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 Queen Street is hallowed ground. That’s because, as I explained in the House of Commons this week, of the 31 men who went from Queen Street to fight for their country in the First World War, a full 21 had died by 1919. We know, thanks to the brilliant work of local researchers, that they fell in Gallipoli, Ypres, Passchendaele, the Somme, and even Mesopotamia (Iraq). The youngest, Pte Ernest Moxey, was just 18.
It seems unimaginable that so great a loss could have been suffered by just one street. But the reality is that Cheltenham overall paid a dreadful price. Over 1,200 servicemen and one woman lost their lives during the Great War, at a time when the town’s population numbered just 55,000, around half what it is today. More than 100 families lost two sons.
This Saturday, I will be marching through Cheltenham in memory of those who died, alongside 1,200 others, each representing one of the fallen. The route leaves Sandford Park at around 1:30 pm and will finish in Montpellier Gardens. As I do so, I will remember my great grandfather who crawled out into no-man’s land near Hooge in July 1915 to retrieve the body of his much-loved younger brother killed, aged just 23, leading men of 7th Battalion, Rifle Brigade.
I will also be thinking of reconciliation. This is the year when, rightly, President Steinmeier will become the first German leader to lay a wreath at the Remembrance Sunday service at the Cenotaph in Whitehall. It promises to be a powerful and fitting gesture. Because we should remember that although division and hatred begins in the hearts of ordinary people, reconciliation does too.
Meanwhile, let us resolve never to forget Cheltenham’s sacrifice. And let us never forget Queen Street.