Boris Johnson issues 'unreserved apology' for war grave discrimination

22 April 2021, 20:35 | Updated: 22 April 2021, 20:38

Prime Minister Boris Johnson
Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Picture: PA

By Harriet Whitehead

Boris Johnson has offered an "unreserved apology" for failures to properly commemorate Black and Asian service personnel, who died fighting for the British Empire.

The Prime Minister says he's "deeply troubled" by a report which found many were only remembered collectively, while white counterparts had headstones.

This comes after the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) apologised after its investigation found that Black and Asian individuals were not formally remembered in the same way as their white comrades.

Boris Johnson said: "During the First World War, millions of people from Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and the Middle East fought for Britain in the struggle against tyranny.

Racism has meant black and Asian troops have been ignored

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"Their contribution to victory was immense, not just in numerical terms but in their courage and valour, and many paid the ultimate price so that we might live in peace and freedom today.

"I am deeply troubled by the findings of the Special Committee that not all of our war dead were commemorated with equal care and reverence. On behalf of the Government, I offer an unreserved apology."

He added: "I welcome the fact that the Commonwealth War Graves Commission has accepted all of the Committee’s recommendations and that it will now re-examine records and make amends wherever possible. Our shared duty is to honour and remember all those, wherever they lived and whatever their background, who laid down their lives for our freedoms at the moment of greatest peril."

The investigation discovered at least 116,000 predominantly African and Middle Eastern First World War casualties "were not commemorated by name or possibly not commemorated at all".

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Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the apology was "long overdue" and called for "proper recognition".

Mr Starmer made the comments on an election campaign visit in North Wales, at the Wrexham Lager brewery. He said: "Everybody who died fighting for Britain or the Commonwealth in any conflict, but particularly in World War One, deserves to be recognised and remembered equally.

Labour party leader Sir Kier Starmer
Labour party leader Sir Kier Starmer. Picture: PA

"This has been a grave injustice that this has taken so long, of course they are due an apology, they have been given an apology, but we need more than that, we need proper recognition now, we need as many of the individual names remembered as possible, where that can't be done we need commemorative memorials or museums.

"But we also need to fill in the piece of history because they not only died, they were part of history and that needs to be recognised as well.

"This is long overdue."