There is no doubt that the people of Tameside are immensely proud of their links with the Armed Forces.
This stems from the borough’s long military heritage. Until the 1950s, Ashton was a garrison town. The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment, successor to the Manchesters, has the Freedom of the Borough. I will be proposing that the same honour is conferred on the Mercian Regiment, which has absorbed the Cheshires.
Over the last two years, Tameside Council has worked hard to reflect this pride. We have unveiled a new war memorial to honour all those killed on active service since 1945. District assemblies have erected smaller community memorials.
Now, however, we want to give formal recognition to our close relationship with the services through an Armed Forces Community Pledge.
This is a statement of mutual support between the Borough and the Armed Forces. It would promote an understanding of the issues which affect serving and former members of the military, promising that they and their families will never be at a disadvantage when it comes to the provision of council services.
I’m sure I can count on your backing for this. How do I know? Because each year, I see the crowds get bigger at our Remembrance Sunday ceremonies and on Armed Forces Day. In 2010, thousands packed the streets of Hyde in appalling weather to applaud the 1st Battalion of the Mercian Regiment on its return from Afghanistan.
The more cynical among you may think that councillors only attend these events for political reasons, but nothing could be further from the truth. I have immense respect for the services, and the way they do their duty so courageously in warzones like Afghanistan and I truly believe we have an individual obligation to acknowledge the debt of gratitude we owe.
That is why I see it as the duty of this Council to support the Armed Forces Community Pledge. It is my intention to sign it on behalf of the people of Tameside on Armed Forces Day (Saturday, 30 June), during the celebrations at Victoria Park, Denton.
If you would like to know more about our military history, please take a look at the Museum of the Manchester Regiment in Ashton Town Hall, or visit our excellent local studies and archives centre. Find out about Tameside’s many Victoria Cross winners at www.tameside.gov.uk/blueplaque/victoriacross