Remembering our fallen heroes

Defence Adviser Lt.Col. Simon Westlake delivered a speech at the Remembrance day ceremony organised by the British High Commission in Accra.

Veterans Association of Ghana

High Commissioner, Honourable Deputy Minister of Defence, Chairman of the Veterans Administration of Ghana, Members of the Diplomatic Corps, Senior Officers of the Ghana Armed Forces (serving and retired), Former members of the British Armed Forces living here in Ghana, Distinguished invited guests and of course, Veterans of the Ghana Armed Forces, ladies and Gentlemen - good afternoon – and I too wish to add my welcome to you all as we gather on one of the most important days of the year. I wish to thank the High Commissioner and his wife for again hosting this event here at their Residence. And, it is my particular pleasure to welcome Lt Col Felix Hammond, Pte Yao Asare, and Sgt Clement Adranu - 3 of Ghana’s World War Two veterans. Gentlemen, you are most welcome.

As ever, we are very grateful for the considerable assistance we have received that has enabled us to deliver this event today. I would like to thank the Labadi Beach Hotel, the Accra Brewery Company, Blue Skies, Clifton Homes and Unilever Ghana for their extremely generous support. I would also like to thank the Ghana Armed Forces and especially the Director of Music by whose kind permission the Band is playing today. I thank the staff of the British High Commission for their efforts in ensuring that we are all accommodated here today and, finally, I thank you all for coming to mark the occasion and to demonstrate your support for Ghana’s veterans.

This is my first Remembrance Day in Ghana – as such, this has given me cause to reflect not only on the sacrifices of British servicemen and women, but also this year on the sacrifices made by Ghanaian veterans.

I know that my predecessor would have spoken previously on the role of Ghanaians and other African soldiers during the First World War – especially given the 100th anniversary 2 years ago of the start of that war. Indeed, we are in a period of 100th anniversaries of First World War events, as we move towards 2018. The High Commissioner has mentioned already the centenary of the Battle of the Somme this year and the role of the Gold Coast Regiment in Togo, Cameroon and in East Africa in that period. But, I must admit to having been surprised when I first learnt that the opening shots of that war were fired by Regimental Sergeant Major Alhaji Grunshi (then a Corporal) on 6 August 1914.

But, I suspect there are many who do not fully comprehend the significant contribution made by African forces in the defence of the British Empire – from as early as the 1880s through to that point in history where those forces assumed responsibility for the defence of their newly independent nations – beginning in West Africa with Ghana in 1957, as we know.

That contribution continued through the inter-war years, and of course into, through and beyond World War Two. And it is indeed my great honour to particularly welcome veterans from that conflict who are here today as representatives of all those who fought in Kenya’s Northern Frontier District, Italian Somaliland, Abyssinia and, of course, in Burma. Gentlemen, once again, you are very welcome.

But, I would also wish to highlight that their contribution and sacrifice did not simply end when the fighting ceased. As we know, last year saw the anniversary of the end of the Second World War in 1945. The 81st and 82nd West Africa Divisions fulfilled a key part in the offensive to recapture Burma in 1944 and 1945. But, having operated in a truly inhospitable environment, suffering severe privations, and having encountered some of the fiercest close jungle fighting experienced – the West African Divisions’ contribution did not end in 1945. Indeed, whilst some forces were required to move to Malaya and the Netherland East Indies, the 81st Division was required to remain in India and the 82nd in Burma – and it was not actually until 1946 that these Divisions were able to return home to West Africa.

Sadly, the number of Second World War veterans who can provide us with a personal link to their war is diminishing as the years advance. As such, we each have a responsibility to ensure their sacrifices are not forgotten – but increasingly this also provides us with a challenge to ensure that Remembrance is relevant to a younger generation. Those of us who serve, or have served, or have lost someone in conflict, know what Remembrance means to us – it is important, because it is personal. But, as our personal links with historic conflicts become fewer, so we must work to explain to the next generation just what their fore-fathers have sacrificed – and why.

I am therefore very pleased to welcome today representatives from the Multi-Kids Academy – especially Sean Pobee and Merita Haldane-Lutterodt, and 2 of their teachers - Farouk Iliasu and their Principal, Amanda Budge - the children of Multi-Kids have provided the centre-pieces today as a mark of their Remembrance and a sign of appreciation from a younger generation for the sacrifices made by Ghana’s veterans. I thank you and it is very good to have you here with us today.

Later, I am also pleased to say that Derrick Cobbinah, who many of you will know as one of the founders of the charity Forces Help Ghana – will introduce you to a project that he is working on here in Ghana, which will raise the profile of the role of the African forces, and in doing so, will seek to increase public understanding of the contributions made by those forces to the Defence of the British Empire between the 1880s and 1960s. In doing so, I hope that this will be one aide in providing relevance for Remembrance in the coming years – it certainly serves as a reminder to me of the historic contribution made by forces raised here in West Africa – a contribution that must not be forgotten.

Within Ghana today, I also recognise the significant role played by the Veterans Administration of Ghana in marking the contribution made by all Ghana’s veterans. Indeed, just last week I was extremely honoured to represent the Royal Commonwealth Ex-Services League in presenting a new hearse to the Veterans Administration. This is just one symbol of the continuing respect that the United Kingdom has for Ghana’s veterans. Regrettably, although perhaps fittingly, it is with sadness that I noted that the hearse will be used for the first time to convey the VAG’s own late Executive Director Col Chris Nutakor, who personally played a large role in securing the donation of this hearse from the RCEL. But, this is also a mark of how the Veterans Administration seeks to support Ghana’s veterans to the very end – they deserve nothing less.

Ladies and Gentlemen, for many Remembrance is a personal experience, but it is also a public responsibility – and this takes commitment – to say the words “Lest we Forget” is easy, to ensure that we live up to those words is less so. And so, it is right that we honour today the memory of those who have lost their lives. We here today enjoy freedoms fought for by the Veterans we honour, including those sat with us today – and of course their colleagues who sacrificed their lives for those freedoms.

Therefore, I commend to you all the work of the Veterans Administration of Ghana, the Royal Commonwealth Ex-Services League, and Forces Help Ghana in their continuing efforts to look after Ghana’s veterans and to keep alive the memory of their sacrifices.

And we remember too these sacrifices continue to be made by the Armed Forces of all our countries in recent years. As the United Kingdom commits more personnel to UN peacekeeping in South Sudan and Somalia, it is with clear recognition that Ghana has almost 2,500 soldiers deployed across 10 ongoing UN missions, with 135 personnel from their ranks who have given their lives on operations since 1960.

This is a truly commendable contribution, but with a heavy price paid for peace in our world. Their sacrifices are relevant to us, because they are sacrifices made in our world, in our time and for our benefit. But this also provides us with a link to those who have gone before in the First World War, the Second World War, and numerous other conflicts, who also fought for peace - in their world and in their time - but, ‘Lest We Forget’ it is still we, who today live with the benefit of their sacrifices.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I thank you all for coming today to honour Ghana’s Veterans and to share a few hours with them. Please enjoy your lunch and the remainder of the afternoon.

Published 16 November 2016