10 November 2020

S5M-23291 Remembrance Commemorations

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Lewis Macdonald): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-23291, in the name of Graeme Dey, on remembrance commemorations.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

It is a privilege to be here and to speak in a debate of this kind. That privilege is, of course, entirely due to the sacrifices of hundreds of thousands of people who have gone before us to protect our freedom.

One of my hobbies is researching my family tree. I have been doing so for more than 50 years, so I am able to say that I have 38 relatives in my family tree who died in various conflicts. Every other member who has spoken will have similar numbers; they just have not done the research to find them all. Mine range from first cousins of my father, to great uncles and to someone as distant as a seventh cousin.

On the library shelf that is beside me I have a naval telescope from the first world war, which was one of my father’s cousin’s telescopes. He was with my father and the rest of the family on the Black Isle when the siren went to recall him back to Invergordon and his duty on the minesweeper that was based there. The minesweeper left port but never returned, because it collided with a mine and was blown up. That telescope is the tangible memory of that member of our family.

The Covid crisis has caused me, and many others, to do much more walking. Within the compass of the walks that I have been able to undertake from my home here in Banffshire I pass four war memorials. The closest is half a mile away, the next is about two miles away, and so on.

I also pass graveyards in which there are graves that are tended by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. During the debate, we have so far not heard any reference to its work. Around the world there are memorials to those who fell in the wars. Those memorials are maintained to the highest and most impeccable standards, and with the most fulsome and appropriate records kept in books that people can inspect at most of them.

It was quite a long time ago, in 1978, that I went to the most poignant one that I have ever visited. It was about 20 miles north of what was then called Rangoon, in Burma. There was a Commonwealth grave there. It was a huge cemetery, and every blade of grass was cut to exactly the same height. It was impeccably kept, and the contrast with the state of the Burmese country at that point—where I could get only a 48-hour visa and only one hotel in the country was working—could not have been more stark. The efforts made in that very difficult environment to respect our war dead were extremely impressive indeed.

My ancestors and relatives fell at the Somme, Passchendaele, Ypres, Flanders, Normandy and around the world.

We have talked about all the men who fell, but there are also women on war memorials, although rather fewer. I would like to remember in particular the women who served as agents in enemy-occupied Europe. Because they were solitary, they made an even greater sacrifice than many who fell on our battlefields. It is a time to remember and a time for gratitude.


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