This week, we will be commemorating the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War (writes columnist Shaz Nawaz, city council Labour Group leader).
The last Tommies passed away years ago; the so-called “Great War” has faded from living memory. Now it is recalled with names etched in memorials across the country; children may wonder what it was all about and look it up on Wikipedia on their smartphones I am very glad that every year we have the ritual of Remembrance Day; those who fought, perished or survived, deserve more than just monuments in stone, but to be recalled as flesh and blood human beings who had aspirations, dreams, hopes, virtues and yes, faults.
We should be mindful of our duty to the living: servicemen and women who have fought in recent wars and their families deserve not just our regard, but also should have the covenant the nation has made with them fulfilled.
I was deeply disturbed by the recent case of a retired RAF serviceman originally from Jamaica who was caught up in the Windrush scandal; fortunately, his issues were resolved. I wonder how many more out there are like him; how many more retired or wounded warriors are not receiving the treatment they deserve?
I believe we should also take the opportunity endowed by Remembrance Day to reflect on what it means to be British. I recently attended an event at the Ghousia Masjid which commemorated the Muslim servicemen who fought for Britain in World War 2. Out of curiosity, I’ve looked at other faded photographs from that time: not only Muslim, but Hindu and Sikh soldiers served too. Beyond the Indian sub-continent, we find that those who fought for this country came from every corner of the planet: Poland, the Czech Republic, Australia, Canada, South Africa to name but a few.
It is fashionable to deride the idea of “multiculturalism” these days: it is something that tabloid newspapers and populist politicians refer to with disdain, if not outright disgust. We are told that it is weakening the nation. However, the faded photographs and war memorials suggest that Britain has long been a multicultural enterprise. The various languages, faiths and creeds united under the Union Flag in the defence of not just a home, but an idea: a nation built on tolerance, aspirations to liberty and fairness, and a striving for justice. There is no nation that has ever fully achieved these hopes, but maintaining this goal and working towards it is just as important.
I wear the poppy in my lapel this year and every year. There are those that may feel we shouldn’t be celebrating war; I believe they are fortunate to live in a country where they have the freedom to say so. I believe by wearing the poppy we are remembering the people who gave their all in the defence of an idea of Britain. My Labour colleagues and I are working towards making the country worthy of the sacrifice.