This week I was delighted to attend 10 Downing Street with Cheltenham’s Wg Cdr (retd) Roy Roberts, Chair of the Cheltenham and District Branch of the Royal British Legion.
My friend and colleague Johnny Mercer was hosting a reception to honour those working in the veterans voluntary sector, and I had nominated Roy to attend as a token of our town’s gratitude for the work he and his colleagues do to provide financial, social and emotional care and support to all members of the British Armed Forces, past and present, and their families.
Whether it’s organising Cheltenham’s annual Festival of Remembrance or helping veterans in need behind the scenes, Roy goes above and beyond to serve others. He and his colleagues are a credit to our town.
I believe passionately in the importance of keeping alive the memory of our town’s sacrifice during the Great War and subsequent conflicts.
The sheer number of names on our town's war memorials stand as a searing reminder of the town’s contribution. Over 1,000 soldiers, sailors and aviators from Cheltenham gave their lives in the First World War alone. That was at a time when the town’s population was less than half what it is today.
Take one road: Queen Street in Cheltenham is a normal, unassuming residential cul-de-sac. You pass it on your left as you head towards Gardner’s Lane off Swindon Road. Nothing out of the ordinary. You’ve probably never given it a second’s thought.
And yet in that road alone 31 men went to fight for our country in the First World War. By 1919 a full 21 had been killed. The youngest, Pte Ernest Moxey, was just 18.
This Sunday, Cheltenham will come together to mark the 83rd anniversary of the Battle of Britain at the War Memorial outside of the Municipal Offices.
As I lay a wreath on behalf of the people of Cheltenham, I will be thinking of the courageous men and women who served our country, fought for our freedoms, and kept us safe at a time of existential threat. And I will be thanking those like Roy who devote their energies to supporting today’s veterans and their families.
[Column published in The Cheltenham Post and Gloucestershire Echo]