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1994 - Mr Major’s Speech at the Berlin Brigade Headquarters

Below is the text of Mr Major’s speech at the Berlin Brigade Headquarters, held on Thursday 8th September 1994.


PRIME MINISTER:

Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen. Today is an historic occasion, it is not often one can say that and mean it with total sincerity, but on this occasion one certainly can, because today is the end of a chapter of British and Allied military involvement in Berlin.

I know from some of the soldiers I have spoken to in the last few minutes that for some of them and their families it will be a matter of great sadness to leave a city that they have many fond memories of, but I believe as they do so, they can do so with great pride in what has been achieved over recent years. We can recall not just the recent years, not just the service of the men here at present, but the contribution made by British soldiers and British airmen to preserving the peace not only in Berlin but in Europe as a whole over many years.

Berlin for many years was the front line in the Cold War and the men who defended Berlin for so many years were the front line troops in that Cold War, it was a unique task, preserving half a city isolated in the middle of hostile territory. But despite the difficulties, despite the problems, despite the depth of commitment that was needed, that position was successfully defended for 49 years.

As this chapter closes another one inevitably opens, new links are being forged between Britain and Berlin, the new British school has been opened in the city, a centre for British studies is to open at the Humboldt University, British companies have a thriving commercial presence here in Berlin, and a British church will remain to serve a British community of around 8,000 people.

All this is to look forward, but I know as we look forward that people will not forget the contribution made by British troops over so many years. It is perhaps almost a unique circumstance. Normally everyone is very pleased to see the back of a foreign army, but I suspect the people of Berlin will look very differently upon the years that you have served here. To them I do not believe you have been a foreign army, you have been protectors, you have been allies and I believe in their minds as well as in ours you pass as friends.

Later on today I shall have the pleasure of attending ceremonies which will express gratitude for the role played by Britain and the other two Western allies in preserving for nearly five decades the freedom of Berlin, we shall be commemorating the Berlin Airlift at the Luftbruke monument, a permanent symbol of thanks to the British and American servicemen who broke the blockade of Berlin.

Sixty-eight Servicemen, Servicemen and civilians, gave their lives in that remarkable and historic operation and twenty-eight of them were British. They will not be forgotten by us and I believe they will be remembered here long after we have left.

All those who served here will I believe also be remembered, they will be remembered by the people of Berlin and I am grateful to Chancellor Kohl's interest in keeping those memories alive in the exhibition he opened last Saturday which will form the core of the Allied Museum, a permanent record of the role played by the allies.

In a few moments I have the pleasure of unveiling another permanent reminder, a commemorative stone at this site which for over 40 years was the seat of allied military government, and has since 1990 been the headquarters of the British battalion in Berlin. In a few moments that will be a duty I perform with great pleasure, with pleasure, with gratitude for those who served their country so well and with enormous pride in the historic role played by Britain in the defence of freedom and democracy in Europe.

But that is a perspective perhaps from a political view point. know that many of the men here today will not only have that perspective, will not only have the personal pride and memories of what they have achieved in their time here in Berlin, I believe they will go home with personal memories, personal memories of friendships forged here, duty well done here and I hope a life enjoyed here, and it is those contacts as much as any others which bode so well for the future relations between Germany and between Britain.

Perhaps I may say on a purely personal note how proud I am of the contribution that has been made over so many years by so many British soldiers here in Berlin.