Christine Crawley on a remarkable tale of one village’s campaign to honour under-remembered war heroes
This week the villagers of Tempsford in Bedfordshire welcomed Prince Charles to unveil a beautiful memorial to the 75 women of the Special Operations Executive who, in the Second World War, had flown from Tempsford aerodrome to France on their high risk secret service missions. For those of us there, it was an emotional day.
What has this got to do with the House of Lords? Well, a great deal actually. Two years ago myself and fellow Peers called for such a memorial in a debate in the main Chamber, following which Professor Tazi Husain and fellow villagers in Tempsford were moved to respond in a magnificent manner.
The villagers initially asked me to be their Patron and then went on to get planning permission for the site of the memorial, in the meantime raising substantial funds to design and construct the monument. As they said at the time, if there was to be no national response to the debate in the Lords they would respond locally.
These extraordinary brave women have been under-remembered as a group of people who stood up against fascism in the early 1940s, with many of them not surviving the imprisonment and torture they suffered in concentration camps under the Nazis. With the memorial unveiled this week, their extraordinary accomplishments will survive as a living legacy of inspiration and strength.
In the initial Lords debate, I said: “we just cannot let the mist of oblivion creep over the memory of these women ... my granddaughter's granddaughter should be able to know and see this story – this wonder of sacrifice, determination and achievement-in a century still to come.” Now, the incredible work of a local community – working together with parliamentarians – has begun to right that wrong.
Baroness Christine Crawley is a backbench Labour Peer in the House of Lords and a former Chair of the Committee on Women’s Right and Gender Equality in the European Parliament
Published 6th December 2013