A senior Labour MP’s voice broke with emotion as he spoke in the House of Commons about two British soldiers who never came home from the First World War.
In a debate marking the 100th anniversary of the end of hostilities, former cabinet minister Hilary Benn told MPs about his great uncle Oliver Williams Benn, as well as George Edwin Ellison – the last British soldier to be killed in action.
In an emotional speech, Mr Benn revealed how “Oliver was little spoken of” in his family because he suspected “the pain of his loss was still too raw despite the passing of the years”.
The Leeds Central MP described how his son James has since written a book about the soldier, whose body was never found after being reported missing following the third battle of Krithia in Gallipoli in 1915.
“The family desperately searched for news in the hope that he had been captured,” Mr Benn said.
“His mother wrote to him regularly, but gradually hope faded and at the end of the war all her letters were returned unopened.”
Mr Ellison, who lived in Leeds, died an hour-and-a-half before the armistice came into effect between the Allies and Germany.
Mr Benn noted how Mr Ellison’s grave now lies just “a few footsteps” from the grave of the first British soldier to die in action on the Western Front.
As he fought back tears, the MP told the Commons: “The first and the last, and in between them in time, if not in place, lie the millions who gave their lives in the war that was meant to end all wars, but did not.”
Mr Benn was comforted by his fellow Labour MPs Ruth Smeeth and Tanmanjeet Dhesi after he finished his address.
Mr Dhesi later told MPs how a “palpable lack of black and brown faces” in war movies makes it seem “as though they were not there”.
“This omission, or lesser emphasis, is a mistake, and I feel that it is one of the reasons why we as a nation are unable to effectively counter the rise of the far right, which seeks to divide us and to sow the seeds of suspicion and hatred,” he said.
The Slough MP added: “In the First World War, soldiers, sailors and airmen came from every faith and background.
“The Allied armies were racially, religiously and ethnically diverse-just like modern-day Britain.
“If anything, those armies are a true representation of modern-day Britain, and that is why we will remember them.”
Earlier on Tuesday, the House of Commons suspended its sitting so MPs could attend a special remembrance service at St Margaret’s Church in Westminster.
It mirrored the actions of their predecessors on the first day of peace in 1918.