AS WE HEAD towards Remembrance Sunday I’m unashamedly putting thoughts about politics and local government to one side this week.
This year is the Royal British Legion’s 90th anniversary as the custodians of remembrance for our nation’s war dead so I simply must start by stating the obvious and paying tribute to the fantastic work they do.
The RBL – not just through its annual poppy appeal but also through activities all year round – does an amazing job as the UK’s leading charity for servicemen and their families.
Their efforts make a huge difference to the lives of thousands of ex-service people and their dependants, and it is a national institution that we can all be proud of.
On Sunday I will be just one of the thousands of Borough residents doing their bit by attending the annual Remembrance parades which are organised in conjunction with the dedicated people at our local RBL branches.
But it’s important we also recognise that the British Legion can’t do everything in ensuring that that we honour the fallen in a fitting manner.
I believe Oldham Council has a very obvious civic leadership role to fulfil here.
I was reminded of this on a recent fact-finding visit up to the Pots and Pans memorial in Saddleworth with Councillor Adrian Alexander (Saddleworth West and Lees).
This is a fantastic, iconic location and, in fact, standing at 1,200 feet above sea level it might possibly be the highest war memorial in the country – unless anyone can tell me otherwise?
As anyone who has visited it will know, it is quite a trek to get up there.
Whilst you are most certainly rewarded with a jaw dropping view of the surrounding villages it was also very clear on the journey up that vital repair works are needed on steps and railings to make it accessible for all of the public to enjoy.
This work will now be done as part of a new investment we recently agreed to make of an additional £50,000 – on top of the existing maintenance budget – to fund much-needed improvements at all sites across the Borough.
As part of this, we will also be able to get cracking on vital work at the Oldham Cenotaph once Sunday’s events are over.
This is the most prominent memorial in the town centre and a large chunk of that new investment – around £15,000 – is going to be used to point and/or replace all of the stone paving, plus carry out important works to repair the memorial itself.
The Council has also now signed up to a fantastic new scheme – ‘In Memoriam 2014’ – which is designed to protect all memorials up and down the country ahead of the centenary of the outbreak of World War One.
Our officers have registered all our sites with this scheme and are now getting free SmartWater to protect each of them against unscrupulous thieves who seek to make small personal financial gain by removing bronze, copper and other metals from memorials to sell on for scrap.
Sadly, this is not an uncommon occurrence. I note that – just miles outside our Borough – heartless thieves stole bronze remembrance plaques from Blackley Cemetery only last week.
This kind of act is utterly deplorable – words fail me, frankly – and it’s important as custodians of these sites that Oldham Council does all it feasibly can prevent it happening here: or at least ensure we can trace stolen items back to the perpetrators.
You may also have noticed in recent days that the Council is now using all of its media channels, including Twitter and Facebook, to publicise all the local commemorative events at our libraries and also carry an online Roll of Honour for the Borough at http://www.oldham.gov.uk/remembrance
These are all, naturally, branded with traditional poppy imagery.
Whilst I started out here by saying that I was putting politics to one side, I must say that have found it odd to hear in recent days – notably in the debate about FIFA’s refusal to let the England football team wear poppy-emblazoned shirts on Saturday – that wearing a poppy is somehow a “political” statement.
I would never impose wearing a poppy on somebody, of course, but equally I don’t think its right to prevent anyone from doing so if that is their choice.
The poppy, for me, is just not about politics. It’s simply a mark of respect and I will continue to wear mine with pride.
Thanks for listening,