2016 has been another poignant year of remembrance. The people of Britain and the Commonwealth marked the centenary of the battles of Jutland and the Somme.
The Somme was a particularly devastating battle in which 20,000 people died on a single day in 1916, and to which the people of Barnsley are eternally linked through the bravery of the Barnsley Pals.
Men who, in 1914, responded to Lord Kitchener’s famous recruitment poster, and formed the 13th and 14th Battalions of the York and the Lancaster Regiments. They included miners, glassworkers, labourers and clerics –many of them family and friends. They joined together, trained together, fought together, and ultimately many of them died together. The square outside of Barnsley town hall is rightly dedicated to them and the people of Barnsley should always remember them.
This year, to mark the centenary of their sacrifice in the Somme, I travelled to Northern France to where the Barnsley Pals fought. There I took part in an moving service of remembrance, walked the ground over which they battled and stood in front of the graves in which so many of them now rest. It felt like they were very far from home and that we still owe them much.
But as well as reminding us of our past, the act of remembrance is an opportunity to be mindful of the present. In a fast moving world full of distraction, it is important we take time to both remember and reflect.
That is why over the period of remembrance we come together to think of the people 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. Not celebrating but commemorating –remembering the past, respecting the present, and hoping for a better and more peaceful future.
For many of us, remembrance is the best opportunity we have to not just pay our respects to those brave men and women who serve us today, but also support the work of organisations and military charities such as the British Legion and Combat Stress as they help those who continue to suffer.
So this autumn, when you buy a poppy and put your hard earned money in the collection tin, think not only of those who have fallen but also of the ongoing support by provided by our military charities, and how by wearing a poppy you show solidarity with veterans and the families still suffering.
Finally, I have said before that remembrance should be an ongoing act, and we should spend more time understanding our local histories and the rich stories of our communities. This is why I was pleased to join Councillor Joe Hayward in spending some time with The Barnsley Breakfast Club for veterans who as well as having their own Facebook Group meet every Saturday morning at The Joseph Bramah on Market Hill.
This is a brilliant initiative that brings together local service men and women in a society of friendship, support and respect. To talk about past experiences but also to help each other look forward and build toward the future. In so doing, this group of people do so much to make real the ethos behind many of our autumn acts of remembrance and ensure that there is always a welcome for our local veterans; I thank them for that.
This article was first published in the Barnsley Chronicle.