Why the Young Fabians are laying a wreath at the Cenotaph

Without the sacrifice of a generation we would never have vanquished the evils of Nazism, and Attlee’s lasting achievements could never have come about.

James Hallwood is secretary of the Young Fabians and is writing on behalf of the Executive

In July the Young Fabian Executive unanimously voted in support of my resolution to lay a wreath at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday.

The Young Fabians are not wading into a debate on whether public officials should take part in official Remembrance Sunday commemorations – as a pluralistic organisation we are conscious that there are a range of views and traditions within the Labour movement and the Young Fabians itself.

With that in mind it’s important not to be prescriptive on how we remember – what works for most of us might not work for some. But just as I wouldn’t force everyone to see the poppy, the Cenotaph and Remembrance Sunday as the ultimate memorials to the fallen, so too must I defend the right of the majority of the British population who do.

Amidst the pomp of a state mourning the dead it is truly humbling to see the faces of Second World War veterans marching down Whitehall to pay their respects to their fallen comrades. For me it has always been an indicator of why the Cenotaph and the official commemorations are the appropriate way to remember – the men and women who fought overwhelmingly chose, and continue to choose, them to be so.

The final few veterans of the Great War chose to take part in the memorial until that generation passed on; now too the veterans of Britain’s fight against Hitler continue to hold Remembrance Sunday with high honour – veterans from wars since continue that tradition. In taking part in the official ceremony the Young Fabian Executive stands in solidarity with those who fought in these conflicts as they remember lost friends and their experiences of war.

The British Labour movement stands on the shoulders of our veterans. Without the sacrifice of a generation we would never have vanquished the evils of Nazism, and without them Attlee’s lasting achievements could never have come about. The NHS, the welfare state – Labour fights for them every day but without the fight against Hitler the spirit of ’45 would have remained an unrealised dream.

I have written before that standing with our forces does not mean supporting every detail of British foreign policy. I will use the centenary of the First World War to mourn a tragedy, not to celebrate.

More recently, I opposed the war in Iraq – but that does not mean I don’t have the utmost respect for our troops and veterans. Just as I disagree with the coalition’s NHS ‘reforms’, I stand with our doctors and nurses; and I have the same attitude with the armed forces.

On Sunday I will remember the men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice: the majority of them within the age-range of the Young Fabians, many of them sharing our socialist ideals. However you choose to do so, I hope you will remember too. As a country and as a movement we owe our continued existence to the heroes who have gone before us.

Ahead of laying our wreath the Young Fabians are discussing Remembrance Across the Generations this evening with shadow defence minister Gemma Doyle; veteran and author, James Wharton; and Matthew Rhodes from British Future. We will be discussing a range of topics around this subject so please come along – a diversity of views is expected and encouraged.

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.