This year, one hundred years on from the outbreak of war in 1914, we have a unique opportunity to mark this historic anniversary and to pay tribute to those who laid down their lives, and to reflect on the wider social changes that war brought about.
This year is the start of a four-year programme of local, national and international events to commemorate what took place between 1914 and 1918. The outbreak of war falls on 4th August, when the whole country is expected to commemorate the events from a century ago.
We do so mindful of those who have fought and died in other conflicts since 1918, and those who have served us more recently in Afghanistan, Iraq and other parts of the world.
We should also reflect upon the social change brought about by war.
The First World War fundamentally shifted social attitudes and changed how people all over Britain lived and worked together. Before 1914, most working men or no women had a vote, but this would soon change. The role of women also changed forever as women took on jobs that were previously seen as a male preserve.
World War One was also an important landmark in our multicultural history. More than 1.2 million people from across the Commonwealth served in the British war effort, including soldiers from India, the West Indies, Australia and Canada. This underlines the importance of all children learning about the shared history of multi-ethnic Britain.
Few communities were left untouched by the conflict. Of more than 16,000 villages across the country in 1914, only 40 would reach 1918 without having lost a serviceman in battle.
As the summer approaches and the centenary anniversaries draw closer, there will be many more opportunities for our community to mark our own connection to the First World War.
I will be marking the sacrifice made by my own great-granddad, Private Benjamin Ridgway, who was killed on 30th July 1916 near Loos. He served with his friends in the Salford Pals, which was part of the Lancashire Fusiliers. He was removed from the Somme a month earlier having been struck by lightning.
Thoughts will turn to memorials in every city, town and village – including our own. I encourage everybody to take part in their local commemorations. It is a potent reminder both of the pity of war but also of the folly of unchecked power. Let us never forget.