NI ex-serviceman offers to educate ‘misguided’ Cambridge University students about remembrance

A Northern Ireland councillor has offered to travel to Cambridge at his own expense to educate “ignorant and offensive” university students who rejected Remembrance Day events as glorifying war.

Mid and East Antrim DUP Councillor Billy Henry, who served in the Armed Forces for more than 15 years, was outraged when Cambridge University’s Student Union recently rejected a motion to promote Remembrance Day on the basis that it “glorifies” conflict.

Cllr Billy Henry pictured at the recent rededication of Ballymena and District War Memorial.

Cllr Billy Henry pictured at the recent rededication of Ballymena and District War Memorial.

The 66-year-old Cullybackey man, a member of the Royal British Legion, described students who voted against the motion, which also encouraged the commemoration of British veterans, as “ignorant and offensive” and accused them of snubbing Remembrance Day.

Stressing that he would be happy to pay his own way over to Cambridge if the union would invite him to meet with students, councillor Henry told the News Letter: “If they invite me over I’d be more than happy to go over because I think what’s been done shows a lack of education on their part.

“For anyone to suggest that the poppy glorifies war is absolutely ludicrous and I think it’s about time they realised exactly what the poppy does represent.”

The motion, which was put forward by two members of the university’s Conservative Association, called on the students’ union to “encourage the commemoration of British war veterans on Remembrance Day across the University of Cambridge.” But both the motion, and a proposed amendment to broaden the commemoration to “all those whose lives have been affected by war across the University of Cambridge”, were rejected.

Cllr Billy Henry pictured at Ballymena and District War Memorial.

Cllr Billy Henry pictured at Ballymena and District War Memorial.

Instead, an amendment which noted the efforts of various organisations to “reshape remembrance away from glorification and valorisation of war” and to campaign “against militarism” was passed on October 9.

It is understood that, in spite of the move, representatives of Cambridge University’s Student Union will still lay wreaths at a Remembrance Sunday event.

Describing the union’s vote as “appalling ignorance and an insult to our nation’s war dead”, councillor Henry continued: “This is a hugely significant and poignant year – the centenary of the Armistice – and events are planned throughout the UK to remember all of those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

“The vast majority of right-minded people will pause to reflect and pay their respects over this time. It’s a sad indictment on a tiny minority of idiots, including those at Cambridge University Student Union who fail to have the brains or decency to do likewise.

“I urge them to urgently reconsider this deeply offensive decision which has already caused great damage to this university’s reputation.

“I will gladly travel to Cambridge and educate these misguided young people on the ultimate sacrifice made by so many that they may live the privileged lives many of them currently do. As George Santayana said: ‘Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it’.”

The Bannside representative recently led a successful campaign to have the names of 172 local people who lost their lives during the First World War added to Ballymena and District War Memorial.

He said he intends to raise the issue of the students’ “shameful Remembrance Day snub” at the next full meeting of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council on November 5.