This year the commemorations for 100 years since the end of World War I have been extraordinarily moving. A vast crowd attended the main service at Chelmsford War Memorial. A huge thank you to those who played a part in the service, marched in the parade and played in the bands. A smaller crowd came together at 6am before dawn to hear a lone bagpiper playing from the top of the Cathedral tower, exactly 100 years to the moment the Armistice was signed. I would also like to thank all those who have organised other events across Chelmsford, to the children and other volunteers who have made many beautiful art works that have decorated the city and to the Royal British Legion volunteers. It was lovely to join them selling poppies on the on the High Street.
In Westminster, there was a special service in St Margaret’s, at Westminster Abbey. This is where MPs went to pray on Armistice Day on the 11th hour of November 11, 100 years ago. MPs also met in the House of Commons to share stories from their own parts of the UK. I told them about the Essex Regiment Museum which is so well worth a visit. Some 9,000 members of the regiment died in the 1914-1918 War in Gallipoli, Egypt, Palestine, The Somme, Ypres, Arras, and Cambrai and other battles. I went to Ypres in 2014 with students from an East Anglian School and a German School to unveil a memorial they had jointly designed at the site of the famous Christmas day football match of 1914.
In the House of Commons, I also told colleagues about the history of the Quaker movement in Chelmsford. At the beginning of the First World War, a group of young Quakers created the Friends Ambulance Unit. They were all civilians and they worked closely with the fighting soldiers. They cared for anyone they found wounded, including Germans. By November 1918, 21 members of the unit had given their own lives. In 1947, the Quakers were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
This month we are also celebrating 100 years since women had the right to stand for election to Parliament. I joined 100 women MPs from all across the world who came together in the House of Commons for the first ever conference uniting female parliamentarians. Many of those attending had made huge changes in their own countries in areas such as support for entrepreneurs, championing girl’s education, and addressing domestic violence and harassment. Many others told of the huge challenges that those across the world still face. One delegate from Afghanistan had lost her father and brothers to war, she told us that in her country “we cannot even talk of equal rights, we cannot even dream of equal rights”. She called upon the women MPs from across the world to come together to fight terrorism. One hundred years from the end of the war that was meant to end all wars there is still much to do.
Back in Chelmsford, I was delighted to present awards to our pubs and clubs. They have just won the national prize for the best “Pubwatch” scheme in the country. I spent a busy Saturday night meeting many of the door staff, security teams and volunteers who help keep people safe at night. This has helped reduce night time violence in the city centre by 45 percent. Our local police have also been extremely busy on a successful campaign against drugs and gangs. Do follow their work on social media.
In Westminster we have also been very busy with the annual budget. The huge £20 billion investment in the NHS will make a big difference. I was also particularly pleased to see more support for small businesses including a cut in business rates and the introduction of a tax for digital tech giants. Many small business owners in Chelmsford have asked me to campaign for this. The government has announced an additional £420 million for local roads, which I hope may be able to contribute towards a flyover fund for the Army and Navy.