A commemoration for the men and women from the Commonwealth who served with the British Armed Forces during the First and Second World Wars was held today at the Memorial Gates in central London.
The annual wreath laying ceremony was attended by significant individuals including High Commissioners and the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth.
The event was hosted by the Memorial Gates Council in partnership with The Royal British Legion and the Rt Revd Rose Hudson-Wilkin, Bishop of Dover, led the prayers.
Commonwealth Secretary-General, Rt Hon Patricia Scotland KC said:
“This Memorial stands as a solemn reminder of the many lives lost to these wars and the ties of kinship built through great hardship that binds the Commonwealth family. This Commonwealth Day, we mark the tenth anniversary of the signing of the Commonwealth Charter, a historic document that encapsulates the values and aspirations which unite the Commonwealth, values that caution us not to repeat the mistakes of the past but demand that we always work for a more sustainable and peaceful world.
“Our charter commits our member states to the development of free and democratic societies and the promotion of peace and prosperity to improve the lives of all the people of the Commonwealth. Together in the Commonwealth, we work to realise these aspirations and values to build a safer, fairer, more prosperous and peaceful future.”
Chief guest, journalist Clive Myrie, said: “Today we remember the commitment and bravery of those for whom the Memorial Gates were inaugurated. It’s particularly poignant for me to speak at the Gates in the year we mark the 75th anniversary of the arrival of the Empire Windrush.
“My own parents arrived here from Jamaica in 1962, part of the Windrush Generation, following in the footsteps of my uncle Cecil, who was a munitions driver for the RAF during the Second World War, and chose to settle here.
“These Gates are a lasting memorial to those five million men and women, not only from the Caribbean, but also the Indian subcontinent and Africa, who volunteered to serve during the First and Second World Wars.
“We should also reflect on the contribution their descendants continue to make to the rich diversity of British society today.”
Baroness Flather, Lifetime President of the Memorial Gates Council, said: “It is 21 years since we opened these Memorial Gates, and I am gratified that, over that time, the awareness and appreciation of the huge contributions to our war efforts made by some five million Commonwealth soldiers is so much more widely shared – and it is across all communities.
“The war raging again on the continent of Europe makes it all the more poignant to recall such sacrifices in the past. We owe this to the memory of all Africans, West Indians and Indians who fought for us in the two great wars.
“They knew which was the right side. I hope all Commonwealth countries, all democracies, remember that – and come out on the right side today – and not hide below the parapets.”
Lord Bilimoria CBE DL, Chairman of the Memorial Gates Council, said: “As Field Marshal Auchinleck said, ‘The British couldn’t have come through both wars if they hadn’t had the Indian Army’.
“I am proud to be Chairman of the Council of the Memorial Gates. The Memorial Gates Ceremony on Commonwealth Day commemorates the service and sacrifice of the five million volunteers from South Asia, Africa and the Caribbean in the First and Second World Wars.
“This year is particularly important as we mark the historic 75th anniversary of the arrival of HMT Empire Windrush at Tilbury Docks and the start of the Windrush generation, which was an utterly symbolic moment in the overall timeline of the incredible contribution by the black British community to this nation, which has significantly shaped the modern-day Britain that we witness and share today.
“Marking the 75th anniversary alongside the Ceremony provides an opportunity to commemorate and remember, as we continually do on Commonwealth Day, and through the activities of the Memorial Gates Council, the significant contribution that those from around the Commonwealth and world have made to the success of our great nation.”
The Royal British Legion’s Director of Remembrance, Philippa Rawlinson said: “The RBL is proud to support this ceremony at the Commonwealth Memorial Gates to pay tribute to the five million men and women from the Indian sub-continent, Africa and the Caribbean who volunteered to serve during the First and Second World Wars, helping to protect the freedoms we enjoy today.
“The Gates also recognise the major contribution of these men and women, and their descendants, to the rich diversity of British society. For example, 75 years ago among the passengers on the ship HMT Empire Windrush were more than 100 serving and former Caribbean RAF personnel. Armed Forces personnel were a foundation of the Windrush Generation who helped rebuild post-war Britain, and today we especially mark their contribution.
“Today’s event highlights the vital contribution of people from across all the Commonwealth who stood together in the face of global conflict.”
The Memorial Gates on Constitution Hill were officially inaugurated by Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on the 6th of November 2002.