Question for Short Debate
My Lords, because the noble Lord’s Question for Short Debate will now be taken as last business, the time limit for the debate becomes 90 minutes rather than 60 minutes. Speeches should therefore be limited to three minutes, except for those by the noble Lord, Lord Clark of Windermere, and the Minister, which remain limited to 10 and 12 minutes respectively.
My Lords, it is a privilege to lead this debate on the Government’s proposals for the commemoration of World War I. It is a war which came to epitomise carnage and human sacrifice. Many in this House will have had grandparents and occasionally parents who participated in that conflict. My own grandfather left the pits of County Durham to mine under the German lines. I remember a photograph on the mantelpiece of my other grandfather handling horses with the border regiments.
There was a terrific response to the war and to patriotism. Even as late as the 1950s when I worked in Cumbria, there were still many who had fought in World War I. The interesting thing was that very few of them ever spoke about it. About 20 years later, when I was doing some research into the early years of the Labour movement in Britain, I met a great many other individuals who had taken the opposite point of view. Many had been conscientious objectors who opposed the war—not usually on religious grounds but on political grounds. Their opposition was not upheld by the tribunals and most of them ended up in prison. Indeed, they were very strange jailbirds. However, one thing was clear: both sides respected the other over the years and both groups of individuals were very brave. One must accept that.
I found preparing for this debate quite difficult. I am not a pacifist. For five years, I was the principal spokesman for my party as the Shadow Secretary for Defence. I was a member of the political wing of NATO for nearly 20 years and I had the pleasure of leading the British delegation for more than five years. However, I must admit that in studying World War I, at times I have found it very difficult to justify. World War I was divisive then and it is now, in both its justification and especially, probably, in its conduct. The latter continues to divide our society, which has been one of the challenges for the Government and Dr Murrison MP as he tried to outline a plan of approach. I think that basically he has got it right.
The phrase, “lions led by donkeys”, so aptly used by another former Member of the other House, Alan Clarke, still resonates today. The stories of hampers from Fortnum & Mason and the approximately 200 British generals driving their Rolls Royces behind the lines really did not go down well when those soldiers returned to the land fit for heroes.
In a sense, it was not only the beginning of the war that was divisive but the aftermath as well. I believe that every one of us in this House will agree on one thing; namely, the bravery, courage and valour of the men who suffered the horror and deprivations of that war. Life in the trenches was hell. With that we can all agree. I think that that is a rallying point for us tonight. One realises that more than 1.2 million allied servicemen lost their lives and double that number of Germans lost their lives in that conflict. Overall, 10 million people died.
Even today, going into the fields of Passchendaele you are told that there still are 100,000 bodies unaccounted for. In one day at the Somme, 200,000 British military personnel lost their lives. As the Prime Minister said when he launched the Government’s commemoration, of the 14,000 parishes in England and Wales, only 50 did not lose any parishioners during World War I. In Scotland and Northern Ireland, not a single community could boast even that.
I checked very quickly up the road from where I live in Grasmere, and 25 people in a very small village lost their lives in World War 1. Tragic as it was, only two lost their lives in World War 2. The scale of the carnage is clear for all.
The Government have recognised these sensitivities. Correctly, they have ruled out any talk whatever of celebration, and the emphasis is on commemoration and remembrance, and that is correct. They appear to have the tone right, although I trust that over the four years of the commemorations there will be flexibility in which we can adapt to what is needed. The Prime Minister identified the objectives when he said on 11 October last year that the commemoration was,
“to honour those who served; to remember those who died; and to ensure that the lessons learned live with us”.
That is absolutely right.
World War I was a turning point not only for us here in Britain, but for the whole of Europe. Initially, volunteers flocked to fight for king and country. That slogan began to lose its appeal fairly quickly and conscription had to be introduced. What began as a war between three conflicting empires headed by three monarchs—three cousins—quickly changed and the consequences for the class structure throughout Europe were certainly challenging.
What began as patriotic fervour ended by laying the groundwork for democracy and freedom across the continent and a growing awareness of internationalism. Those are three things that we should not shy away from. As we commemorate what those brave men fought for, it was for democracy, freedom and a better way of resolving international problems than going to war.
The effect shook the Government. Some 8.4 million women were given the vote in 1918. Hurrah to that. All men were given the vote, because prior to 1918, only just over half the men had the vote. Many working men did not have a vote and that was put right. It was a major step towards democracy.
We must make sure that the commemoration of which we speak flows across the nation and through local communities. There will be the great national events, with the Imperial War Museum providing the lead. Other national institutions such as Westminster Abbey, the British Library, the Armed Forces, the Royal British Legion, the BBC, the War Memorials Trust, the Woodland Trust and many others will all have their parts to play. But most of the activity will be at community level. This will underpin the activity and ensure that the commemoration is a success and long lasting.
The Government’s plan for every secondary school and a teacher to be able to go out to France, Belgium and further afield is very much to be welcomed. I understand that that will be paid for by a special government grant. However, the demand in the localities of the local history libraries and county archives will be very strong. We must make sure that people are not disappointed and I therefore ask the Government to make sure that adequate money is not only provided nationally but at a local level as well.
My Lords, I am sure that all of us in this Chamber are most grateful to the noble Lord for giving us the chance to debate this matter and for the thoughtful way in which he approached the subject himself. He reminded us that grandparents or even fathers fought in this war. As a private soldier, my own father did so as a very young man. When I was thinking about that, it suddenly struck me for the first time that had he not come through unscathed, at least in body, I should not be here at all. That may be a matter on which there is a division of opinion, but it is a sobering thought that so many lost their lives in that war, as has been said so eloquently this evening.
In the short time that remains to me, I want to stress the role of women, which was touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Clark. First, many young women lost their young husbands and probably for ever after remained widows, perhaps bringing up small children. We saw this in the Second World War as well of course, but in the First World War there was no War Widows’ Association, of which I am proud to be president, to take care of them. It was a very difficult road for them not only emotionally but in practical terms. We need to remember that.
We should also remember the immense contribution made by women in the workplace when so many young men were taken off to fight and the women filled in the gaps, even in the munitions factories. It was probably that contribution that contributed very much to their emancipation in 1918, although of course there was still a certain caution as I believe they could not vote until the age of 30. It was 10 years later before they could vote at the general age of 21, but at least it was a start.
We need also to remember those women who never even had the chance to be married or to have children because of this great dearth of young men who were sadly killed in the very prime of their lives. That must have been a very great tragedy for all those women—a kind of unseen tragedy—and we ought to remember them. It is my hope that, when the Minister answers tonight, he will indicate that this role of women in its various forms will permeate all the commemorations which will take place whether nationally or locally. I do not want to see this as an add-on or afterthought. I want it to be right in the midst of it. I shall conclude on that note.
My Lords, I am pleased to follow my almost namesake and I am sure I speak on behalf of the whole House in saying that we are glad her father did survive and that she is with us as a result. I am also glad that I have time to thank my noble friend Lord Clark of Windermere for raising this issue today.
My interest in these World War 1 commemorations arises for two reasons. The first is personal. Both speakers have said this already and I am sure more will do so. My maternal grandfather, Alexander Rhind, served with the 6th Gordons in France and Flanders. He won the Military Medal for Gallantry. I still have that medal and I am very proud to keep it.
I have also been pursuing the interests of a certain football club with which I have connections. I have raised this previously in a Question. Almost the whole of the first team of Heart of Midlothian Football Club joined up and served in McCrae’s Battalion in 1914-18. Sadly many of them did not return. Those of us connected with the club are particularly anxious that there should be a mention of this and an involvement in the commemorations of the club, the fans and everyone else. As a result, I have been in touch with many of the public and private people involved in the commemorations—and there are many groups already. I have encountered two problems that I wish to raise. The first is the lack of co-ordination at both a United Kingdom and a Scotland level. In Edinburgh the Lord Provost is bringing together all those involved so there is co-ordination there. However, it is important that there is greater co-ordination to help build up momentum at both a Scottish and a United Kingdom level, so that people know what others are doing and work together in a more effective way. With respect, I do not think this is happening at the moment.
Secondly, we also need some greater imagination and I think this is lacking at present. As my noble friend Lord Clark of Windermere said, we have the military, the museums and galleries, and the schools involved—the traditional interests—and they are planning the usual kind of activities. This is very welcome, very worthy, but it is not enough. This country which marvelled at the brilliant spectacle of the Olympics can and must do better. We must involve all aspects of our life. The theatre can put on great performances; music can be composed specially; the arts should be involved. All sorts of sporting activities can take place. After all, at Christmas there was a truce and a football match took place. We should take these things, work on them and make it much more exciting. Millions gave their lives for us in 1914-18 so we need a series of high-quality, imaginative and above all unforgettable events and activities in 2014-18.
My Lords, like my noble friend Lady Fookes, I shall draw attention to the vital contribution made by women in the First World War. When I look around this House and see how many men and how few women have put down their names to speak, I hope I am not going to be too repetitive where this debate is concerned.
I want to start by congratulating the Heritage Lottery Fund on awarding £140,000 to centenary projects that specifically celebrate the war effort of women. This includes £70,000 to the Florence Nightingale Museum to commemorate the volunteer field hospital at Bourbourg near Dunkirk.
Women were not, of course, only field nurses. Approximately 1.5 million joined the workforce during World War 1. They worked across government departments, on public transport, running post offices, as clerks in businesses and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, mentioned, as munitionettes. Women’s war work included non-combat jobs in the military services but they were also part of anti-aircraft units which shot down German planes.
In the words of suffragette, Dame Millicent Garrett Fawcett:
“The war revolutionised the industrial position of women … It not only opened opportunities of employment in a number of skilled trades but, more important even than this, it revolutionised men’s minds and their conception of the sort of work of which the ordinary everyday woman was capable”.
That, of course, as was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Clark of Windermere, and the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, led finally to emancipation. They also joined trade unions. In 1914 there were only 357,000 female members; in 1918 there were over a million. Despite this, women’s wages remained unequal. Today, 100 years after the First World War and 40 years after the Equal Pay Act, women working in the UK are still paid on average about 15% less per annum than men. Perhaps I may suggest to my noble friend the Minister that an appropriate and lasting legacy would be a commitment to closing this gender gap at last.
Finally, other noble Lords have talked about their ancestors. I will not go into too much detail about my great-grandfather, but my grandmother’s generation lost brothers, lovers and friends, and only 25 years later it was happening again. My own first cousin never knew his father due to conflict within Europe—due to European fighting European. In commemorating this centenary, let us please emphasise the importance of collaboration over isolation.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a director of history programmes at the BBC. I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Clark, for bringing forward this timely debate.
Quite rightly, the big events planned for four years from 2014 will concentrate on remembering the dreadful loss of life that took place in the First World War, but if those sacrifices are to mean anything, they have to be put into an historical context and they have to raise questions which are relevant to the citizens of a democracy in this, the uncertain 21st century. The most important question of all is: when is it right and just to go to war? I know from making history programmes myself that the great stories of history remain just that, great stories, unless they raise questions which can connect with a modern audience. Our Armed Forces are still engaged in Afghanistan and there is the political temptation to become involved in other wars, albeit for the highest moral reasons. So these questions have never been more important for the people of our country and its leaders.
For this legacy to have a really lasting resonance, we need to bring fresh eyes and thoughts to the First World War as a great catalyst for change. I would like to see historians shine a light on to hitherto unexplored areas of change during that tumultuous era. After all, it was the first time that we saw total economic mobilisation, with its huge industrial and social consequences. Likewise, it would be good to look at the role of religion in the various arenas of the First World War because it is still not well understood. In the Middle East, we saw Islam, Judaism and Christianity come in conflict, a legacy that we still live with today. And maybe we should even investigate the states of emergency declared by Governments during the war which allowed the progressive extension of government intervention into the lives of citizens. Might this not help us in our debates about current terrorist legislation?
I would like the people of Britain to go on an extraordinary journey over the four years between 2014 and 2018. By 2018, I would like them to be giving recognition to the totally different world we live in by enhancing the appeal of Armistice Day so that it becomes not just a day of remembrance, but something even more powerful and forward-looking. All the veterans of the First World War have died and by 2018 the 70th anniversary of VE Day will have passed. There will be only a few veterans of the Second World War left. We will always need to remember the great sacrifices made by so many brave men and women in the First World War and in all wars. However, I would like to ask this of the Minister. Could 11 November also be a day of national reconciliation and self-awareness? Perhaps we could even give it an additional name. We could call it Remembrance and National Day.
“When you go home”, look at your local war memorial. War memorials are our inheritance from those who first resolved that, “We will remember them”. Most are getting close to their centenary now. They belong to us all, and therefore in a way often seem to belong to no one. I am a trustee of the War Memorials Trust. The trust helps to conserve such memorials of every kind in the UK. Jointly with English Heritage, we have just launched warmemorialsonline.org.uk which enables the public—including noble Lords, if I may say so—to register their local memorials and to tell us about their condition.
Another of our programmes helps to prevent the stealing of plaques by metal thieves. Metals at risk can be painted with a forensic liquid called SmartWater which enables stolen metals to be traced, even if they are melted down. It is a great deterrent that is now widely applied to church roofs and other vulnerable metals. Thanks to our partners, the SmartWater Foundation, any war memorial can be protected in this way free of charge. I hope that noble Lords will ensure that their local memorials are recorded and protected.
I hope also that the commemorations will include all the participants in that terrible war. It was not, as it sometimes seems, just Britain v Germany full stop, as it were. My father first served on the Western Front at Passchendaele and elsewhere, partly with colonial troops from the West Indies. After recovering from a wound, he was sent to join Allenby’s force in Palestine, which had a large Anzac element fighting alongside the Arabs against the Turks. En route there his troopship was torpedoed and sunk in the Mediterranean by a German submarine, and he and others were rescued by one of the escorting destroyers from the Japanese navy. It is for such reasons that it was called World War 1, and we should commemorate it in its entirety. However, in my view the real disaster was the Versailles Peace Conference. One commentator at the time said that we had fought the war to end all wars, and he feared that we had just agreed the peace to end all peace.
My Lords, I am very pleased to take part in the debate this evening. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Clark, on securing this opportunity, and on his speech which captured the totality and scale of the war without passing over the fact that what we remember—the extraordinary, haunting images which we hold of this war—are individuals, usually men, on the battlefield.
I declare an interest as chair of English Heritage. We will be commemorating the war in many different ways. We are going to focus on the sites and memorials associated with the First World War, and the often untold and unrecognised heritage. Many of the great buildings which we hold in trust—the castles and great houses—were, for example, turned into hospitals and training camps. We will be conserving the story of Cannock Chase, for example, which is the largest of the training camps. In Richmond Castle, there is graffiti left behind by conscientious objectors, which is now in a state of decay. This is an extremely important and honourable part of the memory which we must honour as well.
Obviously, we also want to generate new knowledge. We are seeking to fund a pilot national archaeology project to research and record traces of World War 1—another programme for the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, I hope. It will also enable us to think again about the significance of these sites, about how we designate them in the future and how we conserve them. The noble Lord, Lord Cope, spoke about the work that we are doing on war memorials, and we are very proud to be in partnership with the War Memorials Trust and with other partners up and down the country.
We will also generate new research. We have historians who will be working on aspects of the home front and on the shipwrecks, for example. Above all—and I hope that this will please the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes—we will be working very closely with schools to help young people to understand the impact of the war on their own families, communities and histories. Through the Heritage Schools Make History project, we will invite schools to make a national archive of local World War 1 stories, presented as short films and made publicly accessible. There have been wonderful ideas across the Chamber this evening already as to how we can make these live again and connect communities.
Picking up something that the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, said, I also hope that it will be a time to think about other aspects of how we construct our history and our memory. A great book written about 20 years ago by Paul Fussell entitled The Great War and Modern Memory demonstrated just how powerful the images, language, experiences and literature of the First World War are, and the impact that the war has had on our own history, lives and memories, and on how we think about our relationships. It is an extraordinary book about an extraordinary time and war. I hope that we will be able to listen again to those voices of the war, in literature and music; to think about how science and technology aided conflict, and about the abuse of science; about the many things which were done for the first time; about what we mean by patriotism; and about what Wilfred Owen meant when he talked about the pity of war.
My Lords, I was with my 98 year-old grandmother, Ratti Bilimoria, in Mumbai last month. She calls herself a war baby because she was born in 1914, soon after the start of the First World War. I am a former chairman and current member of the Memorial Gates Commemoration Committee. Every year at the Memorial Gates on Constitution Hill here in London—erected primarily due to the efforts of the noble Baroness, Lady Flather—the committee commemorates the contribution of the nearly 5 million volunteers from the Indian subcontinent, Africa and the Caribbean who served in the two world wars. We would not have freedom today had it not been for the courageous sacrifice and service of these brave individuals. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Clark, for initiating this debate and for his powerfully delivered speech.
In the First World War, 1.5 million people from the Indian subcontinent served and over 70,000 made the ultimate sacrifice. My late father, Lieutenant-General Faridoon Bilimoria, was commissioned into and later colonel of the regiment of the 5th Gurkha Rifles (Frontier Force). The 5th Gurkhas served in the First World War in Gallipoli and Mesopotamia, and incurred huge loses. Sadly, over the past 100 years conflict has persisted. In the First World War, the only Indians allowed to become officers were those who served in the medical corps. After the First World War, my late grandfather, Brigadier Bilimoria, was one of the first Indians to be commissioned at Sandhurst, at a time when only eight Indians a year were given the opportunity to become officers.
Will the Minister assure us that next year, in 2014, when we commemorate the centenary of the First World War, this Government will not only acknowledge and recognise but prominently figure the amazing contribution of these millions of volunteers from the Indian subcontinent, Africa and the Caribbean, commemorated by the Memorial Gates? Will the Government also ensure that every school in Britain—every primary school and secondary school—has events, a whole day or even a week where the students are taught about the amazing contributions made by these individuals? The children must not only appreciate what these brave people did for us and how we benefit from that today but also understand that they gave their today for our tomorrow.
Sadly, as I said, conflict has persisted over the past 100 years and will continue to persist. It is crucial for our children to learn about and be inspired by the precious sacrifice that these millions of individuals made. We must always remember them. We must never forget them. We will be eternally grateful to them.
My Lords, it is surely imperative in this important debate, initiated with so much wisdom by the noble Lord, Lord Clark of Windermere, that due tribute should be paid to the contribution made by Ireland, north and south, both parts being full members of the United Kingdom throughout the war. Over 200,000 Irishmen enlisted voluntarily, since conscription was never applied to Ireland. Some 30,000 gave their lives in the wider cause of freedom, a cause that meant so much to many of them within Ireland itself.
Irish nationalists responded to the rallying call issued by their leader, John Redmond. Irishmen, he said, should go,
“wherever the firing line extends, in defence of right and freedom and religion”.
That firing line was at its most extensive and vicious at the Somme, where the blood of the famous 36th Ulster Division, composed mainly of Unionists, flowed abundantly. The war correspondent Philip Gibbs wrote:
“Their attack was one of the finest displays of human courage in the world”.
Of the nine VCs awarded in that battle, four went to the men of the 36th. Marshall Foch, supreme allied commander, said afterwards:
“I saw Irishmen of the North and the South forget their age-long differences, and fight side by side, giving their lives freely for the common cause”.
Tragically, sacrifice in the common cause went uncommemorated for many years at official state level in the independent south that emerged after the war. Thankfully, in our generation that has completely changed. Who could forget the wonderful sight of Her Majesty the Queen laying a wreath at the Irish National War Memorial Gardens in Dublin two years ago in honour of all Irish soldiers who gave their lives in World War 1? In planning events for 2014, our Government and that of the Irish Republic must ensure that sacrifices in the common cause are remembered with due reverence and gratitude, and with increased understanding of the background to them. I understand that welcome cross-border educational programmes are envisaged. They must be rigorous and soundly based in historical fact. There is always a danger that some facts of the past may be diluted to promote reconciliation in the present. In the words of Marshall Foch,
“the generations that come after us shall never forget the heroic dead of Ireland”.
My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lord Clark of Windermere for achieving this important debate in the run-up to marking the terrible conflict of the First World War.
I was very pleased to note what the Prime Minister said in the press release that accompanied the announcement of the events that will form the commemoration. Those comments, I am pleased to say, were echoed by the Minister in his response to the Question from the noble Lord Clark of Windermere in this House two or three weeks ago when he said they would be about commemoration not celebration. There can be no room for triumphalism because there is nothing to be triumphal about.
Of course victory was important in 1918 but at such a terrible cost that I believe that all who died in that conflict—the Imperial War Museum says it was 16 million people worldwide—should not be forgotten. Although 16 million people lost their lives there was a ripple effect on the parents, wives, husbands and children who never completely got over the loss they suffered when their loved ones did not come back from war.
It is often said that death is a unifying force, and where great numbers are involved that certainly is the case. That is why I was pleased to read of the agreement recently signed by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and the Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge, its German equivalent, to ensure that work on commemorating and maintaining the graves of those who lost their lives will be done, to some extent at least, on a joint basis. That is very much to be welcomed.
I am also pleased to see that education is at the heart of the events that are to be organised between 2014 and 2018. Education was responsible for my interest in the First World War. I am not particularly interested in military affairs; I am not even particularly interested in the rest of the First World War, but the Western Front just gripped me as a student studying the 50th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme at school. I sought out my grandfather, who had served in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders during the war, but he would not say a word about it. He had blanked his mind out as it was just too horrible to talk about.
I have since made many visits including—I have to say in respect of the remarks of my noble friend Lord Foulkes of Cumnock—to Contalmaison where the plaque is to the Heart of Midlothian footballers who so bravely gave their lives. I have also done much reading. I particularly recommend the first-hand accounts—many are still in print.
Finally, I want to say a bit about the question of loss. In Scotland 26% of those who marched away to war did not return. In the rest of the UK—and, as the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, reminded us, that included the whole of Ireland—it was something like 12%. I hope it will not just be in the commemorations that are going to take place in Scotland that the sacrifice made by the people of Scotland for the United Kingdom and, indeed, the Commonwealth will be remembered.
My Lords, every time I attend a football match with a large crowd I go through the same routine. I estimate as best I can 21,000 people and then reflect that this is the number of men from Great Britain, Ireland and Newfoundland who died on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, and then I reflect that a further 35,000 were casualties on that day. World War 1 was a devastating war that should never be forgotten.
I am a member of the War Memorials Trust and the Western Front Association, and am a friend of the Lochnagar crater on the Somme. I believe that events to mark the centenary should be based on the principles of commemoration, reconciliation and remembrance. These principles lead me to suggest that Mons should be a location for major commemorative events in 2014 and 2018. Mons is where the very first and very last shots of World War 1 were fired. It is also where British and German soldiers were buried in nearby plots in 1914 and so would be an appropriate location for services of reconciliation.
I suggest two ways in which we should maintain our local communities’ memory of the horrors of the Great War once the centenary is over. First, all local authorities should have an identified officer with responsibility for overseeing all war memorials in their area, if they do not already have one. They should all be asked to identify ways of ensuring the restoration of First World War memorials, where this is desirable, given that the centenary of those memorials will take place over a decade or so, from 2019. Public subscription, sponsorship and match funding, perhaps from the Heritage Lottery Fund—and, perhaps, using young apprenticeship schemes in restoration techniques—could all be encouraged.
Secondly, we need to keep the study of the First World War in our schools curriculum. I hope that the centenary will not be seen by anyone as a closure event, because young people’s learning is the best way to ensure that the memory of what happened, and how dreadful it was, is kept alive.
Finally, on the role of football, the Christmas truce in 1914, in which friendly games of football—or footer as it was known to many—were played, resonates with many people. It has been suggested that football games would make light of the war. I do not agree, for the reason that the football actually happened. I am keen to see a reconstruction of the truce where it is known to have occurred, particularly at Armentières, with football matches being played—perhaps by youth teams from the areas represented in each of the trenches in Christmas 1914.
There was a failure of international leadership in the period leading up to the outbreak of the war, as Europe slid into that war, and a failure to compound the power of newly invented weapons to wreak havoc. Both failures resulted in death and destruction beyond comprehension, so we have to remember to commemorate and to encourage reconciliation. I hope that the centenary will achieve just that.
My Lords, it is a great honour to be able to take part in this debate. Like others, I thank and congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Clark of Windermere. The enormity and horror of the First World War came home to me in a very personal way when my mother died in 2000. In going through her papers, I discovered something that she had never told me: six of her cousins—six out of eight—had been killed in the First World War.
I would like to make a few suggestions as to our commemoration. At the very beginning of the year, it is terribly important that we focus attention on the horrors that came after. August is a difficult time to have a national commemoration, although we should set aside the Sunday nearest 4 August. However, so that our children can be engaged in their schools it would perhaps be sensible to have something on 28 June because in a sense that day, the day of the shooting of the Archduke in Sarajevo, was the event that triggered that appalling conflict. We need to engage the attention and imagination of our young people throughout these four years.
The noble Lord, Lord Davies of Coity, and I both introduced Bills—I in the other place and he in this place—which would have set aside Remembrance Sunday as a very special Sunday, on a par with Easter Day and Christmas, with all the shops closed. The bells might ring but not the cash tills. I suggest that during the four years of commemoration, we should do that with Remembrance Day. Then, when we come to 1918, we should set aside 11 November as a day of national reflection. Everything should close commercially and we should be able to focus upon what happened then and what has happened in the 100 years since. We should give thanks to those who lost or gave their lives and to those who were mutilated and whose lives were destroyed, even though they might have physically lived on.
In order to focus national attention on this, I would like there to be a competition involving all schoolchildren, on the theme “Lest we forget”. There would be essays, poetry and works of art, and the best of them would be collected into a volume that could then be given to all our schoolchildren. These four years are, as so many have said, four years not of celebration but of commemoration. It is crucial that we do not lose an opportunity to focus on the horror of war and the beauty of peace. I trust that we will be able to do that.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Clark—and I call him my noble friend quite literally—for introducing the debate and for making a speech that was balanced, thoughtful and powerful. I come from a slightly different tradition from those who have spoken so far. My family did not fight in the First World War. In fact, my family opposed the First World War. My uncle, of course, was Jimmy Maxton and he went to prison in Edinburgh—the Calton Jail—for urging munitions workers to strike in order to stop the supply of munitions to the front and therefore trying to stop the war. My own father went to jail because he applied to be a conscientious objector. His appeal was turned down and he was conscripted under the 1916 Act. He was taken to Stirling Castle where he was ordered to put the uniform on. He refused to do so. He was court martialled and spent a whole year in Wormwood Scrubs as a result.
I come not only from a family that opposed the war but also from a city, Glasgow, although I may not sound as if I come from Glasgow, where to some extent—not a majority by any means—a revolt against the war was political and became part and parcel of the city’s experience. First of all there was a political side: the Jimmy Maxtons. We must remember that Keir Hardie, who was the founding father of the party on this side, opposed the war. One of the great iconic pictures for me is of Keir Hardie, leading an anti-war demonstration in August 1914, speaking in Trafalgar Square. Our first Prime Minister, Ramsay MacDonald, too opposed the war.
There was then increasing trade union activity in Glasgow against the war, led by people such as David Kirkwood and William Gallacher. David Kirkwood finished up as Lord Kirkwood of Bearsden—I gather the grandfather-in-law of the noble Lord, Lord Vallance. He did not go to jail. He suffered an even worse fate. He was deported from Glasgow to Edinburgh. It is difficult to imagine a worse fate than that. Therefore, I represent a different tradition and I hope that when we commemorate the war that tradition will be part and parcel of it. Perhaps I may suggest to the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, that he may want to look at doing programmes on that tradition. In terms of the women, there was the rent strike in Glasgow.
Lastly, the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, is wrong. Yes, there is still violence and killing in the world but can one imagine a Minister during the First World War standing up and reading out the list of those who have died, as Ministers do now for Iraq or Afghanistan? They would not have been off their feet for four years if they had done that in the First World War. We have reduced violence. Let it long continue.
My Lords, my wife and I visited the western front battlefields last October. My father served as a young Royal Engineer officer. He never spoke about it, trying to blot out its nightmares. Only recently we discovered that he had been awarded the Croix de Guerre. He never said a word about that either. Of course, he was one of the lucky ones, and that is why I am here. Among the many military cemeteries, we found the memorials of my three uncles killed aged 26, 21 and just 18. So many young lives cut short. So many families bereft. Like many others, my grandparents never fully recovered from their loss.
Faced with row upon row of graves—we also visited Irish, French, Australian, Canadian and German memorials—it is frightening to think that their sacrifice did not achieve the war to end all wars that they thought they were fighting for. That surely must be the tone and the theme of any anniversary. That war was largely pointless, meaningless and avoidable. As others said, we should not be celebrating its absurd origins, however much we may pay tribute to those who fought, were wounded or lost their lives. Instead, we must remind ourselves of the futility of negative nationalism, so sharply distinct from positive patriotism.
The year 1914 marked a terrible failure of common sense and common humanity. Personally, therefore, I will find it difficult to mark the centenary of the war’s outbreak with anything other than a resolve that we should do all we can to reconcile the peoples of Europe in the 21st century, avoiding new “foreigner” scapegoats for our economic troubles, and perhaps also reminding ourselves of the 1914 warmongering populism of the British press, which seems familiar. I do not know where Mr Farage’s ancestors were between 1914 and 1918, but he would do well to revisit the history of that period. Fomenting distrust can so easily lead to hatred.
The Armistice anniversary in 2018 may have more positive messages, but I agree with my noble friend Lord Cope that it also has some hidden dangers that we should remember, in the form of the Versailles peace treaty of the following year. We must also recall that only a generation later another ghastly but surely more justified war became unstoppable. The lessons for 2014, 2018—even 2019—for us all must surely be that the price of peace is eternal vigilance.
My Lords, I pay particular tribute to the contribution of our Indian soldiers during the First World War, as the significant part they played is not widely acknowledged. This is of personal significance to me as my grandfather served in the Indian Expeditionary Force E in Palestine. India raised the world’s largest volunteer army of 1.5 million during the First World War. They provided crucial support to our expeditionary forces and fought directly alongside British troops in various battles which took place in Europe, Africa and the Middle East.
Indian contributions were not just confined to the Army; they also served in the Royal Indian Marines, Indian merchant services and in the Army nursing units. Indian troops were awarded more than 9,200 decorations, including 11 Victoria Crosses. The first Indian to be awarded a Victoria Cross was Sepoy Khudadad Khan, who fought in Belgium in 1914. He was in the 129th Duke of Connaught’s Own Baluchis regiment during that period.
More than 74,000 Indian troops were killed or declared missing in action. A memorial site called the Chattri exists on the South Downs at Patcham, which commemorates the Indian soldiers who gave their lives during the First World War. In particular, it is associated with 53 Hindu and Sikh soldiers whose remains were cremated at that very spot, and a memorial service is held there every year.
The commitment of these brave men to the war effort often emerged from a strong sense of personal duty to the Empire. They felt honour in fighting for their King, and it was this sense of loyalty and dedication that endeared them to many of their British comrades.
I have long advocated the need for an emphasis on what we share in maintaining a stable and successful multicultural society. There can be few things more unifying than honouring the sacrifices which our British and Indian ancestors made, fighting and dying together 100 years ago. Finally, I ask that we consider acknowledging the contribution made by Indians in the First World War during the commemoration next year.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for the debate, and my noble friend Lord Maxton for his pertinent speech. Here today in our safe, gilded, gothic palace, one can only be humbled and astounded by the loyalty, gallantry and resilience of Britain’s World War 1 regiments, of her naval fleet, of the Royal Flying Corps and the army of resourceful women who sustained British industrial production.
I have attended moving remembrance events at our village high school in Hawarden—Gladstone’s Hawarden. The students gave a lead of compelling dignity and sincerity, quoting from the novel All Quiet on the Western Front, reading World War 1 poetry, playing ancient films and offering the simplest of prayers. I hope the Department for Culture, Media and Sport will consult with our high schools concerning commemoration. They have a lot to offer.
Erich Maria Remarque’s novel is the story of a lost generation, of a modern and mechanised war. It is about terror—either waiting for death or trying desperately to avoid it, even if it means killing a complete stranger to avoid it. It is a depiction of the terror of heavy shelling, of losing a leg, of crawling blinded into No Man’s Land, and of being gassed. It is about the stench, the filth, the mud, the vermin and the blood and bone of all-out war. I just hope that the 2014 commemoration will ultimately be a hymn of praise for that war’s poor bloody infantry.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Clark of Windermere, for giving me this opportunity to say a few personal words about 1914. When I was Mayor of Windsor, I had to lay a wreath on Remembrance Sunday. On that occasion, I was asked by a councillor, “Does Remembrance Sunday mean anything to you?”. That is my point: there are still educated people in this country who do not realise how much we Indians did in the First World War.
It was a horrible shock to me because my father was a student in Ireland at that time; he was at King’s Inns. Gandhiji said that Indian students could help the war effort, but should not kill. So he joined up—he volunteered—as a stretcher-bearer, and there I was being asked if Remembrance Sunday meant anything to me. It was a heart-rending moment to think that all those sacrifices and all those people who had come here had got lost in the mists of time. Nobody had remembered them.
It is also a good time to remember that Britain did not have a standing army when the war started. It was the British Expeditionary Force that went to France and it was a standing army of 150,000 from India that came over in ships to help in France. They came in clothing that was suitable for warm climates, not for the November climate in France. Indians had a very hard time in the First World War. They had a hard time with the food; they had a hard time with clothing and they had a hard time with the climate, but they were still, as has already been said, 1.5 million volunteers. We must always remember that they were volunteers.
I have tried my very best—without success—to get something about the Indian efforts in the two world wars into the curriculum. I hope that next year, with the help of your Lordships, we will have that in the curriculum. After all, this is why so many people from the subcontinent are here; it is because of the time that so many of their ancestors spent in the two world wars. I hope that something important will happen and that we will get some general acknowledgment—not just acknowledgment from those who know, but acknowledgment from those who do not know and do not wish to know—that yes, the Indians were there and fought bravely. My father, who was a student, was a stretcher bearer, which is a horrible job because you are always under fire. We need to remember everyone. Indians comprised the second largest number of war dead by nationality in the two world wars.
My Lords, my desire to contribute to this debate arose originally from a wish to ensure that we focused entirely on the brutality and evil of warfare, particularly that of the First World War. In historical terms, it may be judged a war of choice, but the appalling nature of the vindictive Treaty of Versailles settlement gave rise to a much greater war, which became one of necessity. However, that point has already been made eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Clark, who introduced this debate so powerfully. I associate myself very much with the contributions of the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, and the noble Lords, Lord Tyler and Lord Jones, who talked about the evil of warfare. That point is illustrated by the 16 million who died in the First World War, 1 million of whom came from this country, and one of whom was my great-grandfather.
Eighteen months ago, I walked the full length of the Western Front and a little further and was shocked by the little Portland stone headstones set up by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. I ended up in Tyne Cot, the largest cemetery. The scale of the cemetery was designed by its architects to shock as it reflected the scale of the losses suffered, and it did so. On the wall were inscribed the words of a not inconsequential person: that is, King George V, with which I will close. He said, in opening the ceremony:
“We can truly say that the whole circuit of the earth is girdled with the graves of our dead. In the course of my pilgrimage, I have many times asked myself whether there can be more potent advocates of peace upon Earth through the years to come, than this massed multitude of silent witnesses to the desolation of war”.
My Lords, the whole House is indebted to my noble friend Lord Clark of Windermere for securing this debate. He deserves the congratulations of everyone who has spoken for the way in which he introduced it. I start by declaring interests as a member of the Government’s advisory board on the World War 1 centenary commemoration, a member of the Mayor of Worcester’s First World War centenary group and chairman of the All-Party War Heritage Group, in which capacity I first raised the need for the Government to be prepared for the centenary back in March 2011.
This evening I want to express my support for the way the Government are approaching this. In my view, the combination of school battlefield visits, national events, the enhancement of the Imperial War Museum, the active involvement of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and the encouragement of local initiatives is absolutely right. I am happy to pay my tribute to the Prime Minister’s special representative, Dr Andy Murrison, for the trouble he has taken to include as many organisations and individuals as possible in the plans to commemorate the centenary. I look forward to the second meeting of the Government’s advisory board on 20 March and am very pleased to see in the Chamber the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, who serves on that board with me.
In Worcester, each year we commemorate the bravery of the Second Battalion of the Worcestershire Regiment which held the line at the battle of Gheluvelt on 31 October 1914 as part of the first battle of Ypres. It is not surprising that the events which the mayor is organising for the centenary as a whole are extensive. They will particularly involve young people, special exhibitions, displays of memorabilia, events at museums, tours, self-guided trails, work with schools, interpretation and restoration of war memorials. I was very pleased to hear the contribution by the noble Lord, Lord Cope, who has done so much work on drawing to our attention the importance of war memorials and their need to be looked after properly. There will also be some theatrical and musical events. Some of your Lordships may not be aware that Vesta Tilley was a Worcester girl and there will be a celebration devoted to her music. We are prepared to forgive the fact that she later went on to become the wife of a Conservative MP.
To do the job properly, it is important that our Heritage Lottery Fund application succeeds, so we await with great interest the publication of the HLF’s guidance on the new First World War grants programme when that comes out in May. One initiative that I hope will find favour is for direct descendants of World War 1 veterans to be able to parade wearing their ancestors’ campaign medals. My grandson would love to have the chance to wear his great grandfather’s medals and honour his memory as some part of the commemoration between 2014 and 2018.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a trustee of the Imperial War Museum and its foundation. A leader in the Times last week about the history curriculum noted how, at the conclusion of Alan Bennett’s play, “History Boys”, the inspirational teacher offers the departing pupils his most important piece of advice: “Pass it on”. Quite so.
My grandfather talked to me about the First World War, when he built ships on the Clyde, and then my father, a veteran of Anzio, took me round the Imperial War Museum and told his story, rooted in the objects there: the tanks, planes, guns and bombs. He passed on his personal story through the mementoes of the past, stored for all time in a great British institution.
I am probably the last of that generation who had the privilege, and that is what it was, to hear at first hand from the combatants of those wars. Soon there will be no one left to link the future to the past. No one to “pass it on”.
That is what makes the institutions which maintain the physical records of those conflicts so vital, among which the IWM, established in 1917 when the First World War was at its height, is paramount. Grandparents and parents may be gone, but future generations can still see in the IWM’s galleries the stories of the causes, course and consequences of total war.
Given the importance of the IWM, the Government are to be congratulated on making a significant contribution to the museum for the renovation of its First World War galleries in a way which will make them intelligible and accessible to future generations.
There have been contributions from many philanthropists, including Lord Rothermere, whose family in the 1930s donated to the museum the building in which the IWM is now housed. They will make possible the opening of new galleries that offer a world-class experience for more than 1.3 million visitors a year, telling the story of our country’s role in the First World War, and of the extraordinary contribution of Commonwealth countries. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, and the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, that the vital role of India will be an absolutely central part of that.
It is not only within the museum buildings that the public can engage with this landmark anniversary. The Centenary Partnership, led by the IWM will bring together more than 850 partners who will deliver an international programme of events across the UK and internationally, including, vitally, a digital platform to promote a permanent legacy.
The centenary of the outbreak of the First World War is a moment of sombre reflection, of memories passed on and of hope and wonder at many people’s strength of spirit across the globe. I would ask my noble friend to ensure that our national institutions, which are at the centre of the centenary commemorations, continue to be nurtured and valued in a way in which those who made the ultimate sacrifice would be proud.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Clark, for introducing this debate and for the opportunity to speak in the gap. The Royal Army Medical Corps is the second highest corps to hold a VC. It has 31 VCs awarded to 29 men. The significance of that is that only three double-VCs have ever been awarded and two of those were to medical men.
The first was given to Captain Noel Chavasse, the son of the Bishop of Liverpool. He died, as was commented afterwards, “a hero among heroes”, and was probably one of the bravest people in the First World War in that medical capacity. Doctors, after all, are non-combatants and, during the campaign, he won an MC in 1915 and his first VC in 1916 by going out to tend the wounded in no-man’s land. He carried on the next day and, despite shrapnel injuries, brought back 20 men whom he saved. He was given a VC by the King for that action. Sadly, a year later at Passchendaele, he carried out a similar courageous act and, this time, having received a shrapnel injury to his abdomen, crawled back to his trenches and died of his wounds. He was given a second VC for that. I have visited his graveside, and he has the only tomb with a double VC mentioned on it.
The second medical person was Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Martin-Leake, a surgeon. He got his first VC in the Boer War and the second in the First World War, which he survived. The third person whom I should like to remember, and I am wearing the tie of Middlesex Hospital, was a student there called Captain Fox-Russell, who also received a VC during the First World War, posthumously.
I make mention of these medical men because I think that I am the only doctor in the House this evening, and we would be remiss if we did not appreciate and recognise the contribution that medical men make in wartime—particularly the terrible losses that they sustained in the First World War.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Clark for his powerful introduction and for initiating what has proved to be a moving, thoughtful and well informed debate. I cannot hope to do justice to the many wise points that have been made and, in the short time available, I shall therefore make four quick points.
First, while it is absolutely right that we should mark the centenary of the war, does the Minister agree that it is also imperative that we get the tone and language right? We should not, for example, allow the events to be commandeered to become a continuation of the jubilee and Olympic celebrations. This is about something much darker. The emphasis should be on understanding and reflecting on the lessons from the war.
Secondly, the most interesting stories are the intensely human ones—from the ferocious political arguments among our leaders and within the political parties to the wave of fervent patriotism that led a generation of young people to volunteer; and to the misjudgments of the military leaders that lead to the ultimate carnage. Does the Minister therefore agree that we need to find a way to shine a light on those human judgments and failings without taking anything away from the bravery and sacrifice of the million or more Britons who died on the battlefields, as well as those international soldiers who fought bravely alongside them. I also share my noble friend Lord Maxton’s plea that the honourable and equally brave role of conscientious objectors should be acknowledged in that regard.
Thirdly, does the Minister agree that we should pay particular respect to the artists and war poets who, for the first time in history, really shaped our understanding of war and the way that it is remembered, and the horror that is involved? Finally, how do the Government intend to pick up the points made by a number of colleagues around the Chamber on the contribution of women to the war effort, which, as we have heard, laid the way to universal suffrage and helped to shape our modern democracy?
These, among many issues raised today, are why we welcome the emphasis on creating an educational legacy to enable young people to study and visit the battlefields and consider the impact on their local communities. For many, it will be a new and shocking story from which a shared experience and understanding will grow. Fresh thinking, imagination and a debate on the nature of patriotism will all have a role in this regard. I was also interested in the proposal of the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, for a debate on when it is ever right to go to war. I should like such a debate to take place also as part of the commemoration.
In this context, we hope the commemoration will be dominated by an emphasis on reflection, learning and a sombre determination that we will never allow young lives to be sacrificed on such a scale again.
My Lords, I add my own thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Clark of Windermere, for securing this debate and for providing the opportunity to set out further the Government’s plans. I have listened carefully to what noble Lords have said and I apologise in advance if, given the time available, I am not in a position to respond as fully as I would like.
The First World War is integral to our history and the Government are committed to commemorating its centenary appropriately. I very much agree with the points that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, the noble Lord, Lord Clark of Windermere, and my noble friend Lord Tyler made regarding tone. That is extremely important.
The scale was overwhelming with more than 16.5 million deaths, military and civilian. One and a quarter million were from the United Kingdom and what was then the British Empire alone. Remembrance lies at the heart of our plans both for those who died and for those who returned with physical and mental scars, as well as many others affected, most notably the large number of war widows. Indeed, I wish to refer to the moving speech of my noble friend Lady Fookes in that regard.
In addition, we seek to secure an enduring legacy from the centenary. Youth and education are also key themes. I am mindful of the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, concerning education and heritage—a point mentioned also by the noble Lord, Lord Watson of Invergowrie. Indeed, we also heard thoughts on legacy from the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross. I am also mindful of all that my noble friend Lord Cormack suggested for events and the participation of young people.
The Prime Minister announced a £53 million programme of funded activity, including more than £5 million for school visits to the battlefields, at least £6 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund to support community projects, and national events to commemorate key moments—the first day of the war, the Battle of the Somme and Armistice Day in 2018—as well as recognising the battles of Jutland and Passchendaele and the Gallipoli landings. The programme also includes a £35 million project to refurbish the Imperial War Museum’s First World War Galleries, which will provide a highly visible centrepiece. I agree with my noble friend Lord Black of Brentwood: the museum is surely to be nurtured and valued for the future. The new galleries will open next year.
It was clear from my recent meeting with the museum’s director-general, Diane Lees, that the museum is already actively supporting a wide range of activity across the UK. Its centenary partnership of almost 900 members across 25 countries brings together a programme of cultural events and activities, and digital platforms, which will enable millions of people across the world to benefit from the museum’s information and expertise and to discover more about life in the First World War. The noble Lord, Lord Jones, spoke powerfully about what this dreadful war really was like at the front.
The Heritage Lottery Fund’s new grants programme of at least £6 million, to be launched later this year, will encourage young people to learn more about their local First World War heritage. The reference by the noble Lord, Lord Clark of Windermere, to the need for local events and the challenge from the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, concerning imaginative events very much struck home with me. I assure the noble Lord that they will be imaginative. I think that there is a lot more going on than your Lordships are aware of and indeed than I knew about before my many briefings. It is important that more people know about them.
The fund has also provided £10 million for centenary-related projects across the United Kingdom. These include £1 million for the restoration of the Belfast-berthed HMS “Caroline”, the last warship of the Battle of Jutland; a development grant award towards a heritage and interpretative centre on the Welsh bard, Hedd Wyn, who was killed in 1917; and support to Edinburgh Napier University to make its war poets collection publicly accessible. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, asked about artists and war poets. Their contribution has been profound and I would add playwrights to that list too.
No one can fail to be moved by the large number of war memorials in every corner of the country. The noble Lord, Lord Clark of Windermere, referred to only 50 villages in which there was not a war memorial. My noble friend Lord Cope spoke movingly about war memorials and referred to the need to protect them. My noble friend Lord Shipley spoke about the responsibility for war memorials. A number of grant schemes are available to support their maintenance and conservation and they must be cherished for the future. My noble friend Lord Ribeiro spoke of the bravery of all in the medical sector and they surely must be recognised, from doctors and nurses to ambulance drivers and all manner of people in that sector who were so brave and did so much.
While the Government are leading the nation in appropriate commemoration, we also support the participation of local communities and interests. I was mindful of the references by the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, to his local football club and the moving passage about its history. There is room for everyone and every interest in this programme, with no single narrative but the opportunity for people to make their own discoveries and form their own views. This is the best way to shine a light on the intensely human stories, if I may use the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch. I respect the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Maxton, in the context of his own family tradition.
We are marking a war that touched every part of Britain and all its people. The role of women in our society was transformed. They flocked to the factories, bus depots and farms to undertake the work of the departing men, and to care for the wounded. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and my noble friends Lady Fookes and Lady Bonham-Carter, referred to the invaluable contribution that women made to the war effort. I reassure my noble friend Lady Fookes that they will be right in the midst of the commemoration. The Imperial War Museum’s director-general informed me that 8,000 women from Australia volunteered for munitions work here. The war changed Britain. The centenary will recognise the social and cultural as well as the military impact.
The noble Lord, Lord Watson, referred to the considerable number and high proportion of deaths from Scotland. I also echo the powerful commentary from my noble friend Lord Lexden about the contribution by Irishmen, both north and south. The Administrations in Belfast and Dublin are working together on fitting commemorations and continuing reconciliation. We will also not forget that this was a war involving over 30 countries across the world, and the enormous contribution made by Commonwealth countries. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, of our eternal gratitude. The nearly 230,000 deaths among military personnel from countries now within the Commonwealth are well documented. We are working closely with our Commonwealth partners to ensure that we recognise the contributions made by, for example, the Anzacs at Gallipoli, the Indian cavalry and the South African forces on the Somme, the Canadian Corps at Passchendaele, the British West India Regiment in Palestine and many more in theatres of war around the world.
The noble Baroness, Lady Flather, spoke of 1.5 million volunteers from India; my noble friend Lord Sheikh spoke of his grandfather serving in Palestine and the immense contribution made by troops from India. These should be acknowledged and more is surely due. My noble friend Lord Bates referred to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. It is our invaluable partner, funded proportionately in relation to war casualties by its member states. Our Government provide some 78% of the commission’s funding. Many of their immaculate cemeteries will form a poignant backdrop to centenary events around the world and they are providing wise counsel on matters of sensitivity and tone. Beyond the Commonwealth, we are in dialogue with the representatives of more than 20 countries from both sides of the first war, acknowledging that the loss and suffering recognised no national boundaries. I think that my noble friend Lady Bonham-Carter reminded us all of that.
In driving forward the commemoration, government thinking is greatly enriched by the expert advisory group. I must record our gratitude to those present tonight—my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire and the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester. That group has been chosen to represent a wide range of expertise and specialism with many other noble Lords present. We welcome the lively and vibrant perspectives that they bring. The group is chaired by the Secretary of State, working with the Prime Minister’s special adviser, Dr Murrison.
While DCMS leads the programme for the Government, it is a truly cross-government effort. A professional team of officials from a number of departments is working together to co-ordinate it. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, referred to co-ordination and, having seen what I have now been briefed on, I really hope that he will not be disappointed.
The Government are working hard to ensure a commemoration that is wide in its focus, inclusive in its nature and appropriate for an event of almost unparalleled importance. We will shortly announce our plans for the opening day of the centenary on 4 August 2014, which will reflect our themes of remembrance, youth and education. There will be a number of announcements thereafter as our plans unfold. The Secretary of State and I are committed to keeping your Lordships fully informed.
It is telling that the Imperial War Museum’s conception was during, not after, the First World War. At the museum’s opening in 1920, Sir Alfred Mond described it as,
“not a monument of military glory, but a record of toil and sacrifice”.
I can think of no better words to guide our work today.
House adjourned at 9.32 pm.