Queen’s Speech 2014: Her Majesty pays poppy and Ebola tribute


In the ruins of the old Coventry Cathedral
is a sculpture of a man and a woman reaching out to embrace each other. The sculptor was
inspired by the story of a woman who crossed Europe on foot after the war to find her husband. Casts of the same sculpture can be found in
Belfast and Berlin, and it is simply called Reconciliation. Reconciliation is the peaceful end to conflict,
and we were reminded of this in August when countries on both sides of the first world
war came together to remember in peace. The ceramic poppies at the Tower of London
drew millions, and the only possible reaction to seeing them and walking among them was
silence. For every poppy a life; and a reminder of the grief of loved ones left behind. No one who fought in that war is still alive,
but we remember their sacrifice and indeed the sacrifice of all those in the armed forces
who serve and protect us today. In 1914, many people thought the war would
be over by Christmas, but sadly by then the trenches were dug and the future shape of
the war in Europe was set. But, as we know, something remarkable did
happen that Christmas, exactly a hundred years ago today. Without any instruction or command, the shooting
stopped and German and British soldiers met in no man’s land. Photographs were taken
and gifts exchanged. It was a Christmas truce. Truces are not a new idea. In the ancient
world a truce was declared for the duration of the Olympic Games and wars and battles
were put on hold. Sport has a wonderful way of bringing together
people and nations, as we saw this year in Glasgow when over 70 countries took part in
the Commonwealth Games. It is no accident that they are known as the
Friendly Games. As well as promoting dialogue between nations, the Commonwealth Games pioneered
the inclusion of para-sports within each day’s events. As with the Invictus Games that followed,
the courage, determination and talent of the athletes captured our imagination as well
as breaking down divisions. The benefits of reconciliation were clear
to see when I visited Belfast in June. While my tour of the set of Game Of Thrones may
have gained most attention, my visit to the Crumlin Road Gaol will remain vividly in my
mind. What was once a prison during the Troubles
is now a place of hope and fresh purpose; a reminder of what is possible when people
reach out to one another, rather like the couple in the sculpture. Of course, reconciliation takes different
forms. In Scotland after the referendum many felt great disappointment, while others felt
great relief; and bridging these differences will take time. Bringing reconciliation to war or emergency
zones is an even harder task, and I have been deeply touched this year by the selflessness
of aid workers and medical volunteers who have gone abroad to help victims of conflict
or of diseases like Ebola, often at great personal risk. For me, the life of Jesus Christ, the prince
of peace, whose birth we celebrate today, is an inspiration and an anchor in my life. A role model of reconciliation and forgiveness,
he stretched out his hands in love, acceptance and healing. Christ’s example has taught
me to seek to respect and value all people, of whatever faith or none. Sometimes it seems that reconciliation stands
little chance in the face of war and discord. But, as the Christmas truce a century ago
reminds us, peace and goodwill have lasting power in the hearts of men and women. On that chilly Christmas Eve in 1914, many
of the German forces sang Silent Night; its haunting melody inching across the line. That carol is still much-loved today, a legacy
of the Christmas truce, and a reminder to us all that even in the unlikeliest of places
hope can still be found. A very happy Christmas to you all.

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