Last week, in my role as a Commonwealth War Graves Commissioner, I joined a delegation on a visit to war grave sites in Italy, eighty years after the first Allied landings on mainland Europe presaged the end of WW2.
It is impossible to walk among the immaculate rows of white headstones and not be deeply moved. As time moves on, and living memory moves to becoming history, such a tangible reminder of the human cost of war is important as we seek to impress upon younger people the sacrifices of previous generations.
For those not aware, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission was founded in 1917, and now operates in 153 countries and territories. Its mission is to commemorate the nearly 1.7 million Commonwealth servicemen and women who died in the two World Wars, along with the countless others who perished in subsequent conflicts.
By my estimation there are 65 CWGC grave sites in South Shropshire. Details of all of these sites can be found at the very useful CWGC website: www.cwgc.org. I would encourage readers to seek out their nearest site, perhaps in the lead up to Remembrance Sunday in November. The CWGC is always looking for volunteers to help maintain the more isolated graves and the website gives details of how to volunteer to look after a grave near you.
As custodians of a large amount of outside space, the Commission also has an interesting role to play in pioneering horticultural excellence around the world. Certainly in the larger Commission maintained sites, such as those I visited on my trip, the beautifully maintained gardens and landscaping adds to the tranquil and contemplative atmosphere of rows of headstones and names etched in stone. It is a fitting tribute to those who gave their lives for a more peaceful world.
As my own small act of commemoration I was able to plant a rose in the Cassino cemetery, near the graves of those I presumed had fought with my late father-in-law in the Italian campaign in the autumn of 1944, when two battalions of the Scots Guards had landed at Salerno in September 1944, steadily fighting their way up the Apennines to Rome.
My role as one of only two parliamentarian Commissioners of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission is an immense honour and a privilege. The work we do is not just about maintaining graves - it is about preserving the memory of those who paid the highest price for our freedom, ensuring their stories are told and their sacrifices are never forgotten.