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First World War: Commemoration

Volume 743: debated on Tuesday 12 February 2013


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress they have made with their plans to commemorate the centenary of the First World War.

My Lords, there has been significant progress in this £53 million programme of funded activity. Remembrance, youth and education will feature prominently in national events to mark the war’s first day, the Battle of the Somme and Armistice Day. Gallipoli, Jutland and Passchendaele will also be commemorated. The Government are actively developing plans with more than 20 Commonwealth and other Governments on both sides of the war for participation in their events. Community activity across the UK is also being strongly encouraged.

I compliment the Government on the manner in which they are “celebrating” this commemoration, but is the Minister aware that there are still people who say that this should be purely a celebration and not the agreed commemoration? Will he give the House an assurance today that the Government will not stray from the line of commemoration? Will there be sufficient resources for the activities that, as the Minister acknowledges, will take place in towns and villages up and down our land? Has the Heritage Lottery Fund allocated any extra finance to make those initiatives possible?

My Lords, in the extensive briefing that I have had, the word “celebration” has never featured at all. This is a moment for our nation and other nations to commemorate gallant men and women, and that is the whole focus of what the Government are seeking to lead on. On the noble Lord’s point about community projects, yes, there will be at least £6 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund for community-based projects. In addition, £9 million has already been committed to World War I-related projects across the land and there will be activities overseas as well.

My Lords, the engagements that my noble friend listed in his substantive Answer are all well remembered. However, I ask him to put before those who are arranging this event the less well remembered but almost more tragic campaign in Mesopotamia during the First World War. I declare an interest, if that is the right way of putting it, as the son of one of the small minority of survivors from the besieged garrison who survived both that campaign and the horrific treatment they received on the 1,000-mile march afterwards. Can that be put on record as a commemoration as well?

My Lords, there will be discussions with the Turkish authorities on matters such as the Mesopotamian expeditionary force and the work undertaken by men and women from India as well as from our country. If I may say so, my late father-in-law served in the Poona Horse in Mesopotamia in the second war, so I am aware of the bravery of men and women in that sector, too.

My Lords, given that HMS “Caroline”, which is currently moored in Belfast, is the last surviving commissioned light cruiser that participated in the battle of Jutland, what plans do the Government have for the future of that vessel?

My Lords, the interesting part about HMS “Caroline”, which will be restored with a £1 million National Heritage Memorial Fund award, is that it is the last surviving warship of the Battle of Jutland. It has been berthed in Belfast since 1924, and I very much hope that it will be an important part of Northern Ireland’s, and indeed Ireland’s, commemoration of the many gallant men and women who served in that war.

My Lords, given that approximately 1.6 million women joined the workforce between 1914 and 1918 in a wide range of roles, including 950 women who were employed in munitions factories by Armistice Day, will the Minister confirm that the hugely important role that women played during the First World War will be recognised in the commemoration that he has outlined?

My Lords, the role of women will be very much part of the commemoration. It is, indeed, an integral part of the Imperial War Museum’s new First World War galleries, which will be opened next summer. The Government will mark the service and sacrifice of Edith Cavell as a symbol of the contribution made by women.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of the Government’s World War One centenary advisory board and as chair of the All-Party War Heritage Group. What progress has the Minister’s colleague Dr Andy Murrison made with his imaginative plans to recreate the Christmas Day truce football match between English and German troops that took place in 1914?

My Lords, there is clearly a totemic significance to the Christmas truce, and it should be commemorated. Discussions are ongoing with the Football Association and the National Children’s Football Alliance.

My Lords, may I support the Minister’s word “commemoration” and suggest that, in due course, some thought should be given to celebrating the Armistice in 1918?

The day falls on a Sunday, and will clearly be part of the ongoing discussions. Yes, the word is “commemoration”—of all that happened in those four years of a dreadful war.

Is my noble friend aware that the Imperial War Museum has received letters written by those who served in the war? I had two uncles who were killed in 1916 and 1917 and who wrote wonderful letters. The Imperial War Museum has made copies of them. I hope everybody will read them.

The Imperial War Museum is in the lead. I have mentioned the £35 million that will be spent on the new galleries, but it will also be very much involved in a digital platform on the lives of those who served in the First World War and is leading an 800-organisation centenary partnership. It is doing tremendous work already.