This Sunday I’ll be joining with people across Barnsley to take part in our community’s memorial for the fallen. Together we will be sharing a moment with millions of people across our country in remembrance of the brave men and women who have served and sacrificed for us down the ages.
That’s what’s special about Remembrance Sunday. It’s a moment when we come together as a country, to reflect on our past, our present and our shared future.
This has been another poignant year for remembrance.
We’ve marked the end of the Second World War, with the 70th anniversaries of both VE Day and VJ Day.
We’ve also commemorated those who fell on the beaches of Gallipoli as part of the ongoing centenary of the First World War. By the time we gather again next autumn, 100 years will have passed since the Battles of Jutland and the Somme – when 20,000 people died in a single day on 1st July 1916.
I think it’s one of the reasons why there has been such public interest in remembrance all over our islands.
In my part of the world, visitor numbers have trebled at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park since a section of the moving Tower of London poppies display was installed a few weeks ago. People are coming because they want to pay their respects, reflect on our shared history and the connection with our forebears.
That includes recognising the enormous debt we owe to people who weren’t born in Britain, but who have stood shoulder to shoulder with us in our nation’s gravest hours of need.
A memorial was unveiled at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire earlier this week in tribute to the 130,000 Sikh soldiers who served in the First World War. It’s a reminder of how our country was defended in the last century by the selfless acts of people of all creeds and colours, and we must never forget that.
As well as our past, Remembrance Sunday is also a moment to look to the present, salute those who continue to serve us today, and support the essential work of the Royal British Legion and countless other military charities.
We are so lucky to have such brave men and women serving in our Armed Forces today. We should be eternally thankful for what they do for us all over the world – from tackling ISIS from the skies over Iraq, responding to the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean, or in Afghanistan, where it was recently announced that 450 non-combat personnel will remain in 2016.
No matter what we think of the decisions that have sent our soldiers into conflict down the years, we have a duty to bear witness to their sacrifice, care for our veterans and support the families whose loved ones have not come home.
We wear the poppy for them because it rises far above the disagreements that divide us. And because it unites us, in gratitude to those who have put themselves in harm’s way in service to our country.
Finally, our reflections today should also include our hopes for the future.
We all want to live in a safer and more peaceful world. The tragic events in the skies over Egypt in recent days have reminded us that we sadly live in a world still too scarred by division and conflict.
If remembering the toll of past battles is to make any impression on us today, it should inspire us to reach for greater compromise, peace and understanding.
President Kennedy once said that the pursuit of peace needed to be taken one day, one week and one month at a time – ‘a gradual process of changing opinions, slowly eroding old barriers, and quietly building new structures.’
In our moment of quiet today, let us think of that. In memory of those who have fallen, and in hope for a better world than the one our fallen heroes made for us.