Mayor's full Remembrance Sunday speech

Mayor's Remembrance Sunday speech provokes backlash

Mayor's Remembrance Sunday speech provokes backlash

First published in News by

HUNDREDS of people turned out to pay their respects to the fallen at Basingstoke’s War Memorial last Sunday.

The event featured contributions from various people, including the Bishop of Basingstoke, The Right Reverend Peter Hancock, and pupils from two local schools. Wreaths were laid on behalf of various organisations.

A speech was made by Basingstoke and Deane Mayor Councillor Martin Biermann, and his comments have prompted three critical letters to The Gazette, which were published on this week’s letters page.

Below, you can read the full text of Cllr Biermann’s address at the Remembrance event, and he also explains why he made changes to the traditional ceremony.

Martin Biermann writes: In looking at this year's Civic Remembrance Service I was eager to see it being as inclusive as possible.

To this end I invited not only my Spiritual Mentor, but also a representative of our Nepalese community and other ethnic groups to say a few words. I was delighted that a person from the Basingstoke Multicultural Forum was prepared to participate.

Equally welcome was that an invitation to a primary school and a secondary school were taken up and executed with such spirit. To cap it all, the Bishop of Basingstoke was pleased to join in.

My own contribution can be seen below. I wished to recognise the sacrifices made by so many, express my horror – as have many others – over the level of past slaughter, and highlight, what I believe, are important considerations for mankind.

Remembrance Sunday speech: “We come together in a very important act of remembrance.

We have already referred the dedication and bravery displayed by our armed forces. Many gallant men and women have made great sacrifices to protect the freedoms we enjoy today. Some war veterans amongst us here today have had the horrific experience of witnessing the death or serious injury of comrades. Many have themselves been injured. Probably all have suffered the emotional damage of such experiences. Others here with us will have faced the trauma of losing loved ones in conflict.

Let me add my deepest sympathy for all the suffering you have endured.

In looking ahead, I should like to widen our thoughts to the many people who are showing commitment and self-sacrifice in the numerous ongoing areas of conflict throughout the world. Apart from the armed forces, I would draw attention particularly to the heroism displayed by so many volunteers working to bring medical services and other life-saving support to both combatants and those described as "collateral damage". The supreme heroism of such individuals rarely receives publicity, and much less, ongoing recognition. I would even include journalists, (such as Marie Colvin), without whose presence in conflict zones we would most likely have a very incomplete picture of local situations and a much less complete recorded history.

Armistice Day, when first conceived, was all about remembering the fallen, and also pledging "never again". Sadly, nations continue to compete in arms sales, often to unstable or suspect regimes. We also engage in dubious conflicts deemed by many learnéd people to be illegal, such as in Iraq. And when we engage in more justifiable conflicts we sadly sometimes lose our moral compass.

I have sat amongst some of the remaining ruins in Hiroshima. I cried. The nearby museum contained the United Nations Treaty where we pledged to abolish our nuclear arsenals. We still have a long way to go! And in terms of smaller scale – but on a personal level equally devastating – weapons I point to my wife, the Mayoress, and her escape from the illegal bombing of Cambodia. This bombing was not only massive in conventional terms but also included such horrors as napalm, Agent Orange, cluster bombs and contaminants to poison rivers. Yes, that was now some time back, but we continue to develop some truly awful weaponry.

We are all here together with what may be an impossible dream; that of seeing an end to war. Let us all remember the heroism of so many who have sought to protect and improve our lifestyles. I hope we can each make our own small contribution to reducing slaughter and destruction in the years ahead.

I should just like to finish with a quotation. Harry Patch (the longest surviving and much decorated First World War veteran who died now over three years ago) said: “If any man tells you he went into the front line and wasn't scared, he is a liar”.

Harry knew what he was talking about and whilst he did not say much about the war until he was over 100 years old, if you can find time to read about his life and thoughts it is very worthwhile.

I invite you to join me in the Act of Commitment.”

Comments (11)

Please log in to enable comment sorting

1:13pm Thu 15 Nov 12

GinjaViking says...

I see nothing wrong with the Mayor's speech. Factually and morally what he said was justified and correct. However I am not surprised about the reaction, as people have become hypersensitive when it comes to discussion of the armed forces, and any view short of hagiography is criticized. The Mayor was not politicizing the event, it has become politicized already over recent years, and he is victim to that. Armistice day used to be about the commemoration of sacrifice and a lamentation of the horrors of war, somehow we have lost the latter, and any attempt at nuance, or discussion of context is met with politically motivated outrage. Shame.
I see nothing wrong with the Mayor's speech. Factually and morally what he said was justified and correct. However I am not surprised about the reaction, as people have become hypersensitive when it comes to discussion of the armed forces, and any view short of hagiography is criticized. The Mayor was not politicizing the event, it has become politicized already over recent years, and he is victim to that. Armistice day used to be about the commemoration of sacrifice and a lamentation of the horrors of war, somehow we have lost the latter, and any attempt at nuance, or discussion of context is met with politically motivated outrage. Shame. GinjaViking
  • Score: 0

4:23pm Thu 15 Nov 12

THX 1138 says...

GinjaViking wrote:
I see nothing wrong with the Mayor's speech. Factually and morally what he said was justified and correct. However I am not surprised about the reaction, as people have become hypersensitive when it comes to discussion of the armed forces, and any view short of hagiography is criticized. The Mayor was not politicizing the event, it has become politicized already over recent years, and he is victim to that. Armistice day used to be about the commemoration of sacrifice and a lamentation of the horrors of war, somehow we have lost the latter, and any attempt at nuance, or discussion of context is met with politically motivated outrage. Shame.
Many people will agree with all or most of what he said, but that still doesn't make it the right occasion to make such a speech. The day is an act of remembrance, not one for political speeches. The fact that others may do the same doesn't make it right.
[quote][p][bold]GinjaViking[/bold] wrote: I see nothing wrong with the Mayor's speech. Factually and morally what he said was justified and correct. However I am not surprised about the reaction, as people have become hypersensitive when it comes to discussion of the armed forces, and any view short of hagiography is criticized. The Mayor was not politicizing the event, it has become politicized already over recent years, and he is victim to that. Armistice day used to be about the commemoration of sacrifice and a lamentation of the horrors of war, somehow we have lost the latter, and any attempt at nuance, or discussion of context is met with politically motivated outrage. Shame.[/p][/quote]Many people will agree with all or most of what he said, but that still doesn't make it the right occasion to make such a speech. The day is an act of remembrance, not one for political speeches. The fact that others may do the same doesn't make it right. THX 1138
  • Score: 0

11:56pm Thu 15 Nov 12

Ma1923 says...

I have attended many remembrance services over the last 40 plus years, but the service this year was totally ruined for me by the Mayors speech. Although what he said was valid there is a time and a place. Last Sunday was neither the time or the place. The Mayor should have followed the example of previous Mayors laid the wreath and kept his mouth shut
I have attended many remembrance services over the last 40 plus years, but the service this year was totally ruined for me by the Mayors speech. Although what he said was valid there is a time and a place. Last Sunday was neither the time or the place. The Mayor should have followed the example of previous Mayors laid the wreath and kept his mouth shut Ma1923
  • Score: 0

8:55am Fri 16 Nov 12

Bradford Pal says...

The speech was a disgrace, if he did not want to be part of things because of his beliefs, he should not have attended. In the same way he did not help with the Poppy Appeal as his forbears generously did - did he actually pay for the poppy he was wearing or was it given to him by the RBL? (I was surprised it wasn't a white one). To his feeling sorry for the people of Japan, there was no mention of British PoWs and how they were treated. This speech just following a frail lone Burma Star veteran laying his wreath. Thankfully others there knew what this was about - and if the mayor wishes to shed tears at a war memorial, never mind Hiroshima, try the Menin Gate in Ypres or the Thiepval Memorial on the Somme if he wanted to see the true cost of the British sacrifice for freedom!
The speech was a disgrace, if he did not want to be part of things because of his beliefs, he should not have attended. In the same way he did not help with the Poppy Appeal as his forbears generously did - did he actually pay for the poppy he was wearing or was it given to him by the RBL? (I was surprised it wasn't a white one). To his feeling sorry for the people of Japan, there was no mention of British PoWs and how they were treated. This speech just following a frail lone Burma Star veteran laying his wreath. Thankfully others there knew what this was about - and if the mayor wishes to shed tears at a war memorial, never mind Hiroshima, try the Menin Gate in Ypres or the Thiepval Memorial on the Somme if he wanted to see the true cost of the British sacrifice for freedom! Bradford Pal
  • Score: 0

9:27am Fri 16 Nov 12

basing says...

I too have attended many Rememberance Day services in Basingstoke and marched in quite a few but I enjoyed the changes to the service and was very proud that a Gurka was given a voice at the same time as a young child spoke with pride about his Great Grandad. I had a Father who served in the Normandy landings, Atlantic and Arctic convoys and could not speak about his experiences (post traumatic stress. I have been to Japan, the Menin Gate, Holocaust Museum and the Cenotaph to name some.
My complaint was with the so called veterens who arrived in London Road where all was quiet and sombre, shouting and laughing, they stood in the crowd and passed around a hip flask, the continued to disurb those around them and halfway through the National Anthem chose to walk away noisily. Even the small children were silent. How do I know they were veterens - they were wearing medals and berets.
Well done to all the leaders who brought youngsters to the service and participated in services in other churches and at memorials in the area.
I too have attended many Rememberance Day services in Basingstoke and marched in quite a few but I enjoyed the changes to the service and was very proud that a Gurka was given a voice at the same time as a young child spoke with pride about his Great Grandad. I had a Father who served in the Normandy landings, Atlantic and Arctic convoys and could not speak about his experiences (post traumatic stress. I have been to Japan, the Menin Gate, Holocaust Museum and the Cenotaph to name some. My complaint was with the so called veterens who arrived in London Road where all was quiet and sombre, shouting and laughing, they stood in the crowd and passed around a hip flask, the continued to disurb those around them and halfway through the National Anthem chose to walk away noisily. Even the small children were silent. How do I know they were veterens - they were wearing medals and berets. Well done to all the leaders who brought youngsters to the service and participated in services in other churches and at memorials in the area. basing
  • Score: 0

10:31am Fri 16 Nov 12

Cllr Paul Harvey says...

Remembrance is a very personal thing for individuals, families and friends. I respect all of the posts on this blog for that reason.

This year's act of remembrance involved an address from a Gurkha and from children, which reminded me of two very important points that I feel, and this is a personal perspective, define Remembrance Day.

Firstly, those that have fallen in defence of freedom and the values we and they hold true come from all over the world, and it is right that we remember them and their sacrifice for us.

Secondly, the most telling line of remembrance is that they gave their today for our tomorrow. Children represent the hope that should grow out of the futility and waste of war.
That message is to the better morality of all of us to live better lives and understand what freedom, community and responsibility mean.

Whether you agree or disagree with the Mayor's address, for me the important point is your own act of remembering. I was trying to think of the words that captured my emotions of listening to all that was said. I thought that for me the service this year was very human.

My grandfather served in the Royal Navy and was a POW during WW2. He shaped my life with values and understanding I hold dear today. My remembering is for him and for all who serve.

When I was teaching at the Defence Academy a few years ago, you cannot but be impressed and respect the men and women of our Armed Forces.

This is such an emotional and personal subject that I want to be careful to respect what the Mayor says as a message which is important to hear, and also respect the men and women whose views of what was said will be different. There cannot be a more complex and difficult matter than war.

There are wars we choose, there are wars were we have no choice. But there is always a consequence. Remembering for me is about that act of respecting those that have served, but also understanding the meaning of their sacrifice. It's the lessons we should draw to show value from their sacrifice.

My generation, and for that matter my parents’ generation have not known a war like that of Harry Patch. For me his words are very powerful:

"When the war ended, I don't know if I was more relieved that we'd won or that I didn't have to go back. Passchendaele was a disastrous battle thousands and thousands of young lives were lost. It makes me angry. Earlier this year, I went back to Ypres to shake the hand of Herr Kuentz, Germany's only surviving veteran from the war. It was emotional. He is 107. We've had 87 years to think what war is. To me, it's a licence to go out and murder. Why should the British government call me up and take me out to a battlefield to shoot a man I never knew, whose language I couldn't speak? All those lives lost for a war finished over a table. Now what is the sense in that?" - Harry Patch

We should remember, and we should value the messages of all, but especially those that have served. I respect that this is a personal view I am sharing that many people may disagree with.
Remembrance is a very personal thing for individuals, families and friends. I respect all of the posts on this blog for that reason. This year's act of remembrance involved an address from a Gurkha and from children, which reminded me of two very important points that I feel, and this is a personal perspective, define Remembrance Day. Firstly, those that have fallen in defence of freedom and the values we and they hold true come from all over the world, and it is right that we remember them and their sacrifice for us. Secondly, the most telling line of remembrance is that they gave their today for our tomorrow. Children represent the hope that should grow out of the futility and waste of war. That message is to the better morality of all of us to live better lives and understand what freedom, community and responsibility mean. Whether you agree or disagree with the Mayor's address, for me the important point is your own act of remembering. I was trying to think of the words that captured my emotions of listening to all that was said. I thought that for me the service this year was very human. My grandfather served in the Royal Navy and was a POW during WW2. He shaped my life with values and understanding I hold dear today. My remembering is for him and for all who serve. When I was teaching at the Defence Academy a few years ago, you cannot but be impressed and respect the men and women of our Armed Forces. This is such an emotional and personal subject that I want to be careful to respect what the Mayor says as a message which is important to hear, and also respect the men and women whose views of what was said will be different. There cannot be a more complex and difficult matter than war. There are wars we choose, there are wars were we have no choice. But there is always a consequence. Remembering for me is about that act of respecting those that have served, but also understanding the meaning of their sacrifice. It's the lessons we should draw to show value from their sacrifice. My generation, and for that matter my parents’ generation have not known a war like that of Harry Patch. For me his words are very powerful: "When the war ended, I don't know if I was more relieved that we'd won or that I didn't have to go back. Passchendaele was a disastrous battle thousands and thousands of young lives were lost. It makes me angry. Earlier this year, I went back to Ypres to shake the hand of Herr Kuentz, Germany's only surviving veteran from the war. It was emotional. He is 107. We've had 87 years to think what war is. To me, it's a licence to go out and murder. Why should the British government call me up and take me out to a battlefield to shoot a man I never knew, whose language I couldn't speak? All those lives lost for a war finished over a table. Now what is the sense in that?" - Harry Patch We should remember, and we should value the messages of all, but especially those that have served. I respect that this is a personal view I am sharing that many people may disagree with. Cllr Paul Harvey
  • Score: 0

10:49am Fri 16 Nov 12

Sam_Walker123456 says...

Ma1923 says... 'Although what he said was valid there is a time and a place. Last Sunday was neither the time or the place'.
Last Sunday was absolutely the time and place to shake us out of our complacency. Remembrance day is becoming just another charity day with the sole aim to raise greater sums of money each year. The Mayor reminded us what it should be about and he had the perfect platform on which to do it. Where or when else would he have achieved the same level of publicity? I hope it makes the complainers consider what sacrifices were made so that they are now free to make their petty moans. I am glad the Mayor's speech made uncomfortable listening for some but it was far better than the usual complacent mouthings from most of his predecessors. I just wish our successive Governments had not been so keen to keep entering new conflicts - legal or otherwise.
Ma1923 says... 'Although what he said was valid there is a time and a place. Last Sunday was neither the time or the place'. Last Sunday was absolutely the time and place to shake us out of our complacency. Remembrance day is becoming just another charity day with the sole aim to raise greater sums of money each year. The Mayor reminded us what it should be about and he had the perfect platform on which to do it. Where or when else would he have achieved the same level of publicity? I hope it makes the complainers consider what sacrifices were made so that they are now free to make their petty moans. I am glad the Mayor's speech made uncomfortable listening for some but it was far better than the usual complacent mouthings from most of his predecessors. I just wish our successive Governments had not been so keen to keep entering new conflicts - legal or otherwise. Sam_Walker123456
  • Score: 0

1:28am Sun 18 Nov 12

BugBear says...

The man is obviously on a mission but sadly has forgotten what Remembrance day is all about, remembering those who have sacrificed their lives so that we can live in freedom and peace not as he has cynically hijacked, a platform to rant antiwar rhetoric. The man's a fool.
The man is obviously on a mission but sadly has forgotten what Remembrance day is all about, remembering those who have sacrificed their lives so that we can live in freedom and peace not as he has cynically hijacked, a platform to rant antiwar rhetoric. The man's a fool. BugBear
  • Score: 0

12:45am Mon 19 Nov 12

GinjaViking says...

I fully agree with Sam_Walker123456, this is the occasion when war is on the public consciousness, and the waste of human life that that entails.

All the people saying that this day is about remembrance are absolutely right, but yet they want us to selectively remember. Remember those that fought and died in our armed forces but not what they fought for or why. You all claim that they 'fought for our freedom', yet want us to not reflect on why, or how this came about. Stripped of all context the deaths of servicemen and women are rendered meaningless.

No we should remember them, their lives, their wars, and why they fought. All wars are due to a failure of some kind, and often it is a failure of politics. Every death of a service person is a political death, and only politics can prevent more tragic loss.
I fully agree with Sam_Walker123456, this is the occasion when war is on the public consciousness, and the waste of human life that that entails. All the people saying that this day is about remembrance are absolutely right, but yet they want us to selectively remember. Remember those that fought and died in our armed forces but not what they fought for or why. You all claim that they 'fought for our freedom', yet want us to not reflect on why, or how this came about. Stripped of all context the deaths of servicemen and women are rendered meaningless. No we should remember them, their lives, their wars, and why they fought. All wars are due to a failure of some kind, and often it is a failure of politics. Every death of a service person is a political death, and only politics can prevent more tragic loss. GinjaViking
  • Score: 0

3:21pm Mon 19 Nov 12

THX 1138 says...

GinjaViking wrote:
I fully agree with Sam_Walker123456, this is the occasion when war is on the public consciousness, and the waste of human life that that entails. All the people saying that this day is about remembrance are absolutely right, but yet they want us to selectively remember. Remember those that fought and died in our armed forces but not what they fought for or why. You all claim that they 'fought for our freedom', yet want us to not reflect on why, or how this came about. Stripped of all context the deaths of servicemen and women are rendered meaningless. No we should remember them, their lives, their wars, and why they fought. All wars are due to a failure of some kind, and often it is a failure of politics. Every death of a service person is a political death, and only politics can prevent more tragic loss.
With respect I think you are missing the point - as it happens I largely agree with the points you and the Mayor make, but I don't think Remembrance Sunday is the day when politicians should be making political speeches, even if they are ones we happen to agree with. I have never seen political leaders making political speeches at the Cenotaph in London.

The points you make can be and are made throughout the year by many people, including politicians - I don't agree that debate never occurs. For example, many people including myself, believe that the current conflict in Afghanistan is a pointless waste of lives. However, if I was a politician, I wouldn't make a speech about it on Remembrance Sunday. It would all become politically divisive and take attention away from the main purpose of Remembrance Sunday.
[quote][p][bold]GinjaViking[/bold] wrote: I fully agree with Sam_Walker123456, this is the occasion when war is on the public consciousness, and the waste of human life that that entails. All the people saying that this day is about remembrance are absolutely right, but yet they want us to selectively remember. Remember those that fought and died in our armed forces but not what they fought for or why. You all claim that they 'fought for our freedom', yet want us to not reflect on why, or how this came about. Stripped of all context the deaths of servicemen and women are rendered meaningless. No we should remember them, their lives, their wars, and why they fought. All wars are due to a failure of some kind, and often it is a failure of politics. Every death of a service person is a political death, and only politics can prevent more tragic loss.[/p][/quote]With respect I think you are missing the point - as it happens I largely agree with the points you and the Mayor make, but I don't think Remembrance Sunday is the day when politicians should be making political speeches, even if they are ones we happen to agree with. I have never seen political leaders making political speeches at the Cenotaph in London. The points you make can be and are made throughout the year by many people, including politicians - I don't agree that debate never occurs. For example, many people including myself, believe that the current conflict in Afghanistan is a pointless waste of lives. However, if I was a politician, I wouldn't make a speech about it on Remembrance Sunday. It would all become politically divisive and take attention away from the main purpose of Remembrance Sunday. THX 1138
  • Score: 0

10:20pm Tue 20 Nov 12

gazettey says...

Dear all,
I wish to remind you of what ‘Remembrance Sunday’ is about (and is certainly not about glorifying war):
Remembrance Sunday is held "to commemorate the contribution suffering and loss of all British and Commonwealth military and civilian victims (and their families) in the two World Wars and later conflicts”
It is not a platform to be ‘hijacked’, in order to express ones personal views. Rather, it is an opportunity to express (once a year) our gratitude for the freedoms that this sacrifice has given us.
British and Commonwealth Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Civilians’ who have paid the ultimate price for the liberties that ‘we all’ benefit from, have not done so as a ‘political’ statement. And, as such should be given the respect they are due for ‘one day a year’.
After all, they were, are, or have been: Our Friends, Sons, Sisters, Brothers, Fathers, Mothers, Grandparents etc…. Part of who we are, our history.
Only a fool rewrites history, through ‘rose tinted glasses’.
Dear all, I wish to remind you of what ‘Remembrance Sunday’ is about (and is certainly not about glorifying war): Remembrance Sunday is held "to commemorate the contribution suffering and loss of all British and Commonwealth military and civilian victims (and their families) in the two World Wars and later conflicts” It is not a platform to be ‘hijacked’, in order to express ones personal views. Rather, it is an opportunity to express (once a year) our gratitude for the freedoms that this sacrifice has given us. British and Commonwealth Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Civilians’ who have paid the ultimate price for the liberties that ‘we all’ benefit from, have not done so as a ‘political’ statement. And, as such should be given the respect they are due for ‘one day a year’. After all, they were, are, or have been: Our Friends, Sons, Sisters, Brothers, Fathers, Mothers, Grandparents etc…. Part of who we are, our history. Only a fool rewrites history, through ‘rose tinted glasses’. gazettey
  • Score: 0

Comments are closed on this article.

Send us your news, pictures and videos

Most read stories

Local Info

Enter your postcode, town or place name

About cookies

We want you to enjoy your visit to our website. That's why we use cookies to enhance your experience. By staying on our website you agree to our use of cookies. Find out more about the cookies we use.

I agree