More Than Just History

The date is the same; the designation slightly different. Today is Veterans Day over here, Remembrance Day back in the UK. Despite the different names, the origins of the commemoration are identical. November 11, 1918 was when the guns finally fell silent on the trenches of the Western Front in World War I.

That war was the first time that British and American Armies had stood together, united as allies against tyranny and aggression. Alas, it wouldn't be the last. But the unprecedented scale of the sacrifice in that war prompted, in both countries, a determination to recognize the human cost of the war and pay homage to those servicemen who risked life and limb in service of their country, and those who had paid the ultimate price.

It's a tradition we keep in the UK today, when the country pauses for two minutes of silent reflection at 11 a.m. -- the time of the original armistice. An article from a November 1919 edition of the UK's Guardian newspaper, describing a scene in London the first year we did this, still reads poignantly today:

The first stroke of eleven produced a magical effect. The tram cars glided into stillness, motors ceased to cough and fume, and stopped dead, and the mighty-limbed dray horses hunched back upon their loads and stopped also, seeming to do it of their own volition... Everyone stood very still. And the spirit of memory brooded over it all.

But today is also significant in another respect. It is the end of a very special journey for six men who have run across the United States -- from New York City to Santa Monica, California -- to raise money for US and UK veterans' charities. Inspired by the movie Forrest Gump, the "Gumpathon" is the brain child of British Royal Marine Colour Sergeant Damian Todd.

An elementary school cheers on Royal Marine Jamie Jobson as he runs through Amarillo, Texas

With his team, including triple amputee Royal Marine Mark Ormrod and US Marine Corps Master Gunnery Sergeant Charles "Chunks" Padilla, the men will have run over 3,500 miles, through 16 states, nearly 800 towns and cities, ten mountain ranges and three deserts. To end their incredible journey on Veterans Day could not be more appropriate. And I hope the crowds that greet them in Santa Monica will be as warm and fulsome as those that lined the sidewalks of Massachusetts Avenue outside the British Embassy in Washington DC when they came by in mid-September. The men are a genuine inspiration, their cause incredibly noble, and they embody the best of the talent and the values that run through the core of the UK and US armed services.

The "Gumpathon" builds too on the proud history of Anglo-American military partnership. The conflicts we've fought since that 1918 Armistice -- the Second World War, Korea, the First Gulf War, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq -- stand testament not just to the challenges our Armed Forces have faced but to the durability of the special relationship when tested on the battlefield.

I was reflecting on this during my visit to West Point last week. West Point underscores the extraordinary co-operation and friendship between the British and American Armed Forces. There has been a British instructor at the Academy for more than thirty years. And there are over 700 British defense personnel working in the United States -- not just in Washington DC but right across the country: flying aeroplanes, working on nuclear submarines, and planning operations in the Pentagon.

Our forces know each other better and work more closely together than any other forces in the world. Of course, our history matters in this regard; it creates bonds of goodwill that continue to bind us. But the unparalleled military partnership we share is as much about the present and the future, as it is the past. The British Government is determined that the US will remain the cornerstone of our international policy, and that we will continue to be America's closest military ally. Because, as the president himself remarked back in July: "When the United States and the United Kingdom stand together, our people and the people around the world are more secure and they are more prosperous."