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Thursday, October 28, 1999 Published at 12:45 GMT 13:45 UK

UK Politics

MP campaigns for war women's memorial

The memorial could fill the vacant plinth in Trafalgar Square

The empty plinth in London's Trafalgar Square should be the sight of a memorial to honour the sacrifices and heroism of women during the Second World War, MPs have heard.

The Labour MP for Selby, John Grogan, told the Commons that nearly £60,000 had been raised towards the cost of a memorial, including a £5,000 donation from Germany.

The campaign, which has the backing of the Princess Royal and Speaker Betty Boothroyd, was discussed in a short debate.

Mr Grogan said the Trafalgar Square plinth would be "the most fitting place to honour a generation of British women who broke new ground in the defence of freedom".

[ image: The Princess Royal is backing the campaign]
The Princess Royal is backing the campaign
No memorial existed to celebrate the efforts of women who served in the Second World War, he told MPs.

The United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand already have national memorials to women's service.

But junior Culture minister Alan Howarth said the plinth was being used by the Royal Society for the Arts to show a series of three contemporary works until mid 2001.

Opening the debate, Mr Grogan said some 640,000 women served in the armed forces, including 55,000 who served with guns "providing critical air defence to the UK in the darkest days of war".

He said: "Thousands more served in the Land Army ensuring sufficient food was made available to keep our forces well fed.

"Others flew unarmed aircraft as replacements for our air force - Amy Johnson was lost on such a flight. Others spent hours dedicated to breaking enemy codes."

Women had worked behind enemy lines helping organise resistance groups and worked as Air Raid Precaution wardens, munitions workers, ambulance drivers, WRVS volunteers, nurses, MPs heard.

[ image: Mark Wallinger's Ecce Home was one of the statues on the plinth]
Mark Wallinger's Ecce Home was one of the statues on the plinth
Mr Grogan said: "If we are to inspire a new generation of young women to take up the opportunity to serve their country, we must surely recognise the neglected role their grandmas played in a previous generation."

Trafalgar Square was an obvious sight as it was synonymous with the great celebration which took place at the end of the war, he told MPs.

More than 200 MPs have signed a Commons motion backing the call for a memorial.

Replying, Mr Howarth said Britain owed "an enormous debt of gratitude" to the women who served during the Second World War.

He said the contribution of British women was "immeasurable".

Mr Howarth told MPs that his mother had been a Wren who served during the Blitz in Plymouth and Liverpool.

"I am proud that she was one of millions of women whose efforts alongside our Armed Forces in Europe and the Far East ensured victory in 1945," he said.

"Without the contribution of Britain's women during World War Two, Britain would have starved, our armies would have been defeated for lack of adequate supplies of arms, munitions and fighting personnel and the country would have slipped into what Churchill termed 'the abyss of a new dark age'."

Mr Howarth said the promoters of any proposal for the vacant plinth in Trafalgar Square needed planning permission, listed building consent and support from English Heritage.

The minister added the responsibility for the Square would be transferred to the Greater London Authority from July 2000.

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