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Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
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Bringing people closer together

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Meg was invited to give her insight into her father’s vision back in 1984 when he was one of the founding members of UKOWLA, (UK One World Linking Association). She spoke at the National Youth Conference, her contribution is below.

To contact UKOWLA visit: www.ukowla.org.uk

 

Thank you for inviting me to speak at this conference. It’s a pleasure to be here and to be able to welcome so many of you to Sheffield.

 

I’ve been asked to talk a little about the origins of UKOWLA, in this its 25th anniversary year, and about my father Reg Munn who was involved in the early days.

 

Before I give you my perspective, here are his own words, written about internationalism:

 

“I have often wondered whether some humans have an internationalist gene, and whether or not some others have a xenophobic gene. For myself, from a child I have always drifted towards the strange and different. At the age of 10 I was longing to speak a foreign language and at that age even tried to invent one.  My parents’ brief attempts to speak French after attending evening classes intrigued me. Not that when I started to learn French at Secondary School I was very brilliant ... I was eventually able to get around in French, Italian, Esperanto, German, Russian, Mandarin Chinese and a few words of Arabic.”

 

Reg, like me, was Sheffield born and bred. But into a world which was very different than today. It was only just 4 years after the end of the First World War and before he turned 18 the Second World War had begun. In his early years he was attracted to the ideas of pacifism, but as the 1930s progressed and fascism grew his views changed. With the outbreak in September 1939 of the war he joined the Local Defence Volunteers (immortalised by ‘Dad’s Army’) and then on the very day of his 18th birthday in August 1940, along with his best friend Bob Mills, he joined up.

 

Reg joined the RAF which he served in until 1946. Here again from his own words are some of the experiences he had “On the cipher course at Oxford we were a mixed lot including officers from various nationalities... My next encounter with foreigners was when we arrived at the “Casernes de Calvaries” in Brussels. He goes on to describe how he became friends with a local family and visited them regularly, leading to tearful goodbyes before he headed to France and Chilly on the Somme where he made friends in the village.

 

At the end of the war he was stationed in Germany and saw for himself the hardships of the ordinary people of Germany. He made friends with German people some of whom he kept in touch with for few years. He wrote:

 

“In Germany there was a policy of non-fraternisation but we soon found it didn’t work, meeting a farmer in Osnabruck, talking to girls cleaning my room in Detmold. ... Then there was our camp electrician, Fredi Tucking, who eventually got a job with the German police. We became real friends; I went to his home and took photographs of his newly arrived son. After being demobbed we sent over clothes and medicines for the baby.  ... Fredi and I would correspond a lot, in German, often on politics. The Tuckings went to live near Stuttgart and I fully intended to visit them but sadly in 1950 Fredi died.”

 

Like many other people who shared his political views they were determined that we should never go to war against our neighbours again. Many people believe that its governments that have the responsibility to develop relationships across nations, but from that time on for my father it was the people to people contacts that mattered. His life long involvement in the Co-operative Movement, which had a strong international focus, gave him further evidence on the benefits of this approach.

 

Today is coincidentally International Co-operators’ Day.  This is how Reg spent that day in 1947:

 

“It was International Co-operators’ Day, the first Saturday in July 1947, and the Neepsend Branch of the British Federation of Co-operators went up to Graves Park where the Sheffield and Ecclesall Society were holding their celebrations. Nearby on Cinderhill Lane was a German Prisoners of War Camp and a number of POWs came to look at the Fete. We got into conversation with some of them and I invited two of them to come to our house.”

 

This involvement with the Co-op continued:

 

“I got involved with the Education Department of the Brightside and Carbrook Co-operative Society along with my brothers.  ....I got involved with a special committee which was raising money for Chinese Orphans of the war with Japan. ....We raised money by running dances. I succeeded to what was left of the library belonging to the British United Aid to China and raised money by selling the books. When Sheffield eventually twinned with Anshan in China, I was flattered to be introduced sometimes as being ‘an old friend’ of China.  With the British Federation of Young Co-operators we subsequently made many international contacts.”

 

Sheffield became one of the first towns to develop a link with a German town as part of that approach we now call town twinning.  Bochum in the northern Ruhr area has similarities with Sheffield and to this day people from Bochum and Sheffield remain in touch through youth exchanges, sports visits and adult exchanges of those interested in learning each other’s languages.

 

For him there was no question that the idea of linking Sheffield people to others around the world was something that should be supported. Amongst his papers are the minutes of the meeting of the Further Education Sub Committee establishing the first exchange visits for young people to Bochum.

 

Reg takes up the story again:

 

“In 1953 I was elected to the Sheffield City Council and eventually became involved with all the City Council links, chairing the Town Twinning Committee.  I was involved with all the links, Bochum, Donetsk in the Soviet Union, Esteli in Nicaragua, Anshan in China and Kitwe in Zambia.  ... My one claim of distinction is the setting up of SILC (Sheffield International Linking Committee); this was to fill the gap when the City Council did not fill the vacant position of International Officer. “

 

If you take Reg’s view, I inherited the internationalism gene. I however trace my interests to my upbringing by him and my mother. An interest in languages and seeing the value of meeting people from a wide range of backgrounds, countries, faiths and cultures. Other people were not something to be feared but their difference was to be welcomed. Above all he wanted me to have wide horizons.

 

He taught me that the establishment of what we now call the European Union was a huge step forward in co-operation and understanding of those countries many of whom had been at war with each other many times over the centuries. It’s easy now to knock the EU and deride its relevance.  But it has been a powerful force for both peace and prosperity. We settle our differences through discussion and debate, not war. The attraction of being a member of the European Union is not only the increased prosperity it brings, but an end to conflict and war. Now there are negotiations going on for the Balkan countries to join and leave behind their recent conflicts.

 

We also know that being one of 27 countries makes us stronger in the world.  Currently Iranian staff who work at the British Embassy in Teheran are under arrest. How much more powerful is the threat of diplomatic action by 27 countries than just by one.

 

Above all it is the increased people to people contact through easier travel and the opportunity to study or work in each others’ countries that gives us the opportunity to learn about other ways of living and viewing the world.

 

If we look at the areas that have voted more strongly for the British National Party they are the areas where there are few people from non British backgrounds. Where people have not had the experience themselves of living and working alongside people from different backgrounds they easily fall prey to the idea that they face a threat. It is a response generated by ignorance not contact.

 

So back to the establishment of United Kingdom One World Linking Association UKOWLA.

 

My father was one of those involved because he saw the value not only of developing people to people links, but because he saw the value too of an organisation that could help develop and support those links. It is also an organisation that can promote the specific value of links.

 

The links that UKOWLA promotes are about both sides of the link learning from each other. It the sharing of perspectives that is important as well as helping and supporting each other. Today’s conference is particularly important as there is no doubt that making a link as a young person will influence your perspective on life for your future. There will be individual benefits and benefits to your school and community. But most importantly, it is through greater understanding and co-operation that we can build a world where there is greater peace and prosperity.

 

Congratulations to UKOWLA on its 25th anniversary and I hope to be able to take part in future events to mark this year. 

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