For each of the last 15 years I have taken tremendous pride and satisfaction in Chesterfield’s commitment to the Remembrance Sunday ceremony that takes place here. This year’s was made all the more poignant having just attended the 3 Para Remembrance service with them at the British Army Training Unit in Kenya where I had stayed for 6 days.
I had the opportunity to attend as part of my role in the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme. I and several colleagues volunteer to spend a minimum of 15 days in a year witnessing our Armed Forces in action. The scheme is designed to increase the knowledge base of MPs about Service life and give serving soldiers, sailors and Airmen the opportunity to question MPs too.
The most recent week was with our soldiers at the British Army Training Unit Kenya (BATUK). This was one in a series of deployments I have done as part of the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme. I spent time with a battle group of around 700 members of 3 Company of the Paratroop regiment, as they conducted some of their 8 week battle ready exercise. Alongside witnessing a live firing light infantry exercise, I also a live simulation where the 3 Paras were defending their camp from an onslaught delivered by a foreign army (played by members of the Ghurka regiment).
Over the course of the 6 days we learnt about what life is like for those members of BATUK who live permanently in Kenya, and for those who had set up camp in the Kenyan outback, lived in the battlefield.
We also saw two of the Community projects that the British Army had helped with in a Kenyan school and orphanage, and saw the joint work that our Army is doing working alongside and developing the Kenyan Army. Sleeping in the field with the Army, and living on ration packs, and washing in a bucket was a world away from normal life, but it certainly brings home the reality of life in the field for our soldiers.
Last year I spent time with the Navy, sailing to Amsterdam on a Type 23 frigate, HMS Sutherland and on our new destroyers, as well as witnessing the new Aircraft Carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth.
It all added to the poignancy of our Remembrance Day ceremony here, which I believe was as well attended as any have been in Chesterfield.
I think that so many attend because there is a growing awareness of both the contribution that has been made in the past and as a way of showing support to today’s generation of Servicemen and women.
Having spent time with the Army and Navy at all levels, I was very struck by the proper context that is given to the need to utilise the Armed Forces. They are keen to be trained and to be available to be used when the situation demands it. They were neither gung-ho nor daunted by the demands made of them, they simply recognise operations and deployments as a necessary part of service life.
Their commitment reinforces why the decision around whether to send our troops into hostile arenas is one that weighs heavier than any other on Parliament. For my part I will continue to do all I can to be the best informed that I can be, and to push for our Armed Service personnel to have the equipment and support they need to be world class now and in the future.