Speech

HMA Jonathan Brenton at Mortsel Second World War commemoration

This speech was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

British ambassador to Belgium Jonathan Brenton attended the commemoration for the bombardment by allied forces of Mortsel on 5 April 1943.

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Copyright Gazet Van Antwerpen

Let me say a few words as British Ambassador.

I have been to many commemorations as an Ambassador here. But this is the first time I have been to a commemoration for those who died because they were killed by the allies by mistake. And that is the reason I came.

This is a salutary lesson for us in war. That the good guys also sometimes make mistakes and kill the innocent.
I say that guardedly, knowing that there are people here who lived through the attack and lost people who died. And I speak as one born in 1965, who has benefitted from the peace and democracy bought by the sacrifices of previous generations.

And I don’t say this to point fingers. Because when we fight a war as allies we share the responsibility as allies. Just as we share the responsibility in Afghanistan when a NATO mission makes mistakes.

I am not a pacifist. I do not take the lesson of Mortsel that war is always wrong. There are values that are worth fighting for and which, unfortunately in the world in which we live, we have to fight for.

71 years on, we owe to the people buried here.

First to remember them. Not as numbers but individuals. Individuals with families, with aspirations, and in the case of the children, with their whole lives ahead of them. We think on the lives they might have lived.

Second that we reflect on what happened here, both as governments and citizens. That we have a proper sense of what war is. So we celebrate the heroism of those who fight – and that is very important for when there are British soldiers risking life and limb along with NATO allies in Afghanistan - but without illusions. So that we do everything we can to avoid it. And when we wage war we do everything we can, as law-abiding democracies, to avoid unnecessary cruelty and suffering.

And third that we cherish the liberty for which they paid their lives. Those who died here did not ask to give their lives. But they did. And as a result of this terrible war, we have a Europe which is at peace, a Germany which is a democracy and our friend. I welcome the presence of the German military attaché here. And we owe it to them to cherish that.

Finally let me say my thanks to those who organised this memorial and those who came. I am always grateful in Belgium for the efforts people make to commemorate the past. But here I say something particular. Thank you for not nurturing bitterness or grudges, even though you may very well have a right to. That is an extraordinary proof of the strong friendship between Belgium, the US and the UK.