Defence Secretary apologises for failure to properly commemorate black and Asian service personnel

Sophia Sleigh
·2-min read
Ben Wallace (PA Wire)
Ben Wallace (PA Wire)

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace today apologised on behalf of the Government for failing to properly commemorate black and Asian service personnel.

He told the Commons: “On behalf of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and the Government, both of the time and today, I want to apologise for the failures to live up to their founding principles all those years ago and express deep regret that it has taken so long to rectify the situation.

“Whilst we can’t change the past, we can make amends and take action.”

It comes after an investigation found "pervasive racism" underpinned a failure to properly commemorate potentially hundreds of thousands of service personnel who died fighting for the British Empire.

The CWGC has apologised after its investigation found that those individuals were not formally remembered in the same way as their white comrades.

In his speech, the Secretary of State said there could be “no doubt” that prejudice played a part in some of the decisions made by the commission. He also said there are examples where evidence in identifying the names of troops was “deliberately overlooked”.

Amends and Action

How the Government will make changes

Defence Secretary - “Whilst we can’t change the past, we can make amends and take action. And as part of this the Commission has accepted all recommendations of the Special Committee.”

He said the Commission will:

1) Geographically and chronologically extend the search in the historical record for inequalities in commemoration and act on what is found.

2) Renew its commitment to equality in commemoration through the building of physical or digital commemorative structures.

3) Use its online presence and wider education activities to reach out to all the communities of the former British Empire touched by the two world wars to make sure their hidden history is brought to life.

Labour’s shadow defence secretary John Healey said it was an “important moment” for the CWGC and the country in coming to terms with “past injustice”. He added: “What matters now, is what happens next.”

The special committee behind the investigation was established in 2019 after a documentary on the issue, titled Unremembered and presented by Labour MP David Lammy.

Professor David Olusoga, whose TV company produced the documentary, described the failure to properly commemorate black and Asian service personnel as one of the “biggest scandals” he had ever come across.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It is an absolute scandal. It is one of the biggest scandals I’ve ever come across as an historian, but the biggest scandal is that this was known years ago.”

CWGC director general Claire Horton said: “We recognise the wrongs of the past and are deeply sorry and will be acting immediately to correct them.”

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