It’s a great privilege, as it is every year, to be here tonight and I’m grateful to all those who have worked hard to make this event happen.
In particular I want to pay thanks to Tom Barnes, Philip Watson, Goff Griffiths, Diane Atkinson and the Revd Philip Maries.
I also want to take a moment to pay special tribute to the Churchfield Branch’s late president, Charlie Grimshaw.
Charlie was a stalwart of the branch for more than 20 years and was always a joy to be around.
I know that this year’s Remembrance period will feel markedly different without his presence. He is much missed.
While it may seem obvious why Remembrance is important, there is always value in revisiting the core principles that underpin it.
In its essence, Remembrance is a fundamental pillar of our national character – a binding force that connects us to previous generations,
reminding us that the freedoms we enjoy today were secured through the selflessness and unwavering dedication of those who came before us.
It’s an act of gratitude, and a declaration that we will not forget the sacrifices made on our behalf.
I've spoken previously of the heroism of Sgt Ian McKay VC of the 3rd Battalion The Parachute Regiment;
and I do so again tonight because of the unveiling of a memorial stone in front of the Cenotaph at Barnsley Town Hall in his honour earlier this week.
I remember hearing of Sgt McKay’s selflessness for the first time as a young paratrooper; and now, a quarter of a century on I feel incredibly proud to be an MP in the town where he was born.
His story has stayed with me and occupies a legendary place in the annals of airborne history: In 1982, whilst at home on leave, Sgt McKay had been out playing football and had not long returned home when a phone call came to say he must return to barracks immediately. He was informed that events in the South Atlantic had escalated and that he and his comrades must set sail with haste.
Six weeks later, his battalion arrived at Port San Carlos.
After assuming defensive positions, 3 Para were ordered to move to Teal Inlet— the first leg of a 60-mile gruelling march under brutal conditions. They would then advance for an assault on Mount Longdon.
The battle for Mount Longdon was ferocious, chaotic and bloody. The ground had been occupied for weeks by Argentine forces who were dug-in and well-defended. It is very difficult to put into words the courage, selflessness and valour displayed by Sgt McKay in the dark, cold early hours of the morning of 12 June 1982.
His citation is as close as we will get, so I would like to share part of it with you this evening:
“The assault was met by a hail of fire. The corporal was seriously wounded, a private killed and another wounded.
Despite these losses, Sgt McKay, with complete disregard for his own safety, continued to charge the enemy position alone.
On reaching it, he despatched the enemy with grenades, thereby relieving the position of the beleaguered 4 and 5 platoons, who were now able to redeploy with relative safety.
Sgt McKay, however, was killed at the moment of victory, his body falling on the bunker.
With a complete disregard for his own safety, he displayed courage and leadership of the highest order.”
On that night, in the cold and the dark, Sgt McKay was an inspiration to all those around him. His legacy is that he has also been an inspiration to every paratrooper who came after him. Myself included.
Two days later, the war came to end, and Sgt McKay was subsequently awarded the Victoria Cross, one of only two recipients in the campaign.
On the memorial erected at the spot at which he fell are inscribed the immortal words from the Gospel of John:
“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
Never were those words more fitting, and as we remember Sgt McKay and all those who have made the ultimate sacrifice, we reaffirm our commitment to strive for the brighter and more peaceful future that they fought for. And we fulfil our promise to stand united, find strength in our shared history, and to confront the challenges of today with the unwavering resolve that has defined us throughout our history.
This is why, on Remembrance Sunday, millions across the country will come together; not celebrating but commemorating – remembering the past, respecting the present, and working towards a better and more peaceful future.