those young men as they huddled together in their trenches, awaiting the order to go over the top and face death in no man’s land. Vincent’s sculpture of Maurice is a fitting tribute to his memory.
The guns fell silent at 11 am on the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, 100 years ago. Our voices in this place should never fall silent in honouring, respecting and remembering the sacrifice and bravery of these young men and women who gave their today for our tomorrow.