THIS Sunday marks 100 years since the First World War came to end. The Armistice followed four years of brutal conflict and industrial loss of life on a scale previously unimaginable. Three quarters of a million men from the UK died, leaving families without husbands, fathers and sons.
Sacrifice of this scale must always be remembered, and should always be commemorated. But while each Armistice Day is tremendously important, this year’s centenary is particularly poignant. One hundred years is a landmark and such is a time to pause and reflect.
The First World War was a conflict that touched every family, affected every community and fundamentally altered our country’s place in the world. Of the 16,000 village communities in England at that time, no more than 32 of them were untouched by loss. It was also the first truly total war – involving millions of men and women on the Home Front as well as those who served and fought on the front line.
The war led to more women in work than ever before. They took on roles that had previously been the preserve only of men. With an estimated two million women entering the workforce, they joined countless individual heroines – such as the nurse Edith Cavell and the doctor Elsie Inglis – and left millions of cracks in what had previously been an immaculate glass ceiling.
As a result of the First World War, our democracy expanded. By 1918, 8.4 million women were finally enfranchised by the Representation of the People Act – society became less deferential, the trade union movement grew, and the role of the state changed and our politics would never be the same again. Britain, and its place in the world, changed forever.
On Sunday, communities will come together to reflect upon all of this, but most specifically the sacrifice of those young men who fought in World War One. They were family, friends and neighbours who joined up together, trained together, fought together and, often, died together.
They, in turn, were joined by hundreds of thousands of men from across the Commonwealth who came to fight for a country they did not know; the Army of that time looked far more like modern day Britain than the society of the day.
In the 100 years since the savagery of World War One, our world has changed in innumerable ways. We now live in a fast-moving world that is full of distractions. So there are few things more moving than when our entire country falls silent. When we mark remembrance, it is a signal to our veterans and their families that we are thinking of them. That we are trying to understand what they are going through, and that we stand with them, in the spirit of respect, decency and solidarity.
Events taking place up and down the country this weekend offer people the opportunity to pay their respects to the men and women who have laid down their lives for us; the veterans whose lives have been changed by conflict and the families whose loved ones did not come home. This is not celebrating but commemorating – remembering the past, respecting the present and working toward a better and more peaceful future.
That’s why, as well as reminding us of our past, the act of remembrance is an opportunity to be mindful of the present, and think of those who have fallen in more recent conflicts around the world. As I lay a wreath at the cenotaph in Barnsley on Remembrance Sunday, I will be thinking of the men who lost their lives a century ago. But I will also be thinking of those who fell in recent conflicts, in Iraq, in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
I will also be thinking about how we can work to educate our children about remembrance, about sacrifice and about peace. I believe that we owe it to them to ensure that they carry the message forward to the generations to come. In Yorkshire, I’m working with the Woodland Trust to plant trees in schools, in what I hope will become a powerful symbol of reflection and remembrance.
As someone who served and saw friends fall, the act of commemoration is particularly important to me. Not just because of the respect I have for the sacrifice made 100 years ago, but because I hope that in a hundred years’ time, the sacrifice made by my friends and comrades will also be remembered. This Armistice Day, it is our responsibility to ensure that all those who served and sacrificed for us are recognised and commemorated.
But we must also remember the Britain they protected and the one they created; and how because of them it became the country we live in today – remembering, honouring, thanking.
Dan Jarvis MBE is Mayor of the Sheffield City Region and MP for Barnsley Central. He served in The Parachute Regiment.