Thursday 6th June 2019 marks the 75th anniversary of the D - Day Landings – a real turning point in the Second World War and the beginning of the Allied liberation of Europe from Nazi tyranny.
To mark the event, there will be a major joint commemoration on Normandy beaches, involving surviving veterans, senior members of the Royal Family, and military chiefs from UK, US, Canada, France and other Commonwealth nations. It will involve the largest Royal Navy flotilla of recent years, with 4,000 personnel and at least 11 Royal Navy vessels, with multiple aircraft from the Red Arrows to the iconic Spitfire.
For me, such momentous anniversaries in our history take on a new significance, since joining the Commonwealth War Graves Commission as a Commissioner earlier this year.
Soldiers from across the Commonwealth played a crucial role in defeating fascism, and defending Britain and the values for which it stands. Without the significant support of Commonwealth nations, Britain’s war effort may have ended very differently. So it is important to remember the service of all who played their part in the Second World War, especially those who sacrificed their lives for our freedom.
The service of Commonwealth personnel continues to play a vital role in sustaining our Armed Forces. There are today some 4,000 regular and reserves personnel from the Commonwealth in our Armed Forces.
I have recently supported calls in Parliament to scrap visa fees for Commonwealth veterans who wish to stay in the UK after leaving military service. Current legislation exempts Commonwealth personnel from immigration controls while serving in the Armed Forces, who become eligible for Indefinite Leave to Remain following a minimum of four years’ service. But application costs for Indefinite Leave to Remain mean a service leaver with a spouse and two children could face a bill of almost £10,000 to remain in the UK.
As a result, many Commonwealth service leavers rely on financial support from charities such as the Royal British Legion to meet the cost of visa fees to remain in the UK. Approximately 400 Commonwealth service leavers apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain each year.
It does not seem right to me that those who come to this country volunteering to serve in our Armed Forces, can be presented with a hefty bill if they wish to remain here once their duty is done. So I have joined calls on the Home Secretary to do the right thing, and waive these fees for good.
This month also marks Armed Forces Day, on Saturday 29th June, with events taking place in Shrewsbury and Telford. I encourage residents to show their support for the Armed Forces and those local organisation and businesses who have signed up to the Armed Forces Covenant. This pledge recognises that those who serve or who have served in the armed forces, and their families, should be treated with fairness and respect in the communities, economy and society they serve.
As a former Defence Minister, and local Royal British Legion member, I feel strongly that we must ensure that current generations recognise and respect the service of those who wear the Queen’s uniform and defend the freedoms we hold dear – just as previous generations have done.