Colchester: MP Sir Bob Russell calls for role of women to be recognised in First World War commemorations

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- Credit: Andrew Partridge

Local community First World War commemorations will be important in “bringing home” the horrific conflict to today’s generation, an MP has said.

Colchester’s Sir Bob Russell also urged people to search through their attics to find memorabilia belonging to their relations in the run-up to next year’s centenary, while also saying it was important the role of women was recognised.

Speaking during a House of Commons debate on First World War commemorations, he remembered Captain Noel Godfrey Chavasse, who was the only man to be awarded the Military Cross twice during the First World War, after whom the Chavasse rehabilitation centre in Colchester is named.

Sir Bob told the Commons that he had been given the MCs after he was hit by splinters while rescuing a man in No-Man’s Land in 1916 in the battle of Guillemont and for similar heroics in the offensive at Passchendaele.

During the debate he said that it had struck him – while he was a 14-year-old Scout carrying out a task on war memorials – that they all referred to the men, never the women, of a particular village or town.


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He said: “I have only ever seen one memorial mentioning women from the First World War and that was in Hamilton, Ontario, in Canada. That needs to be addressed.”

He said people around the country should search in their attics and in the past week he had been told about a constituent who had a wing mirror from an Army vehicle that was situated less than a mile from the front line somewhere in France in his loft.

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He added: “A German sniper took out the wing mirror and, significantly, the driver of the vehicle was a woman. We need to recognise such memorabilia and stories.”

He also told the House of Commons about the Avenue of Remembrance, where trees were planted in the 1930s that named people from Colchester who lost their lives, and a stone memorial in the 1st Colchester Scout headquarters that also localised the war.

He added: “The Government’s project will see thousands of schoolchildren visiting the First World War battlefields to ensure that the bravery and suffering of the fallen is not forgotten. Those youngsters will be the great-great-grandchildren of those who lost their lives in the Great War, the First World War.”

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