Motion to Take Note
My Lords, the centenary of this terrible war is important for three reasons. One is the sheer scale of the sacrifice: 16 million deaths and 20 million wounded across the globe; more than 1 million dead from Britain and her then empire and Commonwealth; and barely a family or community left untouched.
Another reason to commemorate is that, with the passing of Henry Allingham, Harry Patch and Bill Stone, we have lost the last British veterans. Although there are many who still remember the effect of the war on their parents, we will one day lose that last personal connection, too. It is critical that the war should continue to be remembered, generation after generation, so that lessons can continue to be learnt. The final reason is the huge impact of the war on our country’s story, from the empowerment of women to technical innovations to transformations in social norms.
Every local community bears its own scars: not only the loss of those who died in different theatres of war and on the home front but the legacy of the physically and psychologically injured returning to civilian life. The great majority of commemorations will therefore be locally based. However, as the Prime Minister said in October 2012, Government have a role. We can lead, encourage and enable activity, linking up projects and organisations. We can identify common strands such as remembrance, youth and education, and promote them so that they permeate the national commemorations. We have done so. At the Government’s request, the Heritage Lottery Fund has earmarked funds for First World War community projects and has already allocated over £56 million to more than 700 projects, big and small.
In taking this leadership role, we are of course conscious that there are different interpretations of the rights and wrongs, and the causes and effects of the war. It would not be right for Government to promote one particular interpretation over another. The tone of the official commemorations will be neither celebratory nor apologetic. It is clear who won the war and we are proud of the courage of our ancestors but the enormous sacrifices on both sides mean there is no cause for celebration. Equally, however, we are not apologetic. Our predecessors were overwhelmingly confident that resisting a militaristic aggressor satisfied the moral preconditions for a just war and that it was right to honour our treaty commitment to Belgium. Of course, different views were taken at the time but whatever the family history of people alive today—whether their ancestors were conscientious objectors or active in the forces—a hundred years on it is surely right for us to remember together as a nation.
In doing so, we will be mindful that those who were once our adversaries are now our partners in building a better world. The St Symphorien military cemetery near Mons was selected for one of the official events on 4 August for the very reason that it contains almost equal numbers of war dead from both sides. Senior members of the Royal Family and British Government will be joined there by German government representatives, descendants of both the British and German fallen and youth representatives. St Symphorien is maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. I pay tribute to the work of the commission which maintains military cemeteries in some 23,000 locations all over the world in such an immaculate, beautiful and accessible condition. Since 1917 its efforts have been a constant and just tribute to the sacrifices of our fighting men and women.
Throughout the four years of the centenary, we will give proper recognition to the contribution of the Army and Navy, and later in the war the Royal Air Force. The Armed Forces have an extensive commemorative programme of their own, largely focused on anniversaries of particular engagements throughout the war. This August, 35 cavalrymen—one representing each regiment of the original British Cavalry Division—will join their French counterparts in riding 100 miles across northern France over five days to benefit the Not Forgotten Association. On 13 August, in a joint Western Front Association and RAF event, the Dover muster will be recreated with a flight of period aircraft across the channel and a special service at Arras.
The enormous contribution of what is now the Commonwealth, whether in terms of troops, financial support, raw materials or civilian assistance, will be acknowledged. We simply could not have prevailed without them.
The first event on 4 August will have a clear Commonwealth focus, and we will then be looking to mark key Commonwealth engagements throughout the four years that follow. Among these will be the sacrifices of the Jullundur Brigade of the Indian Army at Neuve Chapelle, the brave record of the ANZACs at Gallipoli, the heroism of the Canadians at Passchendaele, and the contribution of the African and Caribbean regiments in many theatres.
Three national events will be taking place on 4 August. The day will be critical in setting the tone for the whole commemorative period. In the morning, there will be the service for the Commonwealth at Glasgow Cathedral, recognising the fact that many Commonwealth leaders will already be present in the city for the end of the Commonwealth Games. In the afternoon, the ceremony at St Symphorien military cemetery will take place.
In the evening, in the hour leading up to the exact anniversary at 11 pm, a service of solemn commemoration will be held at Westminster Abbey. Similar prayer and vigil services will be taking place in St Anne’s Cathedral in Belfast, Llandaff Cathedral in Cardiff and Anglican cathedrals around the country. As well as being involved on 4 August, Catholic churches will have held special masses the day before, and other churches and faith communities are planning acts of reflection or prayer to coincide with the abbey service.
During the same hour, places of worship, other public buildings, workplaces and private homes will take part in Lights Out. Lights will be switched off—a reference to the reported comment by the then Foreign Secretary about the lamps going out across Europe—with just one light left burning in each place as a symbol of continuing hope in the darkness of war. There will be a great many other commemorative activities around the UK on 4 August. Particularly poignant, I believe, will be Step Short in Folkestone, where a parade will inaugurate a new memorial arch over the road—the Road of Remembrance—down which so many troops marched to embark on ships to the western front, many never to return.
The commemorations will also have a cultural element. Lights Out, and a special late Prom taking place that same day at the Royal Albert Hall, are both part of the 14-18 NOW cultural programme, a rich programme of new work which the Government have put in place in the weeks leading up to 4 August. The 2014 events programme will be a tribute to artists’ and writers’ significant contribution during and after the First World War. The programme includes innovative activities designed to encourage reflection on the war. Alongside ballet and plays will be the London and Liverpool dazzle ships, where artists have reinterpreted the dazzle camouflage patterns of the period.
In England, the cultural programme is matched by an ambitious educational programme being led by the Department for Communities and Local Government. Two students and a teacher from each directly funded secondary school are being sent on a battlefield visit, and are then being asked to share their experience with the whole school, and, through the school, with the local community. The first tour took place last month, and many schools have already signed up for the autumn, with about 12,000 participants expected in total from 4,000 schools. A similar project is planned in Scotland.
The Government are also helping communities to make links with their past. More than £5 million of funding will be made available across the centenary period to ensure that local war memorials are in good order for the future. In another Department for Communities and Local Government-led project, special paving stones have been designed to commemorate VC recipients. My noble friend Lady Warsi will announce tomorrow how overseas-born VC recipients will be honoured.
We are ensuring that the UK is appropriately represented at all key international First World War events. Just as the First World War commemorations are characterised within the United Kingdom by a joined-up approach, with all government departments and the devolved Administrations actively co-operating, a close liaison is taking place between countries, not just within the Commonwealth and our allies but with our former adversaries. We are working closely with the Republic of Ireland to achieve a commemorative programme that will be equally accessible and relevant to those on both sides of the border who wish to be involved.
The Government have set a framework for a fitting and memorable centenary—commemoratively, educationally and culturally. These events and projects will, with the most profound respect, mark this historic centenary in all parts of the country and its many communities, and particularly for the custodians of the legacy: young people. We will do so in a way that is mindful of our present-day friendships with our former adversaries, while never forgetting the service and sacrifice of men and women at home and abroad. I beg to move.
My Lords, I must first declare an interest as a trustee of the Imperial War Museum.
I thank the Minister for that clear exposition of the commemoration programme, which will lay to rest some of the concerns that people had. I know that when there was mention of this, the late Lord Campbell of Alloway was absolutely horrified that there should be a commemoration. I remember him saying to me, “What? Commemorate that bloody war? Never”. I think that he thought of it more as a celebration, but this clearly is not a celebration. The more I have thought about it, the more convinced I am that this is the right thing to do. That is for many of the reasons that the Minister gave but particularly for the young—the ability of the youth within this country to learn what the war meant, what changes it put in our country, along with the sacrifice and all those aspects of the war.
Of course, this has a huge resonance with our public. Every single family, as the Minister said, was touched by this war. The thought of those killing fields and the trenches, with their mud, has an immense resonance. The war really needs to be remembered in that calm and sensible way, looking at what was an awful experience for all those involved. Of course, it was really the first time that we had a complete citizen army fully involved, so that the whole population were being pulled in.
The noble Baroness the Lord Speaker and a couple of other Ministers were with me when the cadet forces had a major debate in this Chamber. That was a wonderful thing to watch because they were discussing whether we had learnt the lessons from that war. That would never have happened if we had not thought about this commemoration. It was wonderful to hear them speak and they were jolly good about keeping to time, which I am sure I will not be. They were quite remarkable and the debate was very good.
The other aspect is whether this was a necessary war. I know that when I was at school, I was taught that the First World War was completely unnecessary and that there was no need for it at all. However, as I have read more and more about it and had experience of life myself, having been in wars, I believe that it was necessary. It was the first of the German wars of the 20th century, rather like the French wars of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. There is no doubt for me that, although there were some wonderful aspects of democracy within Germany and some marvellous culture there, it had a militaristic organisation. There was huge competition over colonies and over the Dreadnoughts. They wanted to have them to match our fleet, but why? They did not need them, while we needed them to survive. Their decision to support Austria-Hungary, come what may, and then the decision to go into Belgium were all wrong. It was really a statement of a country saying, “We’re powerful and we do what we like”, so our decision to go to war over Belgium was absolutely right.
I believe that it was a just war. The true nature of the militaristic aspect of the German nation, with its strange dichotomy, was shown in the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in 1917. That was a most punitive treaty with the Russians when Russia had collapsed. We saw later, when we looked at their papers after the war, what their plans were if they had won the war against us. I have no doubt at all that Europe would have been a worse place if Germany had won, so our nation did the right thing. In that, I agree with the Secretary of State for Education that it was a just war. I think that he has been reported wrongly because I read that he had said that socialists were unpatriotic. I am sure that he did not mean that and, if he did, I am willing to discuss it with him—inside or outside a boxing ring—and we will see how we go from there.
We should be very proud of our men and women who answered the call. They were of their time and did what was required of them. They did amazingly. They showed great resource and stamina, and it was a wonderful thing to see. There is no doubt that it was not a case of lions being led by donkeys, no matter what Blackadder might say—we all love Blackadder; it was wonderful, and the fact that it was wrong does not make it any worse. We should be proud that we won but, let us face it, at the end of it we had bankrupted the nation, and the cost, physically and mentally, in blood and maimed bodies, was quite horrendous. Think of the sheer number of mental injuries; if we think of post-traumatic stress now, we can see that we must have been talking about 1 million or so at the time.
I have a question for the Minister. My father served as a regular soldier in the 9th Bengal Lancers. As such, he fought, and won an MC, in Mesopotamia. What is Mesopotamia these days? Is it involved in future commemoration events? Will the commemorative events go further to include India, which sent a great many people?
Yes; Mesopotamia, Iraq—it is all still in a mess, isn’t it? The best ever intelligence on Mesopotamia was the Naval Intelligence Division notes, which were actually jolly useful and I wish that we had read them better before we decided to go into that bloody place.
The point that I was leading up to was that we must never forget, because of the sheer scale, that everyone involved was an individual; everyone had their own fears, cares and worries. It is interesting that 98 years ago yesterday the body of Commander Loftus Jones was washed up on a beach in Sweden. He had been captain of the destroyer HMS “Shark” at the Battle of Jutland on 31 August. He was 36 years old. He was surrounded by light cruisers and destroyers. He took a huge amount of shellfire. He thought that he had lost his steering and went down to sort it out, but found that he had actually lost his boilers and main engines. He got his men to the upper deck because the ship was clearly sinking. His forward gun was blown off, as was his after gun. He went to the midships gun, the only one remaining, because most of the men were dead. He himself was already badly injured by shrapnel. He had his leg blown off above the knee and the chief stoker tied a tourniquet on it. He continued firing the gun as the ships closed in. He noticed that his flag had come down. He sent a man to put it up; three were shot but one finally got it up there. Finally, he was hit by a torpedo. I say all this because it shows the sort of thing that our people were able to do, and did, in the First World War. It was utterly remarkable and he won a VC for it.
Jones was unusual, though, because normally the sea does not give up its dead. For sailors, the sea is your grave. This can make it quite difficult for a site for commemoration. I personally find it very comforting when I stand on the shore in Dorset—I know Dorset well—that the sea that is lapping around my feet actually enveloped the bodies of my people who lie at the bottom of the Falkland Sound in the South Atlantic, and I feel close to them. The sea itself, of course, moves to the mystical power of the unseen magical pull of a celestial body. The position of each sailor lost at sea is known to God and the sea, but we know the sea.
Where should one hold a naval commemoration? The greatest battle was of course Jutland, the greatest naval battle of the First World War, on 31 May and 1 June. I am delighted that the Government have helped the HLF to find some money for HMS “Caroline”, the last surviving ship of Jutland, which is in Belfast. I am running slightly over time, but as there was a slight hiccup in timings I hope that noble Lords will forgive me. About Jutland Churchill famously said that Jellicoe, who was the commander of the grand fleet, was the only man who could lose the war in an afternoon. He did not, though, and I have to say this because it is a lovely naval thing: his signal, “Equal-speed Charlie London”, which turned the six divisions of battleships into a line seven miles long in line ahead to cross the T of the German fleet, meant that we did not lose that battle. It was probably the best, quickest and most amazing decision made during that war. Sadly, during the battle three battle cruisers were lost in a flash, and of 3,311 men there were only 16 survivors. That was the important battle of the sea, and I am delighted that the Government are looking at commemorating Jutland in 2016. Will it take place at Scapa Flow? If it does, I think that is appropriate, but will there be any help for people who need to be there? It is quite a difficult place to get to. It is a little easier to get over to some of the battlefields in France.
I have a continuum with the Battle of Jutland, in that HMS “Ardent” was a destroyer sunk that night by the battleship “Westfalen”, the next HMS “Ardent” was sunk by the “Scharnhorst” and “Gneisenau” in June 1940, and my HMS “Ardent” was sunk in the Falklands, so there is a continuum of commemoration. I think it is appropriate that we have this commemoration. I thank the Government for the things they have done in laying this out in the right sort of tone. It is important for our nation and our youth, and it is very appropriate.
My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner, for my inability to be present at the winding-up speeches owing to an unbreakable and very long-standing engagement.
I thank the Minister on behalf of all Members of this House for his remarkable, timely and appropriate reference to the huge contribution made to this country in the First World War by the Commonwealth. As he rightly pointed out, literally millions of people from India, Canada, Australia, Africa and the Caribbean served here. There were well over 1 million from the Indian subcontinent alone, as he said. They have not had as much credit or recognition as they deserve for that incredible act of kindness and goodness. Many of them did not even know the country they were serving in when they lost their lives because they had never been to or known anything about France or Belgium. I am very grateful to the Minister, as I am sure many of us are, for making it clear that our long and extended debt is to almost all the Commonwealth countries as well as this country and our allies.
I agree that this is a very particular anniversary not only because it is a centenary but because it is the last anniversary when people will know personally some of those who served in the First World War. The generation of people who are now in their 70s or 80s may still remember the marks of suffering, stoicism, commitment and memory in the faces of their mothers, fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers. That will not go on for very much longer. We are seeing that last generation pass away. It is important that they are people with first-hand and personal knowledge of those who have passed on from this world and are now in cemeteries all over the world.
Turning to Britain, when we think about the First World War, it is extremely important to remember that there was no conscription until well into 1916. For a year and a half, men died in their thousands upon thousands, having volunteered to serve with no pressure, except moral pressure, on them to do so. If one walks into the Robing Room, it is striking to see on the walls almost all the great Victorian virtues—gallantry, generosity and hospitality—evoked by a plaque or mural based on King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. What is so important about that is that many young men who went into the First World War did so with illusions about what war was like but with a passionate sense of gallantry and patriotism.
Noble Lords may recall that one of the first lines written about the beginning of the First World War was written by the great young war poet Rupert Brooke. I quote his ringing words:
“Now, God be thanked Who has matched us with His hour”.
There is in that poem an almost completely unqualified sense of sacrifice as being outstanding and without question.
The war ground to a stop in the trenches of France and Belgium in 1915, and moved hardly at all for the following three years, so that the Western Front of 1918 was only a few kilometres different from that of 1915. In those three years, thousands upon thousands of young men died. It is perhaps understandable that by 1918 the poetry that was being written by people such as Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon had a very different line, which ran:
“What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?”.
The war had lost much of its sense of gallantry and warrior ethic by the time, after three years, that it had ground itself into dust: blood and dead bodies up and down the Western Front.
Those who volunteered were mostly men. The House will understand that, given that my mother was one of the great chroniclers of the First World War, Vera Brittain, it is worth remembering that many thousands of young women volunteered as well, to serve very often, as she did, as unqualified nursing hands in the war hospitals in France, Belgium and Britain itself. I always remember her telling me what it was like as a girl of 22 to hold the leg of a man that was being sawn off because he was suffering from incurable gangrene. The stories go on and on. Medicine in those days was nothing like what it is today. There were no antibiotics, few anaesthetics and almost no relief from the endless agony of the wounds that they suffered.
I conclude by saying something about what we should do in this memorial, and by thanking again my noble friend Lord Gardiner for his remarkable work and the excellent programme he has outlined. Part of that programme has of course an educational element, to try and tell our young men and women in school and college today what that war was like and what we should remember of it. However, the House will forgive me if I say that it is not only a commemoration of the suffering and sacrifice of the First World War. It is also a recognition that we have to move toward reconciliation to make sure that there are no more such wars. It is worth saying, here and now, that there are reasons to thank God for the fact that for 70 years we have not had a war in western Europe, and that we cannot imagine one happening now; in other words, the political mission of reconciliation has made war, at least here in Europe, close to an impossibility.
I will quickly to tell the House about a remarkable gesture of reconciliation. On Saturday, I shall be going to Hamburg, the most badly destroyed of all the cities in Germany in the last year or so of the Second World War. Hamburg, that deeply destroyed city which was known in Germany as “die Stadt ohne Nazis”—the town without Nazis; there were very few in Hamburg—is going to name the embankment of its great canal after my mother: the Vera Brittain Ufer. I mention that only because we shall not forget that reconciliation is the other great purpose of what we are trying to celebrate here in the coming four years of the centenary of the First World War. I conclude with one other sentence from a modern poet, Wystan Hugh Auden:
“We must love one another or die”.
My Lords, I express my gratitude to the Minister for the way in which he introduced this important debate, and indeed for the thought that is being devoted to the programme to commemorate the centenary of the First World War.
Much has been written about the events that led up to the declaration of war in 1914. Others have a real interest in the military execution of the war and the historical analysis of its outcome. But I feel sure that the Government’s programme will adequately allow for proper time to be spent recalling, with solemnity, the impact that the war had on individuals, families, communities and, indeed, the whole of our society. That impact was not confined to the duration of the war but continued for the remainder of the lives of millions of people. In the time available, I will illustrate this by brief reference to the impact it had on the lives of two people I admired greatly: one a man who went to fight in the war, the other a woman who stayed at home.
The man was my grandfather. He was enlisted as a gunner in the Royal Artillery at the beginning of the Great War. For him and others, this was “the war to end all wars”. While serving at the front, he was gassed but, unlike many of his comrades, he survived. Perhaps inevitably, it left him with breathing difficulties for the rest of his life, and I feel sure that his experiences at the front weighed heavily on him, in silence, for the remainder of his life.
I will now fast-forward. I was born in 1936, so my early years were dominated not by World War I but by World War II. My father was away throughout that war and I lived with my grandparents. My grandfather signed up for service as an air raid warden. He must have been very busy as I recall spending many nights in the air raid shelter. Of course, he and I talked about war because the evidence of it was all around us: bombing night after night. But he would never talk about his experience in World War I beyond saying that it was terrible and he was luckier than his comrades because he came back.
Years later, after he died, we found at the back of a drawer a brown manila envelope. It was an official envelope marked “On His Majesty’s Service”. It had been sent to him by registered post. Inside this bent-over envelope were two medals. One was inscribed “The Great War for Civilisation 1914-1918”. Almost 100 years later, I have the envelope in my pocket. My grandfather was hugely patriotic, but I suspect he thought that these medals I have in my pocket really belonged to those who fell in the war and never came back to their families.
Many years later, as a young man, I came to admire and respect a long-serving member of my then employer, a local authority. This elderly lady—although she was probably no older than I am now—had never married. Instead, she had devoted her life to supporting seriously disadvantaged people through enormously hard work in charities, voluntary organisations and local government. I became very fond of her and valued greatly her support. After she retired we kept in touch and I recall one evening having a chat with her over a cup of tea. As always, she was keen to hear what we were doing for disadvantaged people, particularly in developing services for children and families. Suddenly, most unusually, she went quiet and, looking wistful, said, “I know I have had a privileged life but in so many ways it has been an unfulfilled life”.
She went on to tell me that at university she had met the love of her life. He was older than her and went on to establish his career. They became engaged to be married and their hopes were great, having found love early in life. Then came the declaration of World War I and her fiancé, her brothers and her male cousins all went off to the war. Tragically, not one came back. A generation of young men was lost and many young women like her were denied the future they had so much hoped for. Many followed her example of public service. Their sad loss was reflected in huge service to our country, for which we are indebted.
As we commemorate the 1914-18 war, let us not limit our thoughts to those who died, important though each one is, or to those who fought and came back; rather, let us try to imagine the enduring impact the war had on the lives of so many of our fellow citizens in so many ways. We owe them all a great debt. We must never forget the price that was paid for our freedom. This programme to commemorate World War I deserves our full support. I am sure we all hope that we can do justice to them all because of all that they did for us.
My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the Minister for the comprehensive and measured way in which he introduced this important debate and laid out the Government’s plans for this commemoration. I also very much echo the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, about the emphasis being placed on the Commonwealth dimension. I have had the privilege of participating in the annual observances at the memorial gates since their inception. Remembering the sacrifices that were made by so many of those from Commonwealth countries who served provides us with an extremely important opportunity to weave that strand into the national tapestry and our national identity.
It is obvious that we cannot change the past, but we are responsible for how we remember it. Memory—and its more active form, commemoration—is certainly more than just lifting down a file and recalling a past event: it is a creative and responsible art which involves highlighting certain features and identifying significant resonances. As has already been suggested, memory informs our attitudes in the present and opens up or closes down possibilities for the future. Therefore, the programme that was outlined this afternoon is immensely responsible.
Our debate is very timely, coming just a few days before the centenary on Saturday 28 June, when the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, will be in Hamburg. It is the centenary of the very day on which Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, an event which ultimately detonated the First World War. It was not immediately recognised at the time as the historic turning point that it undoubtedly was. Europe had surmounted a number of crises in the preceding years. At the time, many people agreed with the views expressed in The Great Illusion—an amazing book by Norman Angell which can still be read with enormous profit. Published in 1910, a short time before the outbreak of World War I, it argued that in an interdependent international economy, war no longer made sense as victory would merely impoverish your customers and destroy your markets. Many were convinced by that. Nevertheless, just a short time afterwards, the irrational happened. At the beginning of August 1914 Europe was at war and the Armed Forces of the Crown—we have had some marvellous evocations of this—not only from Great Britain but from other realms and territories as well were called upon to make great sacrifices.
The Minister made an important point by referring to those who have been so conscious of the horror and irrationality of war that they have consistently embraced a pacifist position. Theirs is an important and proper protest, but for most churches and religious communities, our remembering of history—our responsible remembering of history—has compelled us to come to a different conclusion. As it says in the 39 Articles of the Church of England, it is lawful for Christians,
“at the commandment of the Magistrate, to wear weapons, and serve in the wars”.
It is a sober thing but it is the fruit of remembering our history. Organised force enables the peaceable to go about their daily life and provides a breathing space in which the slow business—to which the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, referred in relation to World War II—of building a better moral order can be undertaken.
I must also declare a particular interest as an ambassador for Remember WWI, an initiative which, as the Prime Minister said in his message of support, seeks “to galvanise people to take part in active commemoration”. We intend to channel, as far as we can, the emotion generated by the commemoration into charitable activity of all kinds across Britain, and we are particularly grateful for the assistance that we have already received from DCLG. I should also like to pay tribute to the contribution of the Very Reverend June Osborne, who has been part of the Government’s organising committee for this commemoration. She has circulated and been very active. Every one of our 16,000 parish churches and innumerable communities have received a comprehensive briefing and a list of suggestions and resources to help local communities devise ways of remembering that are appropriate to their circumstances.
As the Minister said, immediately and locally, Westminster Abbey will hold a candlelit vigil which will be broadcast by the BBC, drawing on that famous remark about the lamps going out all over Europe. The abbey will move from light to darkness until a single candle remains alight on the tomb of the unknown warrior, and at 11 pm, the exact moment of the declaration, it too will be extinguished. The hope is that all faith communities and local parishes will have their own vigils, and there are resources, particularly on the abbey website, to help them plan.
Every cathedral—Catholic cathedrals, Anglican cathedrals—has drawn up plans. We are grateful to the right honourable Chancellor of the Exchequer and acknowledge his assistance in granting £20 million in the Budget to both Catholic and Anglican cathedrals as a way of tackling urgent repairs and enhancing the setting for the commemorative events. The first round of applications closed on 30 May and we will have details of the grants awarded on 10 July. Obviously, war memorials will also be a focus of attention during the next four years. The Church Buildings Council stands by to advise on funding from its own resources, from the War Memorials Trust and from the HLF grant which has set aside £1 million for each of the next four years for war memorial projects.
In these commemorations we wholeheartedly salute, as has already been said, the courage of those who during the past 100 years have served under the British flag, and we remember with sorrow, pride and gratitude those who have given their lives, especially in the First World War but also in the wars of the past century. We honour those who, from our very diverse community, serve in today’s Armed Forces. This is the point of importance of these commemorations. As we navigate now into a new multipolar world, as the period of unchallengeable Western hegemony passes into history, our commemoration has to stimulate the deep reflection that we shall need if we are to avoid the mistakes of the past.
My Lords, it is with a little trepidation that I follow the four excellent speeches that we have heard so far. I start by thanking the Minister for his introduction to the debate, in particular for his reference to the event that will take place on 4 August in St Anne’s Cathedral in Belfast. I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord West of Spithead, on the work that he has done regarding HMS “Caroline” in Belfast, which he mentioned. It is the only surviving veteran of the Battle of Jutland and will receive a grant of over £13 million for the construction of a museum, to be ready for 2016, the centenary of Jutland.
I looked at the Library note on this debate. I am sorry to say that in the six pages that it had on conscription I did not see any reference to Ireland, other than in a little note at the bottom—in so far as you can read a reference into it—which quotes the Military Service Bill 1916, extending the obligation to,
“all male British subjects in Great Britain”.
Noble Lords may have noticed that no reference was made there to Ireland. That shows to some extent how Ireland was different. I will come back to the questions of the anti-conscription campaign in Ireland and its role in Irish politics.
In some other respects Ireland was the same. When the war broke out and we had Kitchener’s famous call for volunteers, there was a strong and enthusiastic response in Ireland, too, to what was essentially a British publicity campaign. Kitchener’s first new army, authorised in August 1914, contained six divisions, numbers 9 to 14. Division 10 was an Irish division, with the full range of Irish regiments, by which I mean the Connaught Rangers, the Munster Fusiliers and the Dublin Fusiliers, alongside the Royal Irish Rifles and the Inniskilling regiments.
A difference from elsewhere in 1914 was that there were two private armies in Ireland, which were lining up to fight each other over the issue of home rule. The Ulster Volunteer Force, which was 90,000 strong and earlier that year had shipped in over 25,000 rifles and 3 million rounds of ammunition, dispersed throughout Ulster overnight in a motorised operation that preceded Gallieni’s taxis rushing people from Paris to the Marne. It can therefore be regarded as the first use of the motor car on a substantial scale in a quasi-military operation. I am sorry—that little bit of local patriotism had to get a reference. Alongside the Ulster Volunteer Force was the Irish Volunteers, which was much larger in size but perhaps not as well armed.
Kitchener obviously wanted both. After a bit of political toing and froing there was eventually an agreement and the 16th (Irish) Division was formed of Irish volunteers as part of the second new army. That is quite significant in Irish history, because John Redmond, the leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party, who in a vague sort of way presided over the Irish Volunteers, was strongly in support of enlistment in the army. Indeed, he carried with him roughly 90% of the Irish Volunteers—a small split formed the Irish National Volunteers that year, people who largely provided foot soldiers for the rebellion of 1916. The 36th (Ulster) Division was formed from the Ulster Volunteer Force slightly later, although the War Office would not allow the Ulstermen to form an artillery unit, which was a nice little echo of the Indian Mutiny.
The 10th (Irish) Division was the first into action. It was dispatched to Gallipoli in 1915 and thereafter served in Serbia and Salonika before moving to Egypt in 1917 and taking part in the campaigns in Palestine to the end of the war. Here, I have to declare an interest in that my maternal grandfather was a member of the Irish Division. I never knew him—he died before I was born—but my grandmother was very proud of the fact that her husband was part of the army that liberated Jerusalem.
Such was the lottery of warfare that the 10th’s total number of casualties throughout the war was just 10,000. That is quite a lot but the totals for the 16th and 36th Divisions were more than three times greater, one having a total casualty figure of 28,000 and the other 32,000, although I shall not indicate which was which. The 16th (Irish) Division was first engaged at Loos but it and the 36th Division were both in the Battle of the Somme, the Ulster Division on the very first day. It achieved quite a lot but, suffering considerable casualties, had been withdrawn from the line after just two days of engagement. The 16th Division came in in September, spending more than a month on the line and ultimately suffering casualties not far short of those of the Ulstermen.
There were those who at the outbreak of the war thought that the experience of the two volunteer forces fighting side by side would somehow defuse the incipient civil war in Ireland and change the political context. It might have done so had the war been shorter and not as bloody, because the political context in Ireland changed during the war, as people will realise. However, those who saw this as a means of bringing the sides together tend to think mostly of the Battle of Messines in 1917, which was a curtain raiser for the Third Battle of Ypres. It was the one time when the 36th and the 16th were side by side and it was a comparatively successful operation.
However, there is an interesting event that is an indication of what might have been. John Redmond’s brother, William, who was also a Member of Parliament, commanded the 6th Battalion of the Royal Irish Regiment in the 16th Division. He took part in the Battle of Messines, personally leading his battalion, but was seriously wounded. A stretcher-bearer from the 36th (Ulster) Division, one John Meeke, discovered this and went to his assistance. Meeke himself was then wounded twice and incapacitated. The two were rescued some hours later by a patrol that was bringing back some German prisoners and William Redmond was then taken to an Ulster Division casualty clearing station, where he died.
To some extent, that symbolises the impact of the war and what might have been. In the period after the war, because of the triumph of Sinn Fein and the culture that then developed, the Irish Republic was an uncomfortable place for those who had served in the British Army and they were treated very badly in the 1920s. The atmosphere, thankfully, is changing, and changing quite considerably. It is no coincidence that both Governments chose the area of Messines to erect the peace tower commemorating and honouring what the two divisions had done together. I heard with interest what the Minister said about looking for a way in which both sides can participate.
I want to conclude with a little comment on the Battle of the Somme. I am concerned about the caricatures of what happened—they are not entirely accurate. A number of years ago, I came across a book by Christopher Duffy, who has written on a number of military subjects. He wrote an account of the Somme entitled Through German Eyes. It is based on German material, examining the situation from the German point of view. In the course of this, he deals with the interrogation records of British soldiers who had been captured by the Germans. His book ends with a quotation from a German intelligence summary drawn up at the end of the war, in which there is the following comment about British prisoners:
“Most of the front-line soldiers too are extremely proud of what they have achieved so far. Again and again we hear from prisoners the self-satisfied question: ‘Don’t you think we have done very well?’”
My Lords, it is a privilege to take part in this debate. We are all very privileged to reflect on what the words mean. I have been humble and proud to say to myself, “Wasn’t it marvellous to be here to listen to people talking about their reflections and experiences?”.
My contribution goes something like this: 10 or 12 years ago we had a debate in the House of Lords in the Labour group. I was the Chief Whip and I said to my colleagues at the time, “I want you to be here next Tuesday about 8.30 when we are going to have an ambush. Keep out of sight. Come in when the Division Bell goes.”. A little chap at the back, called Charlie Leatherland, who was the instigator of Essex University, got to his feet and said, “Ted, you know I’ve got a bad leg. I can’t be here at half-past eight. Do you know where I got this bad leg?”. I said, “No, Charlie”, and he said, “I got it on the Somme”. Another voice at the back said, “Yes, Charlie, but you weren’t at Passchendaele, were you?”.
The hairs stood on the back of my neck. Charlie Leatherland was about 4 foot 10 and Douglas Houghton was the other spokesman who said, “You weren’t at Passchendaele.” He was a little bit taller—possibly up to five feet. Here were two men who had fought for us in the Great War and survived, and were making a marvellous contribution. When Douglas was dying I went to see him in hospital and said, “Douglas, tell me about Passchendaele”. He said, “It’s all in one word—mud”. He lay back on his pillow—he died two days later. The tears ran down his face and I said, “Douglas, don’t upset yourself. I’m here. I’m your loving friend”.
He said that he wanted to tell me what Passchendaele was like. He said that the night before the great attack they were lined up on their side of no-man’s land and the sergeant said that in front of them was a sea of mud that they had to cross and get to the other side. They had to dive into a shell hole and wait for orders. During the night, men had been out and laid duckboards across the mud. If they stuck to the duckboards they would survive. If they fell in the mud they were told, “You can’t be saved; you’ll be dead”. He said, “So we went off and after about 50 yards, a strangled cry came from another line, and my dear friend, Percy, was in the mud trying to survive. The sergeant drove us on and I landed up in a shell hole for three days and three nights and cried my eyes out”.
In 1924 he was standing at a bus stop in the Strand and along came a bus. The conductor on the bus was Percy. He said, “Percy is that you?” He said, “Yes. Is it Douglas?”. By then the Strand was at a standstill. Everyone had heard the tale. I asked whether they met again and he said, “Only once. We had a good drink”. That was the way it was. Douglas had thought he had lost his dearest friend and was under severe stress. He became a Member of the Cabinet. I am looking across at my good and noble friend Lady Williams who knew Douglas better than most. He was a great man.
I come to this debate with two or three strands; I mention this to my good friend from Newcastle upon Tyne, Clayton Street in Newcastle—Woolworths, as it was then. I used to stand there trying to sell carrier bags to the shoppers to earn a copper or two to take home to Mam. Every time I stood there, half a dozen people playing musical instruments would go by in the gutter—they were not on the pavement, they were in the gutter. I said to Mam and Dad one day, “What are those men doing?”. She said they were from the war. I said, “They were heroes”. Dad said, “Yes, they were heroes”. My tuppenceworth in this debate is that I deeply respect what the Government have done and are doing. They have done a marvellous job on preparation and, like other noble Lords, I only hope to be here when we celebrate the end of the First World War, not the beginning of it.
When one reflects on what happened in the Second World War after the Great War—the war to end all wars—20 years earlier, it beggars belief that we cannot find a better system for looking after people in this world. When people are driven, as they have been, into an internal war within a country, it is very sad. The horrors that one sees on television and reads about, and what is happening to families and communities in the name of whatever you like to call it, is madness and we have to do something to stop it. I have always been a full supporter of what was called the Common Market. The reason I supported it then and now is that you could conceive the possibility that if all of the nations that got together—six and now 28—were linked in some way, that would be a good contribution to make.
Noble Lords will be pleased to know that I have almost come to the end of what I want to say. I congratulate the Minister on what he has said and for telling us a great deal about what we did not know in general. I am sure that millions of people in this country will be thankful to him and his colleagues for sparing the cash, the time and the effort for the commemoration on 4 August
Finally, I stand as a man who was badly wounded during the war. I finished up on a hillside with my guts in my hands—I had been shot through the back, bullets had entered my back and come out of my abdomen into my leg—and I was almost dead. I thought I was dead. There was difficulty in finding a doctor. However, one was finally found and he saved my life. The nurse said to me, “The doctor who saved your life is coming round this afternoon”. I said, “Can I meet him?”. The nurse said, “Yes”. I said, “Doctor, I am told you saved my life and I am very grateful”. He said, “Well, let me put it like this: if I had got to you 20 minutes later you would have been dead”. Here I am, 70 years later, and very grateful to be here.
My Lords, following the deadly struggle of the 38th (Welsh) Division to take Mametz Wood, a key point in the Somme offensive in July 1916, some people in Wales called for the cancellation of the National Eisteddfod which was due to take place some four weeks later in Aberystwyth. To sing, they thought, was unseemly in such circumstances. David Lloyd George, then Secretary of State for War and shortly to succeed Mr Asquith as Prime Minister, encouraged the gathering to continue and spoke from the Eisteddfod platform:
“Why should we not sing during the war? It is true that there are thousands of gallant men falling in the fight—let us sing of their heroism. .... Let us sing of our land that gave birth to so many heroes”.
Lloyd George added:
“Our soldiers sing the songs of Wales in the trenches, and they hold their own Eisteddfod behind them”.
It was true.
At three o’clock on the dawn of 9 July 1916, as told by a survivor, the 16th Royal Welsh Fusiliers were in position in the sunken road before Mametz Wood. They were exchanging banter between themselves and singing snatches of Welsh songs. Their colonel, Colonel Ronald Carden, a cavalry officer and a famous polo player, joined them to lead the attack. He was immaculately dressed, carrying nothing more than his officer’s cane. Someone in the ranks struck up “Aberystwyth”", the Welsh setting of Charles Wesley’s, “Jesu, Lover of my Soul”. Your Lordships will know how the music moves from the poignant minor key of the first two lines into a triumphant major conclusion of hope and of redemption. When it was finished, the colonel said: “Boys, make your peace with God! We are going to take that position and some of us won’t come back, but we are going to take it. This”, he said, tying his handkerchief to his cane, “will show you where I am”. Brandishing his cane in the air, he led them out of the road, up and on to the four hundred yards of bare open ground which led to the impenetrable tree line and the machine guns within it. He shouted. “Come on, boys”, and started to run forward. He was hit almost immediately, but staggering up and still encouraging his men, he made another dash forward before he was hit a second time and fell dead.
Waves of the 14th (Caernarfon and Anglesey) and the 15th (London Welsh) Royal Welsh Fusiliers followed, breaking through a hail of bullets and bombs in which, so the survivor said, it seemed impossible for men to live. The Swansea, Rhondda and Carmarthen battalions of the Welsh regiment attacked through the very centre of the German lines. The wood rang with the noise of rifle and bomb and the cries of men shouting their battle cry, “Stick to it, Welsh”. Captain Wyn Griffith of the 15th Royal Welsh Fusiliers described what he saw:
“Blue sky above, a band of green trees, and a ploughed graveyard in which living men moved worm-like in and out of sight three men digging a trench thigh deep in the red soil, digging their own graves, as it chanced, for a bursting shell turned their shelter into a tomb. There were more corpses than men, but there were more sights than corpses. Limbs and mutilated trunks, here and there a detached head, forming splashes red against the green leaves”.
It was, he said, “our crucifixion of youth”.
But it was not just the fighting soldiers of the 38th Division that showed courage. The stretcher bearers climbed again and again from the battlefield up over the ridge, taking the wounded by the shortest route to the 13th RWF aid post beyond. They were in full view of the enemy with no cover from the barrage of hostile guns. In the middle of the afternoon, a howitzer shell destroyed the aid post, and with it, the battalion doctor and six stretcher bearers.
On the following day, Mametz Wood was penetrated to its furthest edge and finally taken with devastating losses. The 38th Division suffered 8,000 casualties over those two days. The 13th Rhondda Battalion of the Welsh Regiment went in over 1,000 strong and only 135 answered their names at the first roll call afterwards.
Today, the Welsh Dragon stands proud over Mametz Wood as a memorial to the 38th Division. It is in the process of being refurbished for ceremonies to remember the battle and its terrible toll.
The Royal Welsh Fusiliers was the regiment of the poet, Robert Graves, who fought at Mametz Wood. It was the regiment of Siegfried Sassoon, who won the Military Cross for bravery. Sassoon rescued two wounded men from a 25-foot deep crater under enemy fire. He was known as “Mad Jack” for his reckless courage and later, for another feat of valour, he was recommended for the Victoria Cross. Yet Sassoon became sick of the killing fields. Emmeline Pankhurst published his A Soldier’s Declaration, a statement read out by a Labour Member of Parliament to a shocked House of Commons. Sassoon wrote:
“I have seen and endured the sufferings of the troops, and I can no longer be a party to prolong these sufferings for ends which I believe to be evil and unjust. I am not protesting against the conduct of the war, but against the political errors and insincerities for which the fighting men are being sacrificed”.
The War Office could not court-martial a decorated soldier, so he was deemed to have suffered a nervous breakdown. He was sent to a hospital, where he met a fellow patient, Wilfred Owen, a man born at Oswestry on the Welsh border of Welsh and English parents. Sassoon encouraged and helped Owen to write those scorching war poems, set to music by Benjamin Britten in his moving “War Requiem”, which we in the Parliament Choir have performed both in Coventry Cathedral and at Westminster.
Both Sassoon and Wilfred Owen returned to the Western Front, Sassoon to be wounded severely in the head, and Owen to win the Military Cross for bravery but alas to be killed just at the end of the war. His parents learnt of his death on Armistice Day.
The Welsh poet, Ellis Humphrey Evans, whose bardic name was Hedd Wyn or “Blessed Peace”, was also of the 15th Regiment of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers. While released briefly to get in the harvest on his father’s farm at Trawsfynydd, he wrote a poem which he entered for the chair competition at the 1917 National Eisteddfod in Birkenhead. However, on the day of the ceremony, he did not answer the call of the bardic trumpets; Hedd Wyn had been killed at Passchendaele five weeks before. The chair he had won was draped in a black shroud.
So what should we commemorate in these coming four years? I shall be joining with the Parliament Choir and the Bundestag Choir to celebrate more than 70 years of peace between the nations of western Europe in our joint concert in Westminster Hall on 4 July. We shall be singing together Mendelssohn’s “Lobgesang”, whose climactic conclusion is:
The night has passed, the day has come.
Let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armour of light.
I know that I shall be thinking of my mother’s cousin, 2nd Lieutenant Jim Morgan Williams, who said goodbye to his wife a fortnight after they were wed to join the Royal Welsh Fusiliers. She never saw him again. He was killed at Ypres on the 9 May 1918. She was by that time carrying their son, Glyn. She brought him up as a single mother and a widow. He attended my grammar school in Wrexham, gained a Meyricke scholarship to Oxford, took his degree, and then joined his father’s regiment as a lieutenant. He was killed on 28 July 1945, after the war in Europe had ended, when his jeep was driven over a destroyed bridge at the Rhine.
Hedd Wyn wrote in his poem “Rhyfel”, or “War”:
Mae'r hen delynau genid gynt,
Ynghrog ar gangau'r helyg draw,
A gwaedd y bechgyn lond y gwynt,
A'u gwaed yn gymysg efo'r glaw.
The harps to which we sang, are hung
On willow boughs, and their refrain
Drowned by the anguish of the young
Whose blood is mingled with the rain.
My Lords, World War I began, as everyone knows, in 1914 and continued for four years until 1918. The Motion before the House is to take,
“note of the programme to commemorate the centenary of the First World War”.
That centenary is 100 years but, in effect, the question is—as the speeches in your Lordships’ House indicate—whether and to what extent one should accept a Motion to commemorate the First World War.
I would wholeheartedly and enthusiastically support a Motion to celebrate the end of the First World War but find it a little difficult to celebrate the commencement of that terrible war. I find it difficult to accept that the war itself should be celebrated and commemorated. What should be celebrated and commemorated, I respectfully suggest, is the bravery, sacrifices and fortitude of the many men and women, soldiers, airmen, sailors and—as we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford—stretcher bearers, nurses and doctors in the field. All these people—many of whom died, were wounded or suffered—fought in the Great War. Their sacrifices and valour, tears and miseries deserve to be commemorated but not, I respectfully suggest, the war itself and not its commencement. Its ending is another matter.
I should mention some personal family matters. My father was born in 1895 and was 19 when war broke out. He had an elder brother who had been to Sandhurst and was a regular soldier anyway, and he had a twin brother. After leaving school my father went to Ceylon as a tea planter. When war broke out he joined the Ceylon Planters Rifles and fought in Gallipoli and Mesopotamia. His twin brother and elder brother were in the Army fighting in Normandy. My father was wounded three times but was fortunate and survived. Both his brothers were killed. They and others like them are the ones who should be commemorated. They are the victims of that terrible war.
Whether the war was a political necessity I do not know. I do not know enough about the history to know whether, at that time, it was necessary to preserve the safety of this country and its citizens. Whatever the justification—or lack of it—the war itself was surely a terrible event for all those who had to take part in it. They deserve commemoration and I wholeheartedly support the notion that they should be commemorated, but not that the war itself should be.
My Lords, the House has listened to a number of extremely moving speeches. Much has been made of the fact that World War I involved virtually every family in the land. I have been encouraged to say a few words about the involvement of my own family. I do so in no sense of belief that it is in any way unique but simply because it might be illustrative, an example of what many millions of people went through at the same time. That includes not just the armed services but those who made their contribution in other services.
I begin with my paternal grandfather. He was the first professor of engineering at Oxford University. The department was set up in 1908 and in 1914 it was entirely dispersed so that staff could take part in the war and play their role. My grandfather was swiftly swept up by the then Ministry of Munitions and found himself helping to design improvements to the aircraft that were by then being used on the Western Front. The frail, wooden-framed, canvas-covered planes were almost the first example of air power being used in war. In fact, he invented a new, more robust covering. There is a story about that but not time for me to tell it. If anybody wants to know it, I will tell them later.
His nephew, Louis Jenkin, joined the first squadron of the Royal Flying Corps when the war broke out. He fought on the Western Front, was awarded the MC and Bar and died on active service—he went on a mission and never returned. His name is recorded on the memorial to which my noble friend referred in his impressive opening speech, the memorial at Arras, where all the flying services are commemorated.
My grandfather’s younger son had always wanted to be a naval officer. He went to the Dartmouth Naval College before the war and served in the Navy. He was in action in the North Sea—whether at the Battle of Jutland, I know not, but he certainly saw service against the German Navy. Sadly, he succumbed to appendicitis and peritonitis. There were no drugs then, and I have no doubt that the medical services on board ship were fairly rudimentary, but I and the family still regard my Uncle Conrad as a casualty of World War I.
His sister joined the famous Room 40 at the Ministry of Defence. I am sorry that my noble friend Lady Trumpington is not here, because they were the Bletchley Girls of the First World War, the Ministry of Defence’s intelligence service. I know not what they did, because she never spoke about it. She regarded it as entirely confidential and secret. She became quite well known in later life and was known to millions of children as Aunt Elizabeth in the BBC radio programme, “Children’s Hour”. She eventually succeeded Uncle Mac as the head of that service.
I think it will interest my noble friend Lord Gardiner to know that my mother’s brother joined the Army right at the start of the war. I have to say that I never thought that he was cut out to be a soldier, but he fought at Gallipoli. He was so horrified and appalled by the slaughter that he witnessed that when he returned to civilian life in the Civil Service, he insisted on joining what was then called the Imperial War Graves Commission. He spent his entire career in the Civil Service with the commission. He became an expert on the cemeteries all over the world. He had huge admiration for Sir Fabian Ware, who had set up the commission even during the war. I was interested to read the brief description of the commission’s work in the excellent note we had from the Library, which chimed very much with my uncle’s career. He eventually rose to be financial secretary of the commission—it was his entire life’s work. I just mention his younger brother, who was also in the Navy, who was too young to fight in World War I, but served after that and was tragically killed in an accident on HMS “Courageous”.
The noble Viscount, Lord Slim, was a very good friend of General Sir Philip Christison, who became a very famous general in World War II. In World War I, Philip Christison served in the Cameron Highlanders and was severely wounded on the Western Front. His own brother, John, was killed at the same time. Philip was invalided out but he made the Army his career and in World War II, he was the first general to beat the Japanese on land and took their surrender at Singapore in 1945.
I have left to the last our most poignant memorial of the war: my father’s involvement. He was the professor’s elder son and he joined the Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry as a subaltern. He fought on the Western Front and, at the Battle of the Somme, he was hit by a bullet from a German machine gun. Mercifully, it hit his helmet. Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Laming, who has that famous envelope in his pocket, I have always understood that to bring visual images into the House is against the rules. However, we have that helmet at home with a hole in it and it is a very treasured memorial for my family as without that helmet, none of us would be here. My whole family depends on the fact that my father survived.
I mention all this not because my family was in any way unusual—millions of others did the same—but because it is a very good reason why we are commemorating the First World War in the way that my noble friend described so admirably at the beginning of the debate. As others have referred to, it is right that we should commemorate that war in which so many millions of people were involved. This is an opportunity to remember and to ponder.
My Lords, it is a privilege to follow that very moving speech by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding. He gave us all cause for thought, as indeed did my noble friend Lord Graham of Edmonton just a few moments ago. I do not think I have heard a speech of that power from such a senior Member of your Lordships’ House for a very long time and I certainly look forward to him being able to be with us in 2018, when I think he will be just 93, to regale us some more.
It is a promise. I congratulate the Minister not just on his excellent opening speech but on the part he played in persuading the usual channels that we should have this debate today. The number of speakers indicates how much interest there is in your Lordships’ House in the centenary of the outbreak of World War I.
This interest is reflected in the country as a whole, where the range of events, initiatives and projects is truly impressive. I shall speak about some of those in a moment but, first, I express my appreciation to the Government and particularly to the Prime Minister’s special representative, Dr Andrew Murrison, for getting the programme up and running after it was first thought about in 2011. It was then that I was asked by the War Heritage All-Party Group, which I chair, to write to the Prime Minister because we were a little concerned that there seemed to be some lack of preparedness in the UK for the centenary, compared with what was being planned in other Commonwealth countries and in France and Flanders. That letter seemed to have some effect because, very soon after, I got a reply from Mr Cameron and Dr Murrison was appointed. Quite soon after that, the Government’s advisory board on the World War I centenary commemoration was established and I am very proud to be serving on it.
It is very much to Dr Murrison’s credit that the tone and content of the programme is correctly nuanced. That was very much reflected in the Minister’s speech this afternoon. It would be so easy to get this wrong but I do not think that we have. The theme of commemoration—not celebration—is absolutely right, as is the determination to combine traditional acts of remembrance with new initiatives to engage as much of the population as possible.
It is not possible in a debate like this to do justice to everything that is going on, so I shall mention just a few events. The Minister has rightly drawn attention to the major national programme of events that starts in August—the services at Glasgow Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, St Symphorien and others. The school battlefields visit programme is hugely significant, and I commend the Department for Education and the Department for Communities and Local Government on managing to find £5.3 million to send two pupils and one teacher from every maintained secondary school in England to make a four-day tour of the battlefields and take part in remembrance ceremonies on the Western Front. Despite having been present at it numerous times, I still find the Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate in Ypres extraordinarily moving, particularly when a young person from one of our British schools says the exhortation from Laurence Binyon’s poem “For the Fallen”.
Another initiative that I commend to your Lordships is the one in which my all-party group has played a major part. I am referring to the efforts of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and the In From The Cold voluntary organisation to map war graves in each parliamentary constituency in the United Kingdom. Between us, we have been encouraging local MPs and Peers not only to visit them but to engage with the local community and schools so that they understand the significance of these graves, the impact of world wars and the continuing importance of remembrance.
There are CWGC graves and memorials in 13,000 locations across this country, and more than 300,000 Commonwealth men and women who died in both world wars are commemorated in the UK, more than half of them casualties of the Great War. Up to the end of last week 144 visits for MPs had been organised, and a further 76 are planned for the summer and the autumn. I visited three sites in Worcester last Friday with the local MP, Robin Walker. We were guided impressively by the CWGC’s Andrew Crompton, and I thank him on the record for what he did for us then. I reinforce the Minister’s praise for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission for what it does not just in this country but all over the world; we owe it a huge debt of gratitude.
I am pleased that there is a cultural programme alongside everything else that is going on. I was very moved by what the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, said about the World War I poets. Yesterday I played a part in a very special event in the Cotswolds. A special train was chartered from Oxford, stopping at the site of Adlestrop station. It was exactly 100 years to the day, and almost to the hour, after the train carrying the World War I poet Edward Thomas stopped, as he put it, “unwontedly” and provided the inspiration for his much loved poem “Adlestrop”. He of course joined up the following year, in 1915, and was killed at Arras in 1917. I had the privilege of reading the poem on the train’s public address system.
If your Lordships will allow me to stay in my own county of Worcester for a moment, I would like to commend what is known as the Worcestershire World War One Hundred project, which was one of the very first to attract a major Heritage Lottery Fund grant of £353,000 towards a total cost of £675,000. This is being led by Dr Adrian Gregson, head of the county’s archive and archaeology service and Worcester city councillor. The project has brought together the widest range of local organisations, including all the major museums, the University of Worcester, the cathedral, the Worcestershire regimental associations and many more. Its purpose is to tell the story of Worcestershire’s experience of the Great War and its legacy through exhibitions, trails and school and community activities, on both the home and battle fronts.
We are also celebrating the lives of two individuals who contributed hugely in different ways, both with very strong Worcester connections: the music hall artiste, Vesta Tilley, who was born in Worcester and eventually married a Conservative MP—well, no one is perfect—and the Reverend Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy, better known as Woodbine Willie. He will have a special place in a service in Worcester Cathedral.
Tomorrow, local residents are being invited to come to a bell tent at the Commandery in Worcester to share, donate or loan artefacts, memorabilia and stories that show how the war touched everyone’s lives. The bell tent will later go on tour around the county.
I shall finish by referring to one of the first commemoration events we will have this year, on 31 October, which is the centenary of the stand by the 2nd Battalion The Worcestershire Regiment at the Battle of Gheluvelt. Military historians more knowledgeable than I say that this was a crucial engagement as the Worcesters and the South Wales Borderers held the line against a German advance in the very early weeks of the war.
Not just in Worcestershire, but all over the country there will be exhibitions, parades, concerts, church services and remembrance events over the next four years. I am confident that the tone will be right and that the programmes will be imaginative, appropriate and, above all, non-partisan. I thank the Minister for the opportunity to talk about some of these events today and to play some modest part in the programme in the future.
My Lords, I am most grateful for the opportunity to debate this subject in this first year of commemoration of the Great War of 1914-18. Whenever I think of those years, my mind fills with memories of my father, who would never speak of the carnage and slaughter that he witnessed in northern Europe. The conditions in the trenches were atrocious. He was left weakened and subsequently led a short but, I am glad to say, happy life.
My village of Kineton has—as most villages have—a memorial to those who lost their lives during the 1914-18 war around which we stand on Armistice Day. We have a gifted local historian, Gillian Ashley-Smith, who has researched the life of the village at that time, particularly the families of those whose names are on the memorial. The village was immersed in the life of the Warwickshire hunt, whose kennels remain very close by. The families in one way or another revolved round it, and it was said that there were more horses in Kineton than there were people. Many people were employed in the supporting services required, so it is no surprise to learn that in August 1914 the grandfather of the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, the then master of the Warwickshire hunt, called on the hunt to muster men with their horses, grooms, vets and the farriers to fight for King and country. All the hunt stablemen had already left by train for medical tests in Scarborough. They were seen off at the station by one of the village benefactors with a parting gift of £2 for their willingness to serve King and country and with a promise to pay their return costs if they failed their medical.
A meeting was held in the school to hear an impassioned plea for volunteers. The local GP, Dr Oldmeadow, said, “Man for man our men are far superior to the Germans and countrymen nearly always make the best soldiers. They are more hardy and they are used to discomfort”. A separate appeal was made to the women of the village to encourage their husbands and sons to sign up. Many enlisted in the Warwickshire Yeomanry and after training began a horrendous journey, during which they were torpedoed off the Scilly Isles, then towed for two days to southern Ireland. Sadly, four of the yeomen lost their lives, as did three horses. Eventually they arrived in Gallipoli in 1915. Most of the yeomen became involved in trench warfare, having dismounted, while the remainder cared for the horses. They were fearless fighters and 14 men were lost and 19 were injured in the four months they served in Gallipoli. The regiment was evacuated to Alexandria, and after numerous battles against the Turkish, German and Austrian armies in Sinai and Palestine they advanced to Mutaret-el-Baghi and sheltered under a low ridge—and so began the last great cavalry charge at Huj.
On the 96th anniversary of the battle—8 November 2013—my son Philip went with a small group of former yeomen to visit the battle site. The group included my noble friend Lord Cope of Berkeley, the former honourable Member for Weston-super-Mare, Jerry Wiggin, and his son, the present honourable Member for North Herefordshire, Bill Wiggin, who are the son and grandson of Major WH Wiggin DSO of the Worcestershire Yeomanry. Also present was the son of Lieutenant Colonel Greycheape DSO, who commanded the Warwickshire Yeomanry.
These two commanding officers faced three batteries of Austrian gunners and around 2,000 Turkish infantrymen. There were 190 men mounted, with swords drawn, who began the charge at a trot, increasing to a gallop. The dust and the noise from all this activity alerted the enemy gunners who started firing all around at short range. The yeomen just kept on charging, with men and horses falling quickly around them. As a result of these heroic actions, the Turkish gunners fled and this small number of yeomen captured the four guns and took 90 prisoners. One of the guns is on display in the regimental museum in Warwick.
Victory in all battles comes at a cost and, sadly, around half of the soldiers and horses were killed or injured. The whole incident took only minutes, but was highly significant as it enabled the regiments to press northwards to Jerusalem under the command of General Allenby, the father of the noble Lord, Lord Allenby. For their actions on this day, both Lieutenant Colonel Greycheape and Major Wiggin received bars to their existing DSOs.
Back home, with most of the men gone, one can imagine the change in village life. The women responded by working on the land and running the shops—indeed, turning their hands to any work not covered, manual or not. Of course, this was in addition to organising their, usually large, families. In one way, it gave women a first opportunity to work outside the home—but, for some, it must have been an intolerable burden. Everyone in the village contributed in one way or another. The war effort was what mattered. The grand ladies of the village willingly offered to have hospital beds in their homes and a Mrs Fielden, the wife of the joint master of the hunt, set up a 63-bed VAD hospital with all services provided free. These beds were all occupied by December 1914. In the mean time, the older men of the village formed themselves into the forerunner of the Home Guard.
There is so much more that I could say about these wonderful, generous and patriotic people. The best way I can end is to repeat the poignant words on the village memorial: “For God and King and country they gave their all”.
My Lords, I first pay particular tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, for his memorable contribution to the debate. He mentioned Newcastle, and I know that he will be as pleased as I am that the Renwick memorial will feature on one of the Royal Mail’s new stamps to be published in a few weeks’ time.
In 1976, the late Lord Avon published his autobiography, covering his life between 1897 and 1917. It was a personal account of his younger days and of his experiences in the Great War as an officer. It is a fascinating account of an era long gone. In the final sentence of the book, Lord Avon says:
“I had entered the holocaust still childish and I emerged tempered by my experience and bereft of many friends, but with my illusions intact, neither shattered nor cynical, to face a changed world”.
He used the word holocaust, and it was a holocaust because it was slaughter on a mass scale. He talked about a changed world, which is why he gave his autobiography the title, Another World—for that is what it was.
Many autobiographies were written at the time or shortly after—some of them in the years leading up to the Second World War—and I would like to concentrate on the three themes of legacy, remembrance and reconciliation. First, we have to remember that 9.5 million soldiers died in the Great War on all sides. With all the national fervour in all countries in August 1914, very few understood what they had unleashed until very much later. I do not see our commemoration of those years being just about 1914 to 1918, because the Versailles settlement was in 1919 and most of our war memorials were constructed in the 1920s, so most will have their centenaries between some five or six years and 15 years from now. In terms of public funding to mark their centenary, I hope this can be borne in mind.
I am deeply impressed by the work of the Imperial War Museum and the British Library. The First World War Centenary Partnership by the Imperial War Museum, with its exhibitions, events, digital resources, along with those of the British Library, are extremely important, because they extend the availability of archives across the world. I pay tribute, too, to schools for their work in enabling young people to understand more about the war, which is in part the consequence of the national curriculum. The plans over the next five years for educational visits and funding for conservation projects involving young people—for example, plans for commemorative paving stones where recipients of the Victoria Cross lived—are all good to see, because they are all things that give a local dimension to national commemoration events. I hope that, when commemorations are complete, we will leave as a legacy war memorials, and buildings that serve as war memorials, with secure financial futures. I hope, too, that, with the legacy, there is a deeper understanding of the importance of diplomacy. It was the devastating failure of diplomacy which led to military planning dominating decision-making in the final days before war broke out. I am one of those who believes that, with better, faster and more inclusive diplomacy, the war could have been localised in eastern and south-eastern Europe. However, as we know, Germany invaded Belgium and war was declared.
Much of the remembrance will be spontaneous. We will remember the countries that supported us, the Commonwealth, and countries in Europe that supported us as our allies. But in all of these, can we remember the role of the Chinese Labour Corps, which made an immense contribution to the war effort, particularly on the Western Front?
On the remembrance events, I notice from the Library note that peaks of activity will be based on particular anniversaries and major political and parliamentary moments. That is right—I understand that—but I hope that, as we commemorate those events and moments, we will never forget that it was individuals who died and that individuals should be remembered as individuals, not just as a statistic. So, as an example, when we come to commemorate the first day of the Somme battle, on 1 July 2016, in which 20,000 British troops died, we will remember that each was an individual. I wonder whether in local churches the names of those who died, listed on war memorials in our towns, villages and cities, might be read out on, or close to, the centenary of their death. Their names appear on most war memorials and most can be traced on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website and other similar sites. It is possible to track most if not all of them. Perhaps I might add to the words of warmth for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. It does a brilliant job. All the war graves I have visited—recently the First World War cemeteries in north-west Italy—are maintained to the highest possible standard.
The noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, referred to the centenary of the poem “Adlestrop”. I will make a similar but different point. Yesterday the “Today” programme marked the centenary of the writing of “Adlestrop” by Edward Thomas by having it read by his wife, Helen. Of course, as the noble Lord reminded us, Edward Thomas was killed at Arras in 1917. That has provoked me to consider whether there might be plans for all poets, writers and composers killed in the war to have a specific commemoration in the media—perhaps on the “Today” programme in that exact time slot—on the exact centenary of their deaths.
There are many possibilities. Some are well known, such as Rupert Brooke and Wilfred Owen, but others less so; for example, the Scottish composer, Cecil Coles, killed in 1918, whose work “Behind the Lines” was composed on the Western Front and found in the archives of George Watson’s College in Edinburgh a few years ago. Some of his manuscripts still had shrapnel embedded in them. His work “Cortège” was used by Channel 4 in its series on the First World War but his quality as a composer is less widely known. Perhaps there could be a commemoration of such people in the course of the next four years.
Finally, on reconciliation, I am very pleased that a football match is to be held on Christmas Day to commemorate the Christmas truce. It is very interesting that so many letters from British soldiers who witnessed that evaded any form of censorship and describe the events and reveal the feelings of men as individuals, who time and again did not want to be killing other soldiers. I am also very pleased that the event at the St Symphorien Cemetery is being held as an act of reconciliation. As the Minister said, that is where British and German troops were buried close to each other in August 1914. Of course, in 1918 Mons was the site where the final shots of World War I were fired. Might it be possible to give consideration to what might happen in 1918 to mark the closure of the physical conflict?
The nature of war changes. It is too easy to apply hindsight to what happened in the First World War but the lessons learnt in that war are enduring and universal.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner of Kimble, for giving us such an interesting snapshot of the events that are likely to take place. We do not always get to hear what might be happening and now we will have a record in Hansard to see what is planned. I thank him for that. I also thank him for the opportunity he has given us to speak about what is very close to our hearts. So many noble Lords have spoken about this event—can you call it an event? I do not know whether it is an event, or what it is, but it was particularly awful. As I grow older, I find images of war more and more upsetting. I just cannot get my head round the fact that we did so much killing of each other, but that is a different point.
People have spoken about their own personal connections. The noble Lord, Lord Laming, said that we are losing that connection because our generation will probably be the last one that has a personal connection to anyone who was in the war. My father was a stretcher-bearer in Mesopotamia. He would not talk about it. Other noble Lords have said that their fathers would not talk about it. Their experiences were so appalling that they were not able to share them with their families. My brother was 12 years older than me and I asked him whether he would talk to our father to see whether he could get some information. He told me that my father would not speak about his experiences but I think that they must have been awful for him because he came from a privileged background and was a student in this country. Mahatma Gandhi said that Indian students could volunteer for the war effort but should not volunteer to kill people. That is why my father became a stretcher-bearer. We have heard how hard the war was for stretcher-bearers. In addition, given my father’s background, he must have had great difficulty with all kinds of things—for example, the food. One thing we learnt was that he had to live on bully beef. Of course, as most noble Lords know, Hindus do not eat beef, so he had to put up with some little things and some big things. Some of us therefore have a connection with the Great War through our families.
The term “Commonwealth” has been used; indeed, that term is used continually. We have to realise that the Commonwealth is a new creation; it did not exist during the Great War. If we use just the term “Commonwealth”, we subsume in it the Indian contribution, which was very substantial and more than that of most other countries, including that of some other colonies. India was a colony at that stage. The Indian contribution stands on its own and needs to be remembered as that and not be subsumed into that of the Commonwealth.
The dominions were in a different position at that time and they are still in a different position now. In fact, one of the reasons why the Indian political leaders encouraged Indians to volunteer was that they hoped that India would acquire dominion status after the war. They had reason to believe that some concessions might be given to India after the Great War. Unfortunately, things did not quite work out like that, and 1919 was a particularly awful year, but, again, that is a different story. It is important that India’s contribution is not sidelined and does not become a footnote. I do not think that is fair. India provided a huge number of men and large amounts of material—1.5 million men. The princely states sent their armies to join the military here. The Kashmir regiment was sent to east Africa and was commanded by General Smuts, who tried to get behind the Germans. Eventually, there was virtually no one left, not because of the fighting but because of dysentery and malaria. Only about 20 men were left in the end because of sickness, so things were not particularly wonderful.
While we are thinking of the Indians it is very important also to remember that the Jamaicans were at the Somme. A lot of people do not know that and do not think about it. Not many Jamaicans or people from the Caribbean were involved in the Great War because that area was not heavily populated. India was an enormous source of men and materials, whereas the Caribbean islands were not but they still sent men. It took the Jamaicans six months to get permission to join the British Army and possibly die for the mother country. These issues are extremely important for the future of this country because the people who live here now are connected to those events and should be aware of what their ancestors did. They were prepared to give their lives. What else is left when you are prepared to give your life? Then we have the Africans. They, of course, fought in Africa because the Germans were there. In the Second World War, the Africans fought in other theatres. The Indians fought in almost every theatre in Europe and other countries—France, Belgium, Aden, East Africa, Gallipoli, Egypt, Mesopotamia, Palestine, Persia, Salonika, Russia, and even in China. There was no area in which the Indians had not taken part.
I could say a lot more but I see that time runs on—as it always does. However, I want to say a word about the memorial. There was no memorial to the Indians, the Africans or the West Indians. It was for me a sad realisation that they had not been remembered. In the Second World War 2.5 million Indians took part and were much more crucial than even in the First World War. Who was crucial in the First World War? People were being sent to die for yards of land. The noble Lord, Lord West, said that there were clever people in command, but you sometimes wonder. The respect for the lives of men was practically non-existent. It is said that the life expectancy of an officer in the war was six weeks. That tells us something.
I should also like mention that the father of the noble Viscount, Lord Slim, discovered the Gurkhas during the Great War and connected himself to them after that. I wish that he was speaking about his father because he was an important figure during the first and second wars.
The right reverend Prelate has been such a support to us over the memorial. He has never missed a single ceremony, which we have each year—otherwise the memorial becomes just stone. We want people to come and realise that it is something. Someone said that it is about people. Yes it is about people, and that is why we have the ceremony at the memorial. I have been having a continuous battle with David Dimbleby because he does not mention the Indians except during the wreath laying. Six or seven people lay wreaths, and he mentions all the kith and kin, the dominions, but not the Indians. Things have to change in the next four years, and the Indians should be given their proper place.
My Lords, my contribution will be in two parts, if that is acceptable. I speak first as someone who—I was about to say, “was dropped in it”—was the sponsoring Peer for the great event we held, with students and others, in September last year. The theme was, “The Great War: Listening to the Past; Talking to the Future”. I have in my hand a collection of excellent photographs of students waving their hands with enthusiasm to speak, with my noble friend Lord Astor of Hever looking resplendent on the Front Bench, together with my noble friend Lord Gardiner of Kimble and, of course, the redoubtable noble Lord, Lord West of Spithead.
What I thought I should do, with your Lordships approval—or without it, because Hansard will publish this—is assemble some nice document, with a disc, and send it off to all those students who were here, because they are tomorrow’s members of the Armed Forces. At this present time, it would not be a bad idea to give people great encouragement.
I thought that maybe I should look back. I have already researched some of my family details, and thought it was surprisingly easy. I would say to the outside world that every family will have had someone who fought in the Great War. You may find that some died, and if you want to know where they are, the Commonwealth Graves Commission’s website, and its help, is absolutely magnificent. You may also find, if you have a fairly simple name, that you have a lot more relatives than you ever dreamed possible.
This is one of the suggestions. It is not to glorify war, but to encourage people in this particular year to look and see who their family and friends were who fought in the Great War. Your Lordships will know well that Members of this House died in that war—although, as I discovered in my research, not as many as I thought. Most noble Lords were past the age of being recruited by the time they got in the House. You will find in the note produced by the Library lists of members of the House staff who were killed and their various memorials.
I would like to suggest that people give a thought to what their families did. I had a look at my mother’s family. I wanted to know who had died when and where. I found there was an Uncle Maurice, who was killed two weeks after he entered the war. We found his memorial. We did not know he had other relatives. I then found that, in the same family, there was another Maurice who had been killed. I did not know that their father had tried to get in the war but was perhaps not suitable, so he managed to get in as a chef. That is perhaps why we knew that family had no abilities for cooking at all.
I will explain what I did. I asked my mother if she knew about the war. She did not, really, but we found that my great-grandfather had a daughter who wanted to marry an officer in the Indian forces. He did not like that, so he kindly suggested that the officer came back to England and he gave him a nice house and a commission. When the war came my great-grandfather wanted to fight, but he could not because he was too old. He wrote to the Admiralty—I have raised this in your Lordships’ House before—and suggested that his yacht, “Venetia”, might be pressed into service. The Admiralty duly accepted. “Venetia” went to sea, was fitted with depth charges, blew off her stern off Harwich fairly early on and failed to do very much. However, my great-grandfather got an award and a cheque from the Admiralty—we think it was for 100 guineas—which he put in a frame and hung in a downstairs place, so that when people sat on the seat they would for ever read and remember the historic meanness of the Admiralty. These are little things that help one to think and enjoy life.
My grandfather, Crossley Swithinbank, was in the Navy, as most of the family have been, and got Malta dog while in Malta, which is something that rather affects your insides. He was then told he would be invalided out. He wanted to go off to war but found that no one wanted him. He and his brother-in-law, my great-uncle by marriage, Stafford Cripps—who was also invalided out as unsuitable—took a double-decker bus and went to the front as stretcher-bearers. My great-grandfather thought that this was not good enough, so he commissioned his coach-builder to build a special ambulance, which he then sent out. They found that they had started almost a private ambulance operation, which, with all the destruction that took place at that particular time, caused great anxiety.
If we do our research, we will all find out things about families and wars. I have a habit of wanting to rewrite the history of each war, believing that most people do not understand what it was. I wonder why we talk about wars. We have the First World War and the Second World War, but maybe we would relate more to great battles. The other day I asked the Imperial War Museum whether it would give me a list of great British battles. They go: Naseby, Blenheim, Culloden, Plassey, Quebec, Lexington, Salamanca, Waterloo, Aliwal, Balaclava, Rorke’s Drift, Gallipoli, Somme and Megiddo. I had not realised that Megiddo is present-day Israel, Jordan and Syria—maybe there is potential of another conflict there.
If you write on battles, a bit more knowledge is difficult to find. At school we were always taught to remember battles with a phone number. The battles were BROM: Blenheim, Ramillies, Oudenarde and Malplaquet—I think the number was 4689. I have forgotten which century they were—I think it was something-64, 74 or 89. You learnt about battles in history because they were important. Now, in a way, people steer away from war or battles.
I feel very enthusiastic about this debate. I hope that your Lordships will help in this initiative, to circulate to all the students who came on that day something that will encourage them to do more research. I also hope that we will encourage every family in the world to make inquiries. Local authorities are proving very helpful in this. It is not a matter of celebration, nor even of remembrance; it is a matter of family knowledge, which could be helpful in boosting the image and reputation of people’s families and friends.
My Lords, whenever we walk through a town square or are on a village green and we see those war memorials of which the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, spoke so movingly, and we read the names of the young men who died for their country in the First World War, it is hard not to be stunned by the terrible loss of life that affected every community from tiny hamlet to major city. Our own dead numbered more than 900,000, and I include those from Ireland in that. Those people did not come home to raise their families, to enjoy their grandchildren or to tell their story. We often talk in this House about lost generations but theirs truly was.
Whatever our personal interpretation of history or the decisions made at that time by our leadership, we need our own Government today to be able to put together a centenary programme that will truly honour and respect those who fought so valiantly 100 years ago. Therefore, I warmly congratulate the Government on the scale and reach of their programme for the commemoration of the centenary of the First World War. I particularly acknowledge the role that the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner of Kimble, has played in this House, always being open and accessible to noble Lords from all sides of the House in our discussions with him about various aspects of the programme.
I want to take a few minutes of your Lordships’ time to indicate the way in which government and civil society can and do combine their resources in such a momentous endeavour as this commemoration. As noble Lords are aware, and the Minister has reminded us, the main themes for the commemoration are education, youth and remembrance. It was with this in mind that I approached the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner of Kimble, six months ago with a proposal for a musical project from the music education organisation Musiko Musika, of which I am patron.
Musiko Musika and its children’s orchestra, ECCO, are based in London. The organisation works to bring the skills, discipline and sheer pleasure of the orchestra to inner-city schoolchildren. There is a Chilean influence in its music and some of its personnel, and the directors, Mauricio and Rachel, wanted to write a requiem to commemorate the Battle of Coronel. The requiem would record this historic event and the lives that were lost when two Royal Navy armoured cruisers were sunk by the German fleet off the coast of Coronel, Chile, on 1 November 1914, with 1,600 British sailors perishing. It was the Royal Navy’s worst defeat in more than a century. The Royal Navy responded a month later with the destruction of four German ships, and by the end of 1914 the German threat to our trade routes was eliminated.
This music project would culminate in performances of the requiem in Coronel, Chile, in London and in Bridport. The overall aim would be to develop understanding and links between children and their communities in England and Chile, and for them to experience history as relevant to their young lives today. The project would mean, first, sharing an experience of World War I history that was relevant, enlightening and thought-provoking for young people. Secondly, it would develop a body of knowledge and understanding of that very significant battle, enabling people from Britain, Chile and across the world to have access to that knowledge and understanding in an online archive. Lastly, the schools and children involved would develop new skills, passion and motivation for investigating and exploring history as a means of developing human understanding and co-operation. The requiem would be performed in October/November this year in London, Chile and Dorset.
With the enthusiastic support of the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner of Kimble, I approached the Government in the form of Helen Grant, a Minister at the DCMS, with the proposals and asked for: first, lots of support; secondly, government co-operation; and, thirdly, a small amount of cash. Well, two out of three ain’t bad, as the song goes. Helen Grant’s team has been very helpful in recognising the community potential of the proposed project and has pointed us in the direction of various possible sources of support. The Government have also helped in opening up contacts for Musiko Musika at the British embassy in Chile. I am delighted to report that Musiko Musika is now directly in touch with the new British ambassador out there, as well as the defence attaché at the embassy in Santiago, and they are very much looking forward to being part of a co-ordinated set of events being planned around the anniversary of the battle.
As the defence attaché himself has said, the Battle of Coronel was a highly significant historical event, as well as, of course, a tragedy for the Royal Navy. There are plans for an official commemoration of the battle involving representation from the Chilean navy, the Royal Navy, the Canadian navy—six Canadian sailors were killed aboard the British ships, the first Canadian casualties of the First World War—the German embassy, the British embassy and the Coronel civic authorities.
That is an example of government and civic society working together to find ways through to successful outcomes for our young people. I am sure that the various performances of the requiem by those young people will be successful in the autumn of this year both here in the UK and in Chile. The children who take part will not forget this important battle or the war, and they will have grasped their history through music—what better way?
My Lords, my great-grandfather, Alexander Suttie, like so many of his generation, did not like to talk about his experiences in the First World War. Indeed, one of the very few facts that we have been able to ascertain about his war experience is that his regiment trained at Stobs camp near Hawick in the Scottish Borders.
As schoolchildren, we used to explore the ruined army huts at Stobs camp and I used to often walk through the deserted camp on my way to climbing the hills around Hawick. I always found it a rather desolate place, perhaps remembering the tales that my father would tell of the place in the camp known as “suicide corner”, where several people took their lives, particularly German prisoners of war.
At its height during World War I, well over 10,000 troops were stationed there—mostly Scots but also troops from around the British Empire. Many thousands of German prisoners of war were held there and they helped to construct the huts and the sewerage system in the camp. There was even a German bakery, which provided bread for the soldiers.
In May 1916, one Scottish soldier based in Stobs camp wrote:
“We have 5,000 German prisoners here and they have a better time of it than us. They bake all our bread, carving an Iron Cross on it. Some of our boys don’t like it but to my taste it seems all right. We have about 15 thousand of our boys here and the bands’ playing all day make the place a bit lively”.
One week later, however, the same soldier remarked:
“It has rained ever since we came here, we are all fed up with the mud”.
Among the many Scottish troops who trained at Stobs camp were several battalions of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers, who then went on to take part in the Gallipoli campaign in the summer of 1915. Ten years ago, when I was working in the European Parliament, I went on an official visit to the Gallipoli peninsula organised by the Turkish Government with the Irish President of the European Parliament, Pat Cox. Pat Cox was very keen to pay his respects at the graves of the many Irish soldiers who lost their lives in Gallipoli. As we were leaving the British war memorial I spotted a large shield-shaped stone. It read:
“From the town of Hawick, Scotland. In grateful memory of the officers and men belonging to that town who fell in Gallipoli in the Great War, 1915”.
Although I was obviously deeply moved by the whole sombre mood of the windswept peninsula, it was not until I saw—quite unexpectedly—the name of my home town, Hawick, that I was able to understand just what an impact the deaths of so many men would have had on one small community back home. More than 50 men from Hawick died on 12 July 1915, and more than 100 local men in total died there.
In researching my remarks for this afternoon I came across a report on the events of 12 July at Gallipoli, written at the time, from the 4th Battalion of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers. I believe that it is worth quoting a couple of excerpts.
An account of the charge was written for the record by Captain—afterwards Major—W T Forrest, who was subsequently killed in Palestine. He wrote:
“It is with sadness one takes up the pen to put on record the deeds of the Battalion on and around the 12th of July, 1915, when so many good officers, N.C.O.’s, and men laid down their lives. However, it is their just due that these deeds should be put on record, so that future generations may know what Border men were able and willing to do in the interests of King and Country”.
Another officer of the battalion further recorded of events that day:
“The scenes outside the dressing stations in the Nullah ... were beyond description. Around each station were rows upon rows of stretchers—each containing what had been or, rather, what remained of a human being.
The slightly wounded were waiting in long queues for treatment. What impressed one was the absolute deathly silence which prevailed over each station—not a word or a groan to be heard. We could find none of our own men among these cases, which probably had all come in from the later attack of the 157th Brigade”.
Such was the scale of losses that day that every year there is a memorial service in Hawick, and in 1926 the shield that I saw in Gallipoli to the men of Hawick was installed under the names of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers’ missing and dead.
I was very pleased to hear from my noble friend the Minister that there will be an extensive schools programme as part of the commemorations. It is deeply appropriate that pupils from Hawick High School this year and next will have an opportunity to participate in a UK-wide project organised by the Gallipoli Association for 2015. But if my small home town of Hawick lost more than 100 men in Gallipoli, 34,000 died from across Great Britain and Ireland, and we must never forget the horrendous loss of life from the Anzacs: nearly 9,000 Australians and just under 3,000 New Zealanders died. More than 1,300 Indian soldiers lost their lives, including 371 from the Sikh 14th Regiment.
One hundred years on it is virtually unimaginable that we could ever return to trench warfare with our European partners. For all its imperfections, the European Union provides a very effective series of mechanisms for resolving difficulties and disputes between our countries.
The events of a hot June day in Sarajevo 100 years ago led to a series of events and human slaughter on a scale never witnessed before. I therefore believe that those who have queried whether we are right to carry out a series of commemorations to mark the start of the First World War across this country are mistaken. We are not glamorising war by remembering its true horror. It was a truly awful war on an unimaginable scale and I believe it is vital that the centenary is used to inform and remind both schoolchildren and adults of the tremendous sacrifices made by the many across our communities, including those from my small home town of Hawick, 100 years ago.
My Lords, I, like other noble Lords, am of the generation of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby. I belong to a generation which was concerned in our childhood with the Great War, as we referred to it. We had not, of course, participated in it. We remember from our childhood how everything stopped at 11 o’clock on 11 November to commemorate the war before World War II. In the 1914 war, my mother—as we are referring to family relations—was a VAD, which stood for voluntary aid detachment. She was a nurse in Mesopotamia and perhaps she knew the father of the noble Baroness, Lady Flather. Mesopotamia is, of course, a much nicer word for Iraq, which we used until Iraqi independence. She was under Turkish guns on a train going up to Kut Al Amara. “What was it like being under Turkish fire?”, my children would ask. “Well, it wasn’t at all agreeable”, my mother would explain, “but it was nothing like so disagreeable as being under the mosquitoes in Basra”. That was the spirit that probably helped to win the war.
I have a personal recollection, too. I knew Harold Nicolson, the young diplomat who carried the ultimatum from the Foreign Office to the German embassy in Carlton House Terrace, where it was received with the greatest melancholy by the Anglophile German ambassador Prince Lichnowsky. Harold Nicolson remembered for the rest of his life just how sad the German ambassador was on that occasion.
In relation to this terrible conflict, it is important to realise that it was the catastrophe which caused European civilisation to collapse—to commit suicide. Of course, our first responsibility—no doubt about it—is to recall what happened to our fellow countrymen in France. My first publisher, Douglas Jerrold, a Gallipoli veteran gave a moving description in his book Georgian Adventure of watching eight lines of men who passed him going up to the Front in France “so closely that I could see every expression on their faces as they faded into the mist, and among all those men marching so resolutely to wounding or to death, I saw not one expression of fear, or regret, or even surprise”.
We need to remember that not only Britain and the imperial defence forces suffered but the sacrifices made by our allies—especially the French but also the Americans, the Russians and the Italians. We have not heard any of those countries mentioned this afternoon, which is surprising. Perhaps they should have been.
We should recall that our enemies in 1914—above all the Germans, but also the central Europeans and the Turks—suffered greatly before siding with us substantially in the Cold War in which we could have been consumed had it not been for their help and that of others. It is worth while recalling that the greatest of Americans alive in 1914, in my opinion, was Henry James, who became a British citizen in 1915. He was once walking past Buckingham Palace with his brother, the philosopher, William James. Henry raised his hat to the flag flying over the palace. “You do love the English, don’t you?”, said William. “Why is it?”. “Well, William”, said Henry, “it’s because they’re so decent and so dauntless”. I trust that we should enjoy that accolade if the worst came to the worst in the 21st century.
Talking of our enemies, it is fair to say that the best novel about the approach to the war of 1914 was the Transylvanian Trilogy by a Hungarian, Miklós Bánffy. He was an Austro-Hungarian aristocrat who lived in Transylvania, which was destroyed by the Treaty of St Germain afterwards. We should recognise that his work articulates nobly the continent-wide nature of the tragedy of the war. Perhaps I should declare an interest as I wrote the introduction to the Everyman edition of that great book.
This has been a marvellous debate, full of fascinating memories. We should, and will, remember for a long time the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton. We will also remember the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, recalling the memoirs of Anthony Eden—Lord Avon—with his interesting descriptions of life in the war and before.
One more thing we should remember is that the war had many long-term reasons, which historians have gone into with great care and interest—I studied the origins of the First World War as a special subject at Cambridge—but the immediate cause of the war was an act of terrorism by a young Serbian, Gabriel Princip, who was too young to execute despite being found guilty of the pointless murder in Sarajevo. The fact that the Archduke Franz Ferdinand was probably the most thoughtful of the leaders of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and that his morganatic wife, Sophie Chotek, was completely innocent should not be forgotten by those considering equally vile terrorist actions today.
One Member of this House, the late Lord Amery—Julian Amery—met Princip’s father in Belgrade in 1938. “Yes”, said Princip’s father, “it was a tragedy about poor Gabriel: he would have been so useful in our printing office”. Alas that he did not stick to printing.
My Lords, I, too, have been immensely moved by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, who is not in his place at the moment. As a newly arrived Peer, I, too, was privileged to hear Lord Houghton’s story of the duckboards and Passchendaele and, to close the record, Percy’s bus was a number 24. I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Gardiner for the huge amount of work he has done in co-ordinating the commemorations and for the masterly speech he made today.
My noble friend Lord Trimble has given a great account of the southern Irish divisions in the First World War, about which far too little has been known until recently. As he has told us, the 16th Division comprised overwhelmingly the five regiments which were going to be disbanded in 1922—the Royal Irish Regiment, the Leinster Regiment, the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, the Royal Munster Fusiliers and the Connaught Rangers.
The Connaught Rangers had an interesting and exceptional battalion—the 6th Battalion—which was raised in west Belfast and, to a man, consisted of Redmond Catholics. They were commanded by an Anglo-Irishman, Colonel Lenox-Conyngham from the Royal Irish Fusiliers, and the devotion they gave to him was immense. Indeed, he was killed at their head at the battle of Guillemont.
My noble friend also mentioned the significant battle of Messines. The order of battle reads like an imperial roll call. It consisted of the New Zealand Division, the 4th Australian Division and the 36th and 16th Divisions, about which he has spoken. The ironic thing about that battle is that it is regarded as one of the great tactical successes of the war. However, like so many of the others, it was sadly not exploited afterwards.
Following the end of the Great War, for the first 80 or so years after the formation of the Irish Republic—again, my noble friend has referred to this—the attitude of the state was to airbrush the Great War out of the national consciousness. The result was that many, mainly Catholic, families whose forebears had served in the war acquired a sense of guilt to the extent that their forebears were treated as skeletons in the cupboard and any connection with service in the British Army was not talked about. I have it on the authority of my honourable friend Conor Burns, the Member for Bournemouth West, who comes from a Catholic Belfast family, that his forebears—there were at least two—were never mentioned at all. Like many others, he is putting that right.
Of course, the relationship between the United Kingdom and the Irish Republic has, over the past 10 years, been transformed, starting with the Good Friday agreement and followed by the invaluable work done by the two Presidents, Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese, leading to a visit by Her Majesty the Queen in 2011 and followed by the recent successful visit of President Higgins to London this year.
Very much under the initiative of the last two presidents, the Garden of Remembrance in Dublin has been restored; there has been a significant increase in tourism from the Republic of Ireland to the France and Flanders war cemeteries; and in the Republic there has been an awakening of interest in the history of the five disbanded regiments.
Going back to the 6th Connaught Rangers, I should have said that the British-Irish Parliamentary Group took evidence from the newly created 6th Connaught Rangers Regimental Association, which has been mirrored among the other five regiments. It is significant that President Higgins paid a visit to St George’s Chapel Windsor in the course of his visit here, where the colours of those regiments are laid up.
Your Lordships will be aware that the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, which meets annually in the Republic or the United Kingdom, the Isle of Man or the Channel Islands, will in September this year be meeting at Ashford in Kent, from where an expedition by Eurostar will be made to the Flanders battlefields.
What were the motives of the Irishmen who enlisted in the British Army in 1914? These differed between the north and the south. In the north the motive was clear: it was a determination to remain under the British Crown. What inspired the many volunteers from the south of Ireland is less straightforward. For some it was, undoubtedly, the opportunity to get away from the poverty of many families at that time. However, there was the emotional spur—again this has been referred to by my noble friend—that the Irish nationalists under the leadership of John Redmond had secured the passage of the Irish Home Rule Bill of July 1914, which excluded the counties of Ulster at that time as the exact number was still to be determined. The Home Rule Bill was effectively suspended for the duration of the war but there is little doubt that many of the volunteers who joined the colours in 1914 were inspired by Redmond’s leadership and encouragement and the perception of what he had achieved for Ireland as they saw it. One might almost say that Redmond represented the Irish version of “Your Country Needs You”.
Be that as it may, in the Great War, 310,000 men from the island of Ireland served in the British Army, of whom some 35,000 died, and probably at least half of those came from the south. We from both sides of the Irish Sea can take pride that in this and coming years there will be many Irish soldiers, whose bodies lie in France and Flanders, whose graves will be visited by their families for the first time in nearly 100 years.
My Lords, as many noble Lords have said in this very interesting debate, it is important that the events that will commemorate the centenary are just that: commemoration and not celebration. I am not aware of anyone who has suggested celebration, but of course victory was important. Indeed, it was vital, but it came at such a terrible cost. All the millions who died in that conflict can never be forgotten. Over and above those who died there was the ripple effect on the parents, wives, husbands and children who found it impossible to banish from their minds and their lives the loss they suffered when their loved ones either did not come back from the war or returned in such a state that there was no longer any prospect of what might be termed a normal life.
I am pleased to see that education has been placed at the heart of the Government’s commemorative programme over the next four years. I have a personal perspective on that because education was what drew me to the First World War as a school student at the time of the 50th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. The events then on the Western Front simply jumped out of the books and grabbed me, and I have to say that that grip has not been relinquished in the years since. As the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, mentioned in her interesting and moving speech, my grandfather also refused to talk to me when I asked him about what had happened. He had been with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders in the trenches on the Western Front, but he would not say a word about it. It was quite clear that he had locked and bolted away the memories inside his mind because they were just too awful for him to release. He lost many comrades in the conflict and yet, in a real sense, they never left him.
Over the years I have made many visits to the battlefields in France and Belgium, including those on which my grandfather fought, and it has often been difficult to suppress the emotion that those visits bring. I have asked myself, “What would I have done in that type of situation? How would I have coped? Indeed, would I have coped?”. Of course I cannot answer those questions, but in my attempts to understand what life as a soldier was like, I have read many first-hand accounts. I am pleased to see that many are now being reissued in time for the centenary, and I would highly recommend to noble Lords who have not yet done so to look at them in order to get a feel for what people had to go through in the awful circumstances of 100 years ago.
It was called the Great War at the time, but the conflict has long since become known as the First World War. I would say that it is also the case that it was notable for producing a considerable number of “firsts”. The most obvious may be the use of tanks, aeroplanes and submarines in combat, but there were several others. As the noble Lord, Lord West of Spithead, mentioned in his address, it was the first war involving Britain that had a citizens’ army. There was that initial rush of enthusiasm to volunteer, which saw 2 million men and boys join up. I use the term “boys” advisedly as thousands were accepted below the statutory minimum age of 18. Some, incredibly—but it has been proved—as young as 12 were accepted into the forces. Not unnaturally, the fearsome casualties suffered in the first two years saw that enthusiasm naturally evaporating, which led to the introduction by the Government for the first time of conscription. It was the result of the Military Service Act 1916, which at the time was debated at some length both in this Chamber and in another place.
I was glad to hear the Minister mention conscientious objectors in his opening remarks, because that Act also set out for the first time a legal basis for conscientious objection. That is not to say that conscientious objectors had not been accommodated before—Quakers were exempted from military service as long ago as the mid-18th century—but this was the first time they had been granted absolute exemption, provided they could convince a military service tribunal of their convictions. In total, some 16,000 were able to do so, and although many performed civilian service in various forms during the war, some did join the Army in non-combatant roles, including acting very bravely as stretcher-bearers at the front.
The war of 1914-18 was also the first in which there was a home front. Civilians became directly involved, and indeed even became casualties, within just four months of the war beginning when German battleships bombarded Hartlepool, Scarborough and Whitby on the north-east coast. It was the first time that Britain had been attacked since the Normans. There were also hundreds of civilian deaths, mainly in London, as a result of the bombings by Zeppelins, and these acts assisted in increasing the determination of people to see the war out until victory was achieved, whatever the cost.
For the first time, women were given roles in industry in occupations hitherto strictly reserved for men, such as in munitions and engineering. Few women retained those jobs in peacetime, but there was greater understanding and acceptance of women’s contribution to and place in society, and of course the first votes for women came in 1918, although it was 1928 before full enfranchisement was won.
I would also argue that the First World War was influential in shaping the perception of people in Britain of the meaning and role of society and their place within it. I have already mentioned the determination to ensure that the war was won, and that kind of solidarity and unity of action saw the development of a collectivist nature in many parts of the country, particularly the large conurbations. The main beneficiaries were the Labour Party and the trade unions, which both witnessed a surge in support and influence in the post-war period. As evidence of that, I would cite the 1910 general election, the last to be held before the outbreak of war, in which the Labour Party gained just 7% of the vote. In the 1918 election that percentage trebled. The party won just under 30% in 1922, and the following year it was in government, albeit in a minority. I doubt that the party’s advance over that decade and a half would have been as dramatic had the First World War not happened.
I am pleased that the commemorative events will begin with a church service at Glasgow Cathedral, the city which I had the honour of representing in both the other place and the Scottish Parliament. In July and August, Glasgow will host the Commonwealth Games, and it is appropriate that with so many Commonwealth leaders in the city, they should be invited to join the opening of the Government’s programme. This will enable the inaugural event to highlight the invaluable contribution made by many Commonwealth countries to the war—a narrative that I would say has for far too long been restricted to the contribution of the predominantly white countries of what was the Empire and is now the Commonwealth. The extent to which many thousands of people from India, British East Africa, British West Africa and the Caribbean volunteered to assist in the war has already been highlighted in the debate. The word “volunteered” is important. There was no conscription for them. People from the Empire and the Dominions felt a commitment to defend the interests of what they saw as the mother country. I believe that we should never underestimate or, worse, underplay their contribution.
Finally, I want to say a word or two about how a bridge should be built within my country between the First World War and the present day. In Scotland, 26% of those who marched away to war did not return. In the rest of the UK—which included the whole of Ireland, as we heard in the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman—it was something like 12%. I hope that as the constitutional future of Scotland is being vigorously discussed and will be voted on in under three months’ time, the great sacrifice made by the people of Scotland for the United Kingdom a century ago will be duly remembered.
My Lords, I beg leave to tell noble Lords about the contribution made by my late father to the conflict we are discussing today. He was born George Garro-Jones, the son of a minister in the Congregational church in South Wales, and joined the Denbighshire Yeomanry in 1913. It was a territorial battalion and could not serve in France, and therefore he transferred to 10th Battalion of the South Wales Borderers and was taken to France in August 1914, along with so many others. He served with that battalion as a machine-gun officer through the Somme and other battles right up until February 1916, when he volunteered to join the Royal Flying Corps.
For many months he heard nothing, but then on the evening of 3 July 1916, when his battalion, along with a number of others, was waiting to attack Mametz Wood—referred to earlier by my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford—he was ordered to take his machine-gun section forward to take part in the operations. He then received orders to go at once to the Royal Flying Corps. He begged permission to take his machine-gun section forward anyway, but that permission was refused because he had to join the Royal Flying Corps that very night. Another officer was ordered to take his section forward. They were wiped out. My father never got over that. He could never speak of it without emotion and he felt that he had abandoned his men in their hour of need.
He served in the Royal Flying Corps, first as an observer and later as a pilot. One of his closest friends was Captain Quintin Brand, as he then was. He was a frequent comrade, and later of course he became Air Marshal Brand. They were close friends for many years, and he was my brother’s godfather. In early 1918, my father was posted to the United States to train the then fledgling United States Army air force, and returned to the United Kingdom in December 1918. While he was in the United States, the Royal Air Force was formed and he was automatically transferred to that new force.
How he survived nearly two years in the trenches and then a similar period in the Royal Flying Corps and later the Royal Air Force I shall never know, but I venture to suggest that my father, along with so many others that we have heard about today, discharged his duty freely in the conflict that we remember so much today.
Later, my father was elected Liberal MP for Hackney South and then for Aberdeen North before coming to your Lordships’ House in 1947. In 1947, as your Lordships will not recall but I can tell you—the House of Commons was sitting in this Chamber, because the Commons Chamber had been bombed out, and the House of Lords was sitting in the Robing Room. I know that; I was there. I was aged six when my father was introduced to your Lordships’ House.
My Lords, it is with a degree of reverence that I approach this afternoon’s debate. As a young boy growing up in Northern Ireland in the aftermath of the Second World War, my youth was filled with the immediate deeds and sacrifices of service men and women who fought in that conflagration.
However, I was also brought up with those from a previous generation who had first tasted the bitter gall of war on an industrial scale on Flanders fields. For me, the First World War was a living history. The men who had survived the Somme, Messines and Ypres—or “Wipers” to the Tommies who served and fought there—were relatives and family friends. Those who did not survive left behind the still visible evidence of broken homes and broken lives.
My grandmother saw three sons go off to Flanders and welcomed home one. This sacrifice was typical of that of many Ulster families and indeed families throughout the kingdom—no more so than those from the “pals battalions”, raised and recruited from whole streets and districts of the industrial cities of northern England. Who can visit the First World War battlefields and gaze up at the hundreds of names engraved on the memorials and not be moved by their sacrifice?
Life, however, does not stand still. While those formative memories remain clear to me, I find it difficult to accept that it is 100 years since hostilities broke out among the European great powers—an event as distant from today’s youth as the Crimean War was from me. “Lest we forget” was the promise of the living to the dead of the Great War, and it is a promise that we should not renege on.
There is and will be much debate about how the First World War should be remembered, and some of the suggestions I suspect would infuriate and astonish the men of 1914-18. That debate I leave to others, save that the programme for commemoration must reflect all of those who served. In that, I am particularly conscious of the immense contribution of the men of Ulster and the rest of Ireland.
Robert Quigg was born on 28 February 1885 in the townland of Billy, outside Bushmills in north Antrim. Like many others, he joined the Ulster Volunteers in January 1913. He went to war with the 36th (Ulster) Division and was serving near Le Hamel on the Somme under his platoon commander, Lieutenant Harry Macnaghten, heir to the estate on which Quigg had worked. On 1 July 1916, they advanced against heavy German machine-gun fire and, by that evening, many men lay dying and wounded in no man’s land, including Lieutenant Macnaghten. Robert Quigg volunteered to leave the comparative safety of the trenches and go out to look for his commander. He did not find him, but he returned with a wounded soldier. He went out again and, having not found Macnaghten, returned yet again with a wounded soldier. He did this seven times, rescuing seven comrades, only stopping when complete exhaustion overwhelmed him and, unfortunately, not locating Lieutenant Macnaghten.
Sergeant Quigg was awarded the VC, survived the war and died on 14 May 1955. Several Bushmills residents decided about two years ago to raise sufficient money—we estimated that £75,000 was needed—to erect a permanent memorial to Sergeant Quigg. I was only too willing to become a patron of the scheme, and I am confident that we will have achieved this by the 100th anniversary of Battle of the Somme. It will be a lasting memorial to men such as Sergeant Quigg, so that future generations may remember and respect.
Much has been written of the sacrifices of the 36th (Ulster) Division. After the war, King George V paid it the following tribute:
“Throughout the long years of struggle … the men of Ulster have proved how nobly they fight and die”.
There is much more that I could and would like to say about the valour of the Ulster Division, but I want to urge those developing the commemorations to give full recognition to the 300,000 Irish servicemen from the whole island of Ireland who answered the call in 1914, the majority of whom came from what was shortly to become the Irish Free State. In particular, the 38,000 casualties drawn from the 10th and 16th (Irish) Divisions, who served in Flanders, Gallipoli, Messines and the Middle East, deserve their rightful place in our centenary of events.
As the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, alluded to, the memory of the Irishmen who served with compatriots from across the Empire has been rehabilitated in recent years after a shameful period of neglect in southern Ireland that was in large part manufactured.
“It would be hard, indeed, to estimate the size of the gathering. It did not, however, number less than forty thousand. From an early hour people began to arrive by every kind of vehicle and on foot, and an hour before the ceremony began the wide open space in the Phoenix Park surrounding the Wellington Monument was densely crowded”.
So read the Irish Times report of the Armistice Day commemorations in Dublin in 1926. It is proof that history is rarely black and white.
The centenary commemorations of the Great War will serve many purposes, but one, I trust, will be to encourage greater recognition of our shared history across these islands.
“They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;
They fell with their faces to the foe”.
In death there was no distinction; nor should there be in their commemoration.
My Lords, I am enormously grateful to the noble Lord who encouraged me to take part in this debate. He knows who he is.
Like everyone on all sides of this House, I express my gratitude and support for the efforts being made up and down the country to mark the centennial of the 1914-18 war. Our national commemorations also contribute to the global tributes being paid to the men and women who lost their lives in defence of the realm.
I warmly encourage the House to ensure that those commemorative activities taking place along the length and breadth of our lands recognise and include the descendants of those servicemen from the Caribbean who stood by the United Kingdom and fought and died so bravely. They were not conscripted; they were volunteers. Lest we forget, I remind the House that thousands of servicemen from the Caribbean answered the call during the First World War. During that time, West Indians were recruited to work in armaments and chemical factories, and West Indian seamen were among the thousands of black men who manned merchant ships throughout the war.
Some 15,600 black volunteers joined the British West Indies Regiment. Black volunteers who fought alongside other servicemen will have descendants and family members alive today across the country. I am sure that it is our wish that the contributions made by their ancestors to our country are acknowledged throughout this milestone commemoration. Battalions of the British West Indies Regiment served in France, Palestine, Italy and Egypt, suffering 1,325 casualties. Some 1,400 black seamen from Cardiff also lost their lives.
We will all be familiar with the black British serviceman Walter Tull, of Barbadian parentage, who died in 1918 after receiving a commission as a second lieutenant. Yet less known is that, despite a colour bar on officers in the British Army, a number of other men of black and non-white West Indian heritage received commissions. These included George Bemand, Norman Manley of Jamaica, and Dr James Risien Russell, who served in the Royal Army Medical Corps. Moreover, 130 black men were decorated for bravery for services during that war. This included five Distinguished Service Orders, nine Military Crosses, two MBEs, eight Distinguished Conduct Medals, 37 Military Medals and 49 mentions in dispatches. It is a small number compared to those who died but for those from small, developing islands in the Caribbean this was an important time. In addition, at least two known Jamaican air crew flew in the Royal Flying Corps during the First World War, including the pilot Sergeant William Robinson Clarke from Kingston, Jamaica.
Lest we forget, I remind noble Lords that 8,000 soldiers of the British West Indies Regiment stationed at Taranto in Italy mutinied over unequal pay and conditions in December 1918. As a consequence, these servicemen were banned from partaking in the 1919 victory and peace parades. Furthermore, 1919 also saw widespread rioting against black servicemen, sailors and their families throughout Britain. Of course, the men from the Caribbean who fell during the First World War are not forgotten in the communities from which they came. The West Indian Ex-Servicemen and Women’s Association continues to keep those memories burning and, among many other services for ex-servicemen, holds a yearly ceremony of remembrance at Seaford in Sussex, where some of those who have fallen are now buried. Today our nation’s social policies are steeped in values around respect, mutual understanding, equality, social cohesion and fairness. Let us together, in marking a period of historical global conflict, ensure that we give the relatives and descendants of fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers who stood shoulder to shoulder in our hour of need the opportunity to commemorate with us as one.
The noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, mentioned the suffering of the war wounded. Some may not have heard of her, but a woman called Mary Seacole, despite many prejudices, went out to nurse the soldiers of the British service. I have met men who have spoken and written about her role in saving the lives of British soldiers. She may have been considered an unqualified nurse but, being of African descent, she used her bush medicine—they told me—and kept many men alive. Some are now probably on the brink of not being alive. My noble friend Lord Soley has been working with a committee to erect a memorial to Mary Seacole. I trust the Minister would encourage the Government to subscribe to that fund. We are nearly there and need only a little more. I would be grateful if he bore that in mind.
Finally, I ask the Minister to remember the words written by Robert Burns, set to music by the composer William Shield and sung throughout the land:
“Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?”.
Or, should we, and I think that this is a time when we will,
“tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet,
For auld lang syne”,
and offer some recognition to the West Indians who fought in the First World War? I encourage noble Lords to know that at this moment West Indian people who fought are not allowed to march to the Cenotaph. They have their own celebrations. This is the time to suggest that that be remedied.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for providing your Lordships with this opportunity to debate this most important of subjects today.
“Tread softly here! Go reverently and slow!
Yea, let your soul go down upon its knees,
And with bowed head and heart abased strive hard
To grasp the future gain in this sore loss!
For not one foot of this dank sod but drank
Its surfeit of the blood of gallant men.
Who, for their faith, their hope,—for Life and Liberty,
Here made the sacrifice,—here gave their lives.
And gave right willingly—for you and me.
From this vast altar—pile the souls of men
Sped up to God in countless multitudes:
On this grim cratered ridge they gave their all.
And, giving, won
The peace of Heaven and Immortality.
Our hearts go out to them in boundless gratitude:
If ours—then God’s: for His vast charity
All sees, all knows, all comprehends—save bounds.
He has repaid their sacrifice:—and we—?
God help us if we fail to pay our debt
In fullest full and all unstintingly!”
Those moving lines were written by John Oxenham and are on a bronze plaque at Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial in the Somme. I had the great privilege of visiting that battlefield, cemetery and memorial earlier this month. On the first day of the Battle of the Somme, 1 July 1916, at 0720 hours, 700 Newfoundlanders from the Royal Newfoundland Regiment went over the top and were cut down by withering German machine-gun fire. The battle lasted less than 30 minutes. Only 61 returned. Their memorial is a bronze caribou on a hill of rocks set with plants native to Newfoundland. It is, quite simply, breathtakingly beautiful.
I spent three days visiting Vimy Ridge and the surrounding cemeteries. I visited the Somme and Ypres. I visited Thiepval Memorial, designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens. I paid my respects to the graves of soldiers from the South Staffordshire Regiment—from my home county—and in particular the grave of Sapper Thomas Brough from Cannock, who was killed by a sniper’s bullet while collecting water for a brew on Christmas morning 1915. He is buried at Railway Dugouts Burial Ground, Transport Farm. Sapper Brough was 47 years-old, so too old to fight. He was only there because he wished to be with his sons. He is the great-grandfather of two friends who accompanied me on the trip. They visited their great-grandfather’s grave—with great emotion.
In Warlencourt British Cemetery, littered with the graves of unknown soldiers all with the epitaph “known to God”, I discovered a headstone to Private A Jowett with a wonderful inscription:
“He sleeps with England’s heroes in the watchful care of God”.
It was incredibly moving. I pay tribute to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, which tends the thousands of cemeteries and memorials to the highest possible standards. It does a fantastic job. On the last night, we went to the Menin Gate in Ypres for the 8 pm service of remembrance. We listened to the “Last Post” being trumpeted and “Abide with Me” sung by a Welsh male voice choir. With around 3,000 silent worshippers, we paid our respects to the fallen, without whose sacrifice we would not enjoy the freedoms and the privileged lives that we lead today.
When I was a teenager, my father often took me to visit the First World War memorials. When my sons were teenagers, I took them. My seven year-old grandson has just been with his father, doing exactly the same. It is so important that we ensure that younger generations are encouraged to learn about and appreciate the vast sacrifice of human life that was the Great War. Both I and my friends were touched to see the messages left on the memorials by countless school parties from all over the United Kingdom. We should applaud their noble efforts.
Finally, I am a Staffordshire man and very proud of it. My grandfather died while serving in the Royal Horse Guards in 1915. My great-grandfather sourced and trained horses for the cavalry at our former home, Ingestre, in Staffordshire. He also manufactured Talbot cars as ambulances for the military. I am extremely proud to have in my home county the National Memorial Arboretum at Alrewas. It is a wonderful place of peace and tranquillity. I was delighted to learn recently of moves afoot to create a memorial there to all the horses killed in the Great War—those magnificent, unquestioning, loyal servants of man who died in their hundreds of thousands and in appalling conditions, from cavalry charges to artillery and poison gas attacks. It is right that they, too, should be remembered in perpetuity.
My Lords, having read the three brilliant doorstop books recently published on the run-up to and the early stages of the First World War: Max Hastings’s Catastrophe, Margaret MacMillan’s, The War That Ended Peace, and Christopher Clark’s, The Sleepwalkers, and having studied the diplomatic background to the war as my special subject—here, I have common ground with the noble Lord, Lord Thomas; I studied in the Oxford School of Modern History nearly 60 years ago—I hope that I am reasonably well equipped to make a contribution to this important debate, which could be of real value if we draw sensible conclusions from what went so appallingly wrong 100 years ago. Here, I offer a few slightly random thoughts mainly drawn from the diplomatic background to the conflict.
First, it is misconceived and misleading to spend a lot of time trying to identify a villain or villains, to play another round of the blame game. That was tried in the Treaty of Versailles at the end of the war, and it was not a brilliant success. The hard fact is that there was a systematic failure of diplomacy by what were in those days known as the great powers, responsibility for which was very widely shared.
Secondly, we should recognise that this was a period of weak and diffuse leadership in every one of the main European powers. There were no Bismarcks or Salisburys around to check the slide towards war.
Thirdly, the war was an unmitigated disaster for all the European participants, both the victors and the vanquished—the suffering citizens of Europe, who gained little or no benefit from the sacrifices which they so stoically underwent. The only powers which emerged strengthened were two non-European powers, the United States of America and Japan, neither of which played any role in the onset of war.
Fourthly, it is odd that not a single woman was involved in the decisions that led to war. Nor was there a single woman in any of the parliaments of the protagonists. That shows what a change has taken place since then.
Fifthly, the act that triggered this war, the assassination of Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, was what we would now call an act of state-sponsored terrorism. Sixthly, a Europe that was governed by a closely interwoven network of cultural and, in the case of the monarchs themselves, family ties and which was economically very interdependent—much more interdependent than Europe had ever been since the time of the Roman empire—was unable to resist the slide into war. That point was made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London.
Seventhly, the so-called concert of Europe, the informal network of great powers, which had prevented war at the time of the two Moroccan crises and which had localised war in the two Balkan wars which preceded the Great War, was unravelled and collapsed in 1914 under the strain of events.
Eighthly, at least one of the great powers, Germany, had war plans which in the event of war with Russia—which was of course the event which occurred—required it to launch a pre-emptive strike against France and, in doing so, to march across two countries, Belgium and Luxembourg, whose neutrality it had guaranteed. Not one of its civilian leaders ever thought to challenge those war plans or note that they were a straightforward defiance of international law.
Ninthly, neither the military nor the diplomats—both of whom were very professional groups—gave much good advice to their political masters. Tenthly, all the participants, without exception, seemed genuinely to believe that they were acting defensively in response to external pressures over which they had no control: that they had no choice but to act as they did. As Margaret MacMillan said at the end of her brilliant book, there always are choices.
Britain’s diplomacy seems to me—I do not wish to be unduly censorious—to have been both confused and confusing during the period in the run-up to the war. It left everyone guessing, including the members of the Cabinet. The Government in office then were of course distracted by the potential breaking away of a part of the United Kingdom, and they were split down the middle between those who believed that our vital national interests were involved in the events on continental Europe and those who wanted to have nothing to do with them. I wonder where I have heard that before.
Are there any lessons for us to be drawn from all that? Plenty, I suggest, although not through drawing precise political parallels. Above all, there are risks in periods when power relationships are changing rapidly and both rising and declining powers feel insecure and are tempted into errors of judgment. That, I fear, is what we have around us now. That is when you most need something stronger than loose networks, when you need the multilateral alliances and disciplines which we have built up since the Second World War in the United Nations, in NATO, in the European Union and in other international organisations. That is when you cannot afford to turn your back on any of them.
I hope that when Europe’s leaders visit Ypres tomorrow evening, they will look at the inscription on the Menin Gate, which reads:
“Under this arch lie the bodies of 55,000 servicemen whose remains could not be identified”.
I hope that they will reflect on how far we have travelled together in the past 70 years and how much more now unites us than divides us.
My Lords, perhaps I may first apologise; I asked permission from the Chief Whip, having warned her that I had not one but two brief engagements during the debate today. However, I was given an indication from her that it would be in order to speak and that I would not be in danger of being discourteous to the House.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, for the most marvellous, moving and excellent speech. One reason I am speaking today is that my noble friend, who I thank profoundly for everything that he has done and is doing to celebrate the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, referred to my grandfather. My grandfather was born in 1875. He became a Member of Parliament for Poole in 1907 and in 1910, as a Liberal, he went up and became the Member of Parliament for Edinburgh South. At some stage—I was never able to decipher exactly when—he became the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Foreign Secretary. He then moved on to become the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Prime Minister. All the same, while sitting as a Member of Parliament for Edinburgh South in 1914 he joined his regiment, the Fife and Forfar Yeomanry, which was detailed to do Royal Garrison Artillery duty.
My grandfather served at the front but there was an unfortunate accident and he was pretty seriously wounded. He retired, came back to this country and was asked by the Prime Minister whether he would step down as PPS—Lloyd George had succeeded Mr Asquith. My grandfather then rejoined his regiment but found that he was not fit. They said, “We have a job for you. Would you please go off to Washington to act as one of the military attachés at the embassy there?”. My grandfather went there in January 1918 but in October 1918 he became one of 20 million—it may have been 25 million or 30 million—victims of what we call Spanish flu. He died in Washington together with two other members of the British military mission; all three are buried in Arlington National Cemetery. I understand that there are 11 Britons buried there from the First World War, so I am immensely grateful to them.
The military tradition has certainly gone on. My grandfather seems to have made quite an impression, not necessarily as a military man but much more as a politician. Some years ago the noble Earl, Lord Stockton, was speaking to me and heard that there was a Peer by the name of Charlie Lyell. He said, “I remember Charlie Lyell” and for two minutes we had the most incredible performance from the late noble Earl. He suddenly said, “He got married”, and I said, “No, that was my grandfather”—who had obviously made a big impression upon the noble Earl, Lord Stockton. At the same time, however, he went off and fought in the First World War. He lost his life and is remembered; I have studied a bit of what he did.
Many of us have seen, in my lifetime, the war movies and activities of the Eastern Front in the Second World War. When you think of what the conditions were in the First World War, and of all those men and women in Flanders and France—it was entirely the men who fought—in such conditions, one has some appreciation of what they suffered. The words of my noble friend Lord Trefgarne were particularly apposite because of his recollections of how his father suffered.
I have been drilled during all my life in your Lordships’ House to show some respect and every morning when I come in, I have a set drill. I turn into the Prince’s Chamber and go down to the far end of the Royal Gallery. In the bookcase at the end, there are three books with the Peers and sons of Peers who were killed, or died, in the two world wars. The pages are turned over every day and what I have learnt from those two books with all the records of the Peers and sons of Peers who perished in, or died after, the First World War, has been moving and an intense part of my education. It is not necessarily Members of your Lordships’ House or people of British nationality. As your Lordships may find one day, there is an Italian who died on the Isonzo and who was the son of the Countess of Newburgh. I am not aware of quite how that title, which is clearly Scottish but came through the female line, came to a lady who was Italian—but her son fought and died on the Isonzo. Yet we remember him, as with all the others, in that book every day. It certainly makes me realise, as I believe it does many of your Lordships, how much gratitude we owe to those Members of your Lordships’ House and their sons.
If your Lordships go down to Westminster Hall, the sons of Members of Parliament fill six or seven panels down there. There is one more aspect of Westminster Hall: my grandfather is commemorated there. He is apparently among three; I do not know why. There is another Lieutenant Thomas Kettle of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, who was killed at the Battle of the Somme. He was certainly an Irish nationalist Member of Parliament but he fought and was killed at that battle. The pride that he has given to Members of the Irish Parliament when they come here is deeply moving.
I was asked if I would say one or two words on behalf of my grandfather. I apologise if I have taken up the time of the House or been out or order but I am immensely grateful for what my noble friend has done and is doing, and for giving us the opportunity to remember the dreadful events of 1914 to 1918 and 1919.
My Lords, I entirely agree with the brilliant analysis of the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, and although I have never discussed this matter with him the House will find that I have come to very similar conclusions.
Unlike the Second World War or the mass murders of Hitler, Stalin, Mao Tse-Tung and Pol Pot, the First World War was not the result of deliberate human evil but of human folly. Nobody wanted a war in 1914. Although everybody, including ourselves, had contingency plans, nobody planned to have that war or expected it. It was not until 26 July, when the Austrian ultimatum was sent to Serbia, that anybody realised quite how great a risk there was of having a global war. I totally agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, that it is therefore absurd to look around for some national guilt and say, “This was the guilty nation”.
Nevertheless, a number of individuals need to stand before the bar of history; Berchtold, the Austrian Foreign Minister, who drew up that ultimatum in such a way that it was most unlikely that the Serbs would accept it; Sazonov, the Russian Foreign Minister, who bullied Nicholas II into signing the order for general mobilisation; and Bethmann-Hollweg, the German Chancellor, who succeeded in suppressing the response of Wilhelm II to the Serbian response to the ultimatum. Wilhelm II had said he thought that the Serbian response had solved the problem and resolved the crisis but Bethmann-Hollweg made sure that that minute went no further. It certainly was not transmitted to the Austrians.
There is also our own Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey, who never told the Germans that we would go to war over Belgium. That was a fatal error. Indeed, Grey obviously felt extremely sensitive about potential criticism on that score because in his memoirs, Twenty-Five Years, published about 10 years later, he said that he could not have been more definite with the Germans because he did not have a Cabinet decision to go on. There is no evidence that he asked for such a decision or that Asquith thought that one was necessary. If we accept Grey’s excuse, the whole British Government bear a major responsibility for those dire events.
Nevertheless, when the war broke out, there is no doubt that for four and a half years the most remarkable qualities of indescribable human courage were shown by fighting men on all sides, obeying orders that were often quite murderously incompetent. I think that all of us have in our mind’s eye, and we should keep it there, the picture that has been referred to so many times today of 1 July 1916, the first day of the Somme: hundreds of thousands of young men being ordered, if you please, to advance at no more than two miles an hour hundreds of yards towards the German machine guns. They had been told that the wire had been cut and destroyed by artillery, but of course it had not. They had been told that the Germans had been killed in their front-line trenches, but of course they had not and were safe in their dugouts. Still the young men kept on. They did not make much progress, which is not very surprising. After losing several thousand men a day, Haig would invariably write in his diary, to his wife, to the King or perhaps to more than one of the above that the losses had not been too great really, all things considered, and he was making progress. Of course he was not.
Unfortunately, during that war we were very badly supplied with good-quality leadership from either the military or the politicians of the day. Almost all the leading generals suffered from three serious failings. One was that they had been brought up on the doctrine of uncompromising offensive—l’offensive à l’outrance. If they had been to America and studied the American Civil War—if they had been to Vicksburg and Gettysburg—they might have changed their minds, but their memories were of the Franco-Prussian War or, in our case, of colonial wars.
The second failing was that they were all extraordinarily arrogant. They were very slow to learn lessons from experience and very unwilling to accept the possible benefits of new technology. The third failing was that, presumably as a result of those first two qualities, they all gave disastrously overoptimistic advice to their political bosses. Almost all the commanders and generals fall into those categories: in our case, French and Haig; in the French case, Joffre and Nivelle; in the German case, von Moltke, Falkenhayn and of course Ludendorff; in the Russian case, Sukhomlinov, Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolaevich, Rennenkampf and the ill fated Samsonov; in the Austrian case, Conrad; and in the Italian case, Cardona—I believe that those strictures apply entirely fairly to all of them.
There were some exceptions. When Pétain took over in 1917, he understood that it was a defenders’ war and drew the obvious, if rather unheroic, conclusion that, “Il faut attendre les Américains et les chars”. Another accolade must go to Brusilov, who was the only general who planned and carried out a successful offensive on the Entente side in the whole of the war before the last few months after the exhaustion of Germany in 1918; they were few and far between. Plumer was almost certainly the best of the British generals but that is not saying very much.
The political leaders were also very poor. One problem was that they would not stand up to their generals. Ludendorff more or less became the leader of Germany after 1916, and after he got rid of Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg in 1917 no one would stand up to him at all. The Kaiser had a good opportunity to do so after the Reichstag peace resolution in July 1917 but he never did, so there were major political failings there. The whole British and French political establishment was completely enchanted and captivated by Nivelle, which shows pretty bad judgment. Lloyd George despised the terrible duo of Haig and Robertson just as much as many of us do today in retrospect, but he never steeled himself to move against them.
Unable to win the war, the politicians were unable to make a peace. There must have been 30 wars between the treaty of Westphalia in 1648, which established the sort of international system that lasted until 1914, and 1914 itself—certainly if you include Turkey, which you must. Almost all of them were settled by some form of negotiation, but no such negotiation took place before the final exhaustion of the central powers in 1918 and after the loss of those 10 million or more men in combat. Then we had a peace that itself did not last and, as we all know, sowed the seeds of a second and even more global conflict only 20 years later.
So what do we do about that situation? We have a responsibility to the fallen, to those now living and to those who are to come. We have a responsibility precisely to be wise in hindsight, to draw the right conclusions and ensure that it does not happen again. Here I totally agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hannay: there was something fundamentally wrong with the international system in 1914. There was also too much nationalism, jingoism and of course militarism. In our case, the emotion was directed mainly at the Navy but that did not make much difference.
There was also something obviously wrong with the whole system of states, which was not resilient. Things went even more wrong with the international system set up in 1919, which did not last 20 years before we had another war. So we have to look at that. It would be nice to say, “What we need is simply better generals and politicians”. However, the one thing that you cannot do, because it is illogical, is determine the contingent elements in life; all you can determine is the structural elements. We need to look at the structures and at the international system. Some will say that NATO provides us with the protections that we need and makes impossible another war in Europe. Maybe, but we have had alliances since the beginning of time and they have not stopped wars. One needs to go further than that; one needs a more structured system in which there is actual sharing of sovereignty and pooling of decision-making—in other words, the European Union. What a tragedy that we did not have the EU before 1914, and indeed after the disaster of the First World War and before the second. We have it now, and what a terrible irony it would be if, as we commemorate the hundredth anniversary of the outbreak of that terrible war, we either pull out of the EU or do our best to weaken it ourselves.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for laying out the plans for marking the centenary of the 1914-18 war, including culture and the arts.
One central question that needs to be asked is: what precisely is it that we are commemorating? What is the nature and purpose of this commemoration? Is it a history project? Is it a military commemoration? Is it cultural, and what do we mean by that? In trying to answer that question, I want to lay some emphasis on the artists and writers of the time of other countries. What is it that we want to achieve? Are certain values being imposed on this commemoration—for instance, in schools? In that respect, this debate touches on the one that will be held tomorrow on British values in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Storey.
I want to voice some concerns here. I accept that commemoration does not have to be celebration, even though Chambers gives it as a possible synonym, but there are other traps that can colour these commemorations and I worry that they are already doing so. The first is nostalgia, and in a way this is something that many of us can easily fall into. It is nostalgia not necessarily for another era of soldiering, which some may have—in spite of the horror of the war itself, which nostalgia also somehow pushes to one side—but for the era that immediately preceded the First World War and which the war destroyed, the subject of many TV costume dramas. The feeling has been particularly heightened this week because yesterday, as the noble Lords, Lord Faulkner and Lord Shipley, mentioned, was the centenary of the famous train ride that Edward Thomas took from Paddington to Malvern to visit his friend, the American poet Robert Frost, inspiring the poem “Adlestrop”—an event that took place four days before the shooting in Sarajevo. As it happens, Edward Thomas is our local Hampshire hero; he was a brilliant poet, and I pass the house where he wrote that poem and many others every day when I do the school drop-off.
It is very easy to get thrown back into that era but it is important to point out that the nostalgia for this period is not a purely British phenomenon. Stefan Zweig, the Austrian writer, in his biography, The World of Yesterday, called that period, which he lived through in the last years of the Austro-Hungarian empire, the golden age of security. However, he also admitted that that sense of security must have been an illusion. The First World War did not start in Sarajevo. I am not an historian, but I know that historians say that if you want properly to understand the origins of the First World War, you need to go far back into the 19th century and look closely at not just British history but European history. I hope that is something that schools will do.
Secondly, respect and remembrance alone can so easily turn into justification, and I sense this when I see schoolchildren interviewed on camera across the channel against the backdrop of World War I cemeteries expressing similar platitudes about “the sacrifices of our heroes” and “plucky little Belgium”. This is not, of course, the fault of the children, but it has a lot to do with the current mood. Jonathan Jones writing in the Guardian in May on German art of the time, which I will come to, said:
“It’s as if the clock is being turned back and the propaganda of the war believed all over again”.
I agree with him. I feel concern about the context of remembrance and the strong military context of the schoolchildren’s visits. I feel concern that this is only or largely about Britain. The project of sending schoolchildren to battle sites should have nothing to do with patriotism, a misguidedly imposed value. If it is to be done, it should have everything to do with the objective study of history, the study of one event that affected this country deeply, as it did others in Europe and the rest of the world, including Africa and the Middle East.
I want to quote some words that were written about Goethe, which show that there were other views, even at the time:
“Among our writers and men of letters there are ... few if any whose present utterances ... will be counted among their best work. Nor is there any serious writer who at heart prefers Koerner’s patriotic songs to the poems of Goethe ...
Exactly, cry the super-patriots, we have always been suspicious of Goethe, he was never a patriot, he contaminated the German mind with the benign internationalism which has plagued us so long and appreciably weakened our German consciousness.
That is the crux of the problem”.
The writer continues that Goethe’s,
“devotion to humanity meant more to him than his devotion to the German people, which he knew and loved better than anyone else. He was a citizen and patriot in the international world of thought, of inner freedom, of intellectual conscience”.
These words were written in September 1914 by Herman Hesse, in a piece entitled O Friends, Not These Tones—echoing Schiller’s “Ode to Joy”—who with fellow writers Stefan Zweig and Romain Rolland, two of whom were future Nobel prize winners, formed a loose triumvirate of pacifists who argued against the war from the very beginning and throughout their lives for a cosmopolitan culture that crossed national boundaries.
Something of that internationalist spirit is in an important exhibition I went to last month in Wuppertal, in Germany: a collaboration between Wuppertal’s Von der Heydt-Museum and the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Reims, looking at the war through the eyes of both French and German artists and writers with film footage from both countries and much more. It is an important exhibition because there was absolute parity between the two contributions. It is called “Human Slaughterhouse”, which gets to the nub of what happened, and deals directly with the destruction and trauma of this conflict at it affected the two sides. As Otto Dix records in his 1915-16 diary:
“Lice, rats, barbed wire, fleas, grenades, bombs, caves, corpses, blood, schnapps, mice, cats, gases, cannons, filth, bullets, machine-guns, fire, steel, that’s what war is! Nothing but the devil's work!”.
This exhibition also contains Dix’s 1924 graphic series of etchings “The War”, a work far removed from the sense of nostalgia to which I have referred.
The exhibition is also, in a sense, the European Union—to which the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, referred—working at its best, meaning not provincial, not introverted but a demonstration of the Union’s success in the ways that have mattered, which are cultural. In the 1980s, particularly before the wall came down, the watchword for young artists was cultural exchange. Today, from the individual’s point of view, it appears much easier to explore other cultures. We have many more contemporary artists visiting the UK from countries across the world, but collaboration between countries at a formal level in terms of arts and cultural exchange is something that still needs to be valued and supported in an era when the accent in the UK is on the one-way and perhaps more insular tool of soft power.
The way we mark this centenary will have an influence on the way we react to future conflict when the spotlight will be on other parts of the world. I asked the question: what is this commemoration ultimately for? I answer with the title of a book published in 2000 by the French sociologist Alain Touraine, Can We Live Together? It is in my view the best question, but is something that necessitates a reaching out rather than a reinforcement of our own country’s inherent insularity, and an understanding of the response of the arts of other countries to an event such as the First World War must be an effective part of this.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, on the first speech I have heard that seemed correctly to address what was meant to be the subject of the debate, which is the programme to commemorate the centenary of the First World War. That is the subject to which I wish to address my remarks. I congratulate the Minister on his very clear introduction setting out this programme. It is a tribute to him that there have been so few criticisms of the programme. Other noble Lords have quite understandably come up with some very interesting recollections or historical analyses but have not commented much on the programme that is proposed. I declare that I have a slight interest as a member of the advisory committee that the Prime Minister has appointed under the leadership of the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Support, ably supported by Dr Andrew Murrison. Dr Murrison deserves considerable tribute. He has been through changes of Secretary of State and has kept the continuity there. I see the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, a fellow member of that committee, acknowledging that.
I hope we have got the tone right in the approach we are taking, but one draws from it the lessons that I hope people in our country, particularly the young, will understand. One of the weaknesses of the First World War is that we had a Second World War, and people think that it is called the “First World War” because of the Second World War. Of course, it was the first world war. We had had the Napoleonic Wars, the Crimea, the Franco-Prussian War and the Boer War, but this was a war of a dimension quite unlike anything that the world had previously seen. One of the most graphic illustrations of that was the figure that my noble friend gave, which has been echoed by many noble Lords in their tributes, about the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and its work. I understand that there are 23,000 cemeteries around the world for British or Commonwealth war dead. That brought it home very clearly.
The commemoration has already started in various ways, and there has been most interesting analysis. The war may puzzle the young and the not so young. I do not know how many noble Lords have been to the National Portrait Gallery, but there is one picture that has stuck in my mind. It is of George V and Tsar Nicholas at the wedding of the Kaiser’s daughter. Just as a little joke, they had swapped uniforms. The Tsar was an honorary colonel or general in the British Army—I think he was in a cavalry uniform—and George V was wearing Russian uniform. The cousins are standing together. It is not surprising that people found it difficult to believe that they would get to fighting each other viciously.
There are so many stories. My noble friend Lord Lyell told of his family’s many heroic involvements. I thought of my father. He was 18 in 1919. He was in embarkation camp at Folkestone when the armistice was signed, but for the previous four years every Sunday night in the college chapel, the headmaster had stood up and read out the names of the boys who had left the year before and had been killed in the war. Many of those young men knew that they were going to be 19 and 20 and that if they succeeded in getting a commission as a young subaltern, their chances of reaching 20 or 21 were pretty minute. Psychologically, that must have had a huge impact.
I do not want to enter into the causes of or responsibility for the war which noble Lords have talked about. Undoubtedly there was a militaristic background. There was no question that Germany had built a very substantial military capability, and when you have that, there are always a few generals who are keen to see if they can try it out. We had a pretty good Navy but we did not have much of an army. Our Army was the Indian Army, which was much bigger; tributes have been paid to the Commonwealth. I went to the anniversary of the Battle of La Bassée, which took place in 1914, in November, in the rain. I saw where the Indian soldiers had come by ship to Marseille and by train into the trenches, still wearing tropical uniforms in northern France in November. The trenches were half-filled with rain; if the soldiers were wounded and fell, they drowned. We owe them a debt: we would not have survived without the support of the Commonwealth, particularly the Indian Army.
I accept the noble Baroness’s point.
The background to this includes a little story which may interest the noble Lord, Lord Rogan. I was reading the memoir of my grandfather-in-law, who was wounded in the trenches and sent to Ireland to act as a resettlement officer for returning, injured Irish guardsmen and others. He was captured by Sinn Fein in the south of Ireland and found himself in a difficult situation when, suddenly, a bunch of German soldiers turned up under a German officer. That German officer looked pretty vicious, but then walked up to my grandfather-in-law and said, “You don’t recognise me, do you? I used to be a waiter at the Charing Cross Hotel. I was a German spy and was sent there from 1900 to 1914. Then I went back and joined the German army, and now they’ve sent me over here in an intelligence role”. There was a certain amount of preparation by somebody at that time. The Germans were obviously making sure that they could protect themselves as best they could.
I have a few comments on how we are going. It is absolutely right that we should recognise the role of the Commonwealth; I have great respect for the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, and Indians and others who wish to be represented. For that reason we are accommodating them by having this first service in Glasgow at the Commonwealth Games. My worry is that it is the day after the Commonwealth Games. How many Commonwealth leaders are actually going to stay beyond the games? It is important if that service is in Glasgow—when others might have thought Westminster Abbey would be the obvious location for it—that a real effort is made to ensure that a good number of Commonwealth leaders are there. The vigil in Westminster Abbey with the turning out of the lights, which is to be replicated in churches around the country, must therefore have full support.
There are lessons to be learnt about the courage of our young men of that time and the appalling dangers they faced. It has been pointed out that there was no conscription until 1916, and I do not think any tribute to all those who went and served before that time, in full knowledge of the horror that they faced, could be too great. My noble friend Lady Williams said that we have learnt the lessons of history in 70 years of working together and that there is no risk of any war again. I look at the situation in Ukraine, which we have discussed before, and the risk of Russia perhaps seeking to expand its activities. We can never be complacent. We must always be alert. We must always use every possible form of diplomatic relationship, and must always be aware of how great the price might be if we were to get involved in conflict.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for introducing this important debate. I, too, have been very moved by the extraordinary accounts that I have heard of the First World War. I declare an interest. I make history programmes for the BBC.
In three days’ time, on 28 June, the world will remember the 100th anniversary of the shot which killed the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Franz Ferdinand, in Sarajevo. On Saturday, we will be able to feel something of the tension, with well known BBC reporters such as Frank Gardner and Bridget Kendall reconstructing news reporting and analysis of what the assassination would have meant in 1914. Over the next four years, the world witnessed a loss of life and destruction so dreadful that it has coloured our view of war for a century, as other noble Lords have said, and it will continue to loom over us for generations to come. Now, as we commemorate the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I, its time for us to reach a true understanding both of what happened and of what motivated the people who took part, and the politicians and the generals who led them.
We in 21st century Britain are confronted by seemingly endless military and political crises, many of which have their roots in the First World War. There are demands for our forces to be involved in Ukraine, Syria and Iraq as violence engulfs those countries. Our view about whether to participate is, of course, coloured by the experiences of our Armed Forces in the past decade and the subsequent outcomes. However, I think that our national psyche is also deeply scarred by the great horror of the First World War and the loss of so many lives.
The legacy of the world war has been polarised between a view of a horrific waste of life, one of “lions led by donkeys”, and the pursuit of a glorious war to protect the principles of democracy and world order as set out by the US President Woodrow Wilson to Congress in 1918. Only by understanding the history will we realise how much more nuanced were the events of 1914 to 1918 and the legacy of those years, and, as a result, how much more nuanced must be our response to demands on our nation to become involved in future military action.
At the outbreak of war, hundreds of thousands of men did indeed voluntarily enlist as a matter of principle. At the end of the dreadful four years, there was a terrible feeling of sadness across this nation. However, it was not really until the 10th anniversary that significant doubts about the justice of the war began to rear their heads following the death of Field Marshal Lord Haig and the publication of his letters showing the generals to be manipulative and political, a view compounded by the publication of Lloyd George’s memoirs. However, the popular disgust at the waste of the war was further ignited by the release of the film “All Quiet on the Western Front”, the author of the novel on which it was based having described a generation who,
“even though they may have escaped shells, were destroyed by the war”.
After that, the works of Robert Graves and the war poets were republished and bought in great numbers as the nation digested the implications of these testimonials, and determined that such horror should never be repeated. The view that the war had been a terrible waste—“lions led by donkeys”—had taken hold.
Now, in the coming four years, there will be a wonderful opportunity for us to look deeper at what really happened. Of course, we have this commemoration, which the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner, and many other noble Lords have talked about and which is the point of this debate. However, the BBC, the Imperial War Museum, local museums and local authorities have set up multiple projects about the Great War all over the country. Up until 2018, Channel 4 and every BBC radio and television network and many of the foreign language services are putting out hundreds of hours of drama, documentary and debate about the war. The broadcasts and research will be kept online, as a digital archive. Jeremy Paxman’s series “Britain’s Great War” aimed to set out what happened. The nuances of both sides of the war’s legacy were discussed, first by Professor Niall Ferguson questioning our involvement in the war, and then Sir Max Hastings explaining why we fought the war. Now, thanks to the Imperial War Museum, 700 interviews with people who served on the home front, the Western Front and even the Russian front, originally filmed in 1960 but only short clips of which were released, will now be put on the internet in full, so that we will be able to listen to them and understand their experiences for ourselves.
There will be a major drive to connect a younger generation, for whom this is obviously a distant and unknown war, with the great event. On 4 August, the anniversary of Britain’s declaration of war, there will be interviews on BBC Radio 1 with young men and women who are veterans of recent wars to explain the complexities of their experiences, both during military action and in the aftermath. Well known figures, such as the Bosnian pop star Rita Ora, will tell of their experiences of being in a war zone. The message will be that war is not black or white but has many shades in between.
My noble friend Lady Flather will be pleased to hear that thousands of soldiers from India and the Empire will be remembered. Radio 4 is launching a series called “Tommies”, which will use the diaries and accounts of the lives of the Asian signal operators to reconstruct their experiences as they moved not only around the Western Front but throughout many theatres of war, in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, setting up and maintaining communications. There is a history of the involvement of the troops from across the British Empire which is in production at the moment. Their sacrifice must be understood and not forgotten. By the end of the four years, the hope is that everybody in the country will have a renewed and nuanced understanding of the legacy of World War I and how it affects our view of the maintenance of world order. However, I suggest to the Minister that we should be even more ambitious in the use of this centenary. It could be used to discover new aspects of the war. We need to find out about the relationships between nationalism and globalisation and the role of religion in the belligerent countries involved in the war. Never have these things been more important with the great debates facing our country in the 21st century.
The Government have talked of £100 million pounds being made available for the commemorations, most of which, rightly, is aimed at increased understanding, especially among the younger generation. However, there is nothing available for new discovery or research. The Arts & Humanities Research Council has given six grants to universities to help understanding of the war in local schools, which of course is quite right, but none of that money has gone towards new historical research. There is an extraordinary project being put together at the University of Oxford and other universities across the world to establish an ambitious four-year programme of research into the global implications of the war and the effect of religion. British research students and post-doctoral fellows will work with colleagues from France, Australia and Germany to carry out new historical, international research. There will be workshops and papers from across the world, in what could be a “cenotaph of war history”. The French, German and Australian Governments are putting money into this programme, but at the moment nothing has come from our Government. It is woefully underfunded on our front.
In all this talk of understanding, should we not do everything we can to support a project like this, which will genuinely shine new light on to the First World War? As the Professor of War at Oxford, Sir Hew Strachan, one of the leading figures behind the project and the commemoration plans, said:
“We need to be surprised by what the centenary of the First World War throws up, not to dismiss the uncomfortable and unfamiliar. We must not be so caught by the rhetoric set by the war’s anniversary that we shut out the messages contained in the rhetoric of a hundred years ago, and so exclude what for us may be new insights and fresh findings. If we are open to the evidence in all its diversity and complexity we shall bring altered perspectives to the phenomenon that we call war, that are, sadly, likely to stand us in good stead as we travel through another century”.
My Lords, so many memories, so many dead. The question of my noble friend Lady Trumpington, however improperly asked, deserves an answer. Mesopotamia is an area watered by the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. It was the scene of an expedition headed for Baghdad, largely supplied by the Government of India under Westminster, with Indian troops but some British regiments, including the 4th Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment, in which my father served. Its central focus, from my point of view, was the siege and fall of Kut, in which trench warfare had all the horrors of the Western Front, plus regular flooding by the Tigris, plus starvation. The garrison was eventually starved into surrender, and horrible scenes followed for the other ranks, but we will not go into that now. The study of trench warfare and the warfare in that war is something that I find actively revolting, but it has not made me a pacifist.
I thank my noble friend the Minister for the very great service that he and his colleagues are doing for this country. It is very important that the commemorations are used for the right purpose. Like the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, I fear that there is a danger that they will be used improperly to glorify the heroic sacrifice of our ancestors. It was glorious, but it was also a terrible disaster. As I said, it has not made me a pacifist. The currency of war is death. War has changed its nature and is no longer a respecter of uniforms; the whole population of the country is involved. So much the more do we need to try to preserve life.
One thing that we can learn from that part of our history, and it is endorsed by many others, is that two things are necessary to prevent an aggressor delivering a threat. The first is to have sufficient power to make it apparent that if it was used it would make the implementation of that threat unacceptable to the aggressor. The second and equally important thing is that it must be clearly seen that our country must be ready and willing to use that power. The way to win peace is to be ready for war; the way to keep peace is to be ready to fight. I hope that that message will come through and that, when the sun goes down and we remember them again, that is also what they will wish to remember. It is a price that we must never again be called on to pay.
My Lords, I had not intended to intervene in this debate, but I am prompted to do so very briefly by the two speeches of the noble Lords, Lord Hannay and Lord Davies. They were brilliant speeches in many ways and I have tremendous respect for the debating power of the noble Lord, Lord Davies, and, indeed, for that of the noble Lord, Lord Hannay. However, I profoundly disagreed with their conclusion. Broadly, as I understand it, it was that if we had had the European Union at the time of the two great wars, we would not have had any wars at all. I think that that is an accurate representation. They were saying that a process of centralisation and consolidation would have saved us from having these wars. Arguably, exactly the opposite is the case.
I did not say anything of the sort and I do not happen to think that either. What I said was that we now have the European Union and that we should not turn our backs on it; I did not say that if we had had it before the First World War everything would have been hunky-dory.
I exonerate the noble Lord. I think that it is fair to say that the noble Lord, Lord Davies, did argue that point. Arguably, it is the exact opposite. The thing that caused the wars was the centralisation and determination of one nation—the Germans—and the individual sovereign states were those that created the peace, winning the war, and there was a lasting peace thereafter. So it was the exact opposite of what the noble Lord, Lord Davies, was saying. One has only to look at the American Civil War to see the effect of the process of forced centralisation and so on in terms of creating wars. I wanted to set the record straight on that, because that was certainly the impression that I got from the noble Lord, Lord Hannay—it was pretty well irrelevant to raise the question of the European Union in the context today, if he did not believe that it would have had some effect on history. I think that it would have been the opposite effect in the wrong hands, and I just want to put that straight.
My Lords, I thank all the speakers who have contributed to this debate this afternoon and evening. It has been a fascinating mixture of history, memoir, anecdote, expertise and analysis, and one of the best debates in which I have participated since I have been in your Lordships’ House—and I am sure that I was not alone in feeling a prickle of tears behind my eyes when we listened to one or two of the stories, which brought the reality of what we are talking about very much into the Chamber.
On that point, the Library Note we received, which was very full and detailed, mentions that there are a number of organisations within Parliament dealing with World War I—the Great War, as we should call it—such as a Member advisory group, and House activities planned for the period August 2014 to November 2018, including, as I understand it, short videos that might be going up on YouTube. How dramatic is that and how modern are we becoming in this House? If that is the case, would it not be sensible to pick one or two of the people who have spoken today, if they are willing, to record for a wider audience—as the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, suggested—the points that have been made here, which have been so powerful and will not come across so well in print? If that happens, the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, will be able to provide his props and wave them around to his heart’s content, and the noble Lord, Lord Laming, will be able to bring his medals out of his pocket and show us what they were about. It seems to me that we have more to come, perhaps from our own resources. This has been a very effective debate in terms of what this House can do, bringing together the knowledge and experience that we have. Indeed, there are some who have not spoken whom we would also like to hear from, such as my noble friend Lord Morgan, who has written extensively on this period.
As many noble Lords have done, I thank the Minister for introducing the debate and getting it on the Order Paper and for outlining so clearly the various programmes that will be rolled out over the next four years. He focused on education, youth and remembrance, which is a good triumvirate of ideas. I do not think it moves back into nostalgia and other concerns that have been mentioned. As far as I have seen from the programmes published by the DCMS and the BBC—we heard a bit about them from the noble Viscount—and the City of London, which today circulated a very full programme of activities across the City, these will be a very great and useful resource in years to come. However, as many noble Lords have said, it is really important to get the tone and content correctly nuanced—to use the word of the debate. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scott, suggested—correctly, I think—we must ensure that we commemorate the losses and the sacrifices but not the war itself.
Of course, there is no doubt that the First World War changed Britain for ever. In many ways, it marked the true beginning of the 20th century and set events in motion that would shape people’s lives for generations to come, as we have heard. It was a conflict that touched every family, affected every community and fundamentally altered our country’s place in the world. It is extraordinary to think that it took the lives of 16 million soldiers and civilians across the globe, including 900,000 servicemen from Britain and the Empire. The centenary anniversaries this year and over the next four years provide us with an important moment to pay tribute to their service and sacrifice.
The commemorations will probably begin this weekend because this Saturday, 28 June, people all over Britain will be marking Armed Forces Day, showing support for our brave service men and women and remembering the contribution of veterans in past conflicts. As we have heard, by coincidence, this year that date is the 100th anniversary of the shooting of Archduke Franz Ferdinand—the day when the assassination of one man by a Serbian nationalist plunged the world into conflict. As we get to 4 August, the actual anniversary of our declaration of war—which, it is important to note, was made by the British Empire, not just by Britain—there will be events across the country, as we have heard, and I am sure they will be very evocative.
As we approach the centenary commemorations of the Great War, it is important that we remember the war itself for more than just the industrialisation of death that it brought with it. As several noble Lords have said, the war had a profound effect on modern Britain, and it is important that we seek to understand, reflect on and learn from the wider social changes that occurred over this tumultuous period in our history.
As my noble friend Lady Howells, the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, and others have drawn our attention to, the British—and Empire—Army that fought the First World War a century ago had more in common demographically with the Britain of 2014 than the Britain of 1914. The contribution of the Indian subcontinent and the West Indies, as well as the other parts of the Empire, has not been sufficiently well recognised and I hope that this can now be rectified. This is important because it underscores some of the most important reasons why we have a multi-ethnic Britain in 2014. As a narrative, it does more than just explain the facts of our imperial past; it speaks to a very early contribution by many ethnic groups to our country and is an example of a powerful shared history that can help us understand why modern Britain functions as well as it does.
The Empire soldiers made several decisive contributions in a war which could have been won or lost by either side in 1918. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord King, mentioned that many academic historians argue about whether or not the war on the Western Front might ultimately have been lost without the contribution of the Indian Army. Those encounters had an impact on the Empire as well. The war transformed national identities in the dominions in ways that resonate powerfully even today. It also began to shape emerging arguments among independence movements in the colonies, although it took a second world war within a generation to play the decisive role in dissolving the British Empire and transmuting it into a Commonwealth of Nations.
I was very struck by the contributions of the noble Lords, Lord Trimble and Lord Rogan, and the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman. It was very helpful to get a sense of engagement from those who are much closer to Ireland than many of us and an understanding of some of the ways in which the Irish contribution was made. The record now shows that there was a significant contribution and a sacrifice willingly made. We ought to think harder about that because it is not something that is much talked about. I am glad that they made their contributions and allowed us to do so. I spent some time in Ireland and I am conscious of the contribution to what I think is a change of mood that was made by the recent visit by Her Majesty the Queen to the Republic, which made a huge impact and is still being talked about today.
We should also not forget the artistic and cultural impact that the war had in Ireland. Those of us who have been lucky enough to see “The Silver Tassie”, Sean O’Casey’s interesting and prescient play, recently put on by the Royal National Theatre, will recognise the same currents of thought that we have heard in this debate from those who have quoted Sassoon, Owen and the other English and Welsh poets who contributed so much to our understanding of what it was like to be in the First World War.
There were 16,000 towns and villages across Great Britain in 1914, but only 40 of them across Scotland, England, Wales and Ireland would reach 1918 without having lost someone in the conflict. Every community has its own story to tell of loss and blighted lives as fiancés and husbands did not return. Moving forward to the present day, our country’s deployment in Afghanistan has now lasted more than three times longer than the First World War; 453 servicemen have died and we have felt the pain of every one. It is hard to imagine now what it must have been like to live through a conflict where around seven times that many soldiers would lose their lives each week, or to appreciate how much of a scar was left on the country by the first day of the Battle of the Somme on 1 July 1916—a beautiful summer’s day, by all accounts—when 20,000 men were cut down before nightfall.
If we want to commemorate properly the First World War—if we want to do justice to the memory of those who lived through it 100 years ago—those commemorations cannot be about just those who fought and died on the front line. We also have to remember the heroes on the home front: the miners and factory and railway workers who kept our country going; and those who worked the land and cared for the wounded. This could not have happened if women had not taken on the jobs that had previously been seen as the preserve of men. An additional 800,000 women took up jobs in industry; 1 million were employed by the Ministry of Munitions alone; some 400,000 women found work in offices, and another 200,000 in different branches of government. As a result of that and many other changes, our society became much less deferential, readier to challenge authority and more multicultural. The changes meant that the extension of the franchise, fought for by suffragettes and suffragists in the run-up to 1914, became irresistible by the end of the war—a very good thing.
It is customary when winding up for the Opposition in debates of this type to either lay into the Government for their failings on the topic of the day or to list a series of very tricky questions, which we have worked on for hours and hours, aimed at unsettling and unseating the Minister—I am giving away a secret about how we do it—but I do not intend to do that. This is partly because so many noble Lords, such as my noble friend Lady Crawley, have expressed direct gratitude to the Government and the Minister for what they are doing in this commemoration, partly because of the emotional intensity of so many of the contributions—rightly so in view of the extraordinary losses that we have been talking about—but mainly because the Government, who have been in listening mode, have got the tone and content of this commemoration correctly nuanced, and I am delighted to be able to congratulate them on that.
My Lords, this has been an extremely moving debate and it is the greatest privilege to respond to it. The personal recollections of my noble friends Lord Jenkin of Roding, Lord Trefgarne and Lady Seccombe of their fathers, the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Swynnerton, of his mother and my noble friend Lord Lyell and the noble Lord, Lord Laming, of their grandfathers, have been most affecting. The noble Lord, Lord Laming, spoke of the war’s impact on the whole lives of those who returned, its impact on those who lost loved ones and, indeed, of the debt that we owe to that whole generation.
The Government have been very well served by the First World War advisory group. Of the eight noble Lords who are part of that group, I particularly want to mention, as they are in their places today, the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, and my noble friends Lord King of Bridgwater and Lord Wallace of Saltaire. However, I am extremely grateful, as I know the Government are, to all those who have served on the advisory group.
I want to address the point raised by the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty—namely that the tone of what we are seeking to achieve is crucial. I assure the noble Earl and all your Lordships that the most intense care has gone into ensuring that the tone is not at all nostalgic. That is not a word that I have identified in any of the programmes that I have seen. It is important to say that.
My noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire took forward an initiative last year to ask current Members to speak of their families’ involvement in the war. Some 130 Peers have so far responded, with replies still coming in. This will be fed into Parliament’s own plans to commemorate its role, and that of its Members and staff, during the conflict. My noble friend Lord Selsdon gave a further personal insight into this initiative. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, that so much of the personal knowledge and experience of today’s debate should be captured. Indeed, the parliamentary choir, to which my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford referred, is embarking on an exchange tour with the Bundestag choir, and we look forward to seeing other parliamentary collaborations during the four years of commemorations.
It is clear that many noble Lords wish to see the programme reaching into every part of society and every part of the United Kingdom. I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford for paying such a special tribute to the soldiers of Wales. Indeed, I think that my noble friend Lord Trefgarne will also be interested to hear that the engagement at Mametz Wood is being specifically recognised by a Welsh National Opera production as part of the 14-18 NOW cultural programme.
It is also increasingly evident that there is immense and wide interest in the centenary across the country, and a thirst for knowledge about the war. The Government are taking an appropriate lead in enabling people to commemorate in ways that are most appropriate to them. Whether it is the sacrifices of small rural villages, such as Kineton in Warwickshire, about which my noble friend Lady Seccombe spoke so movingly, or the immense contributions of whole countries in the then Empire, such as the Battle of Neuve Chapelle in March 1915, at which the famous Jullundur Brigade of the Indian Army fought so valiantly, each is equally significant. I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, for all that she and others have done to ensure that a lasting Commonwealth memorial was erected on Constitution Hill. I very much endorse what she said about how much we owe to India for its contribution in the First World War as part of the Empire. Today, in a different world, we are facilitating British Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus’ coming together to mark the centenary of the latter engagement next year. As I said, we are also making funds available for the repair of war graves and memorials. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London and the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, referred to that. I also endorse what many noble Lords said about the extraordinary and devoted work of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
We are aiming to ensure that all organisations with a specific interest in the war, from charities to all three services, are properly represented at the 4 August events and at later national events. I reassure my noble friend Lord King of Bridgwater that acceptances for all three 4 August events are coming in thick and fast. I will ensure that he is informed about the tally of Commonwealth leaders when it is known. The same applies to representatives with whom we are working to ensure that people of all races and religions have opportunities to get involved in marking a war that had a pivotal role in shaping our country. I am particularly grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Howells of St Davids, for speaking about the great contribution of men and women from the Caribbean. As she rightly said, they stood by the United Kingdom and answered the call. She referred also to the “cup of kindness” concept. I will certainly look at the observations that she made about some of the projects that are being undertaken.
My noble friend Lady Seccombe and the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, spoke about the contribution of women. The empowerment of women was one of the most important ways in which the war shaped modern Britain. Not only did they enter the workplace as nurses, munitions workers and farmers helping to feed the nation, they kept communities going when the men were away and when so many of them were dealing with personal loss. I was struck by what my noble friend Lady Williams of Crosby said, and I well remember Testament of Youth, which had many references to my former school, Uppingham.
Women’s huge contribution helped bring about Votes for Women. I was struck by what the noble Lord, Lord Watson of Invergowrie, said, and think that it is right that this is part of how we commemorate the war. I agree with the observation of the noble Lord, Lord Hannay of Chiswick, that perhaps the war would not have happened if women had been at the helm at that time. On International Women’s Day, the culture department awarded the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry a £20,000 grant to aid its present-day mission; and the Heritage Lottery Fund has supported many local projects that tell women’s wartime stories, such as the digitisation of the British Red Cross’s volunteer women’s records.
There is indication of a huge level of interest in the war. The Imperial War Museum’s Centenary Partnership now links around 900 commemorative projects and events of all types, to which my noble friend Lord Shipley referred. Indeed, some 100 of these are wholly or partly about women, such as an exhibition on Women in Industry in the First World War at the Imperial War Museum North in Manchester. I pay tribute to the Imperial War Museums: they have risen to the challenges presented by the centenary magnificently and I very much look forward to seeing the new First World War galleries when they open next month following a £40 million investment.
Other national institutions are marking the anniversary too, from the National Portrait Gallery’s impressive World War I exhibition to the British Library’s new educational website. When I visited Bletchley Park last week I was struck by its plans for a fascinating exhibition on the role of British signals intelligence, which was in its infancy during the First World War, and to which my noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding referred. I mention also the National Memorial Arboretum’s events. Those of us who have seen “War Horse” will understand what my noble friend Lord Shrewsbury said. Indeed, at Park Lane there is a memorial not just to horses but to all animals that served during the war.
Many of the commemorative projects will have a cultural dimension. The noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, referred to the artistic programme planned to mark the Battle of Coronel, the Royal Navy’s engagement off the coast of Chile. I wish this Anglo-Chilean project every possible success.
My noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford mentioned Hedd Wyn. One of the Heritage Lottery Fund community projects will be in Snowdonia to honour the Welsh war poet.
With culture, we should also include sport. My noble friend Lord Shipley mentioned it; and I know that the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, will share my appreciation of the way in which the Football Association, the Premier League and the Football League have come together to create the Football Remembers project, marking the centenary of the Christmas truce in parts of the Western Front.
We are of course aware of the view in some quarters that the First World War was an “imperialist war”, but as I said, it is not the role of government to take a position on different historical interpretations. Our priority now is to honour the dead on all sides—the human stories of loss and trauma—and to recognise the undoubted impacts of the war on our country in so many ways. As part of this, we will of course be working closely with former combatant countries and with countries that may feel ambiguous about the centenary.
I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, for referring to the assistance received from the Chinese. I was struck by what the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Swynnerton, said about the Russians, Americans, Italians and French. I should like to refer also to the people of Belgium, who were occupied for so much of the war. It is also appropriate to mention that we are working with all those countries, and my honourable friend Dr Murrison—about whom many have spoken with gratitude—has had constructive dialogue with his Russian counterpart.
My noble friends Lord Trimble and Lord Bridgeman and the noble Lord, Lord Rogan, spoke powerfully and movingly about the great Irish contribution to the war effort. A common understanding of the 1914 to 1918 war is developing on both sides of the border, and the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach’s visit to the Western Front battlefields in December last year illustrates the theme of reconciliation that will shape co-operation between the two countries during the centenary and beyond.
My noble friend Lord Elton and a number of other noble Lords mentioned Mesopotamia. I think that your Lordships will understand that, given the general political situation there, it will be difficult for there to be commemorations of the siege of Kut at this time. However, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission has produced a two-volume roll of honour listing all the casualties buried and commemorated in Iraq, including the dead of the First World War who lie in the Kut war cemetery.
What will be happening beyond 4 August? The events of that day will be a wholly appropriate way in which to launch the centenary. However, they are only a beginning. The war lasted over four years and the real impact on communities, both here in the UK and abroad, played out across those years. The Somme, Jutland, Passchendaele and other battles of which we will mark centenaries are burnt into our national consciousness.
One of the Government’s priorities has been to co-operate with the Australian, New Zealand, other Commonwealth and foreign Governments, and this will continue as we work together to ensure that the tragic and heroic Gallipoli campaign is appropriately marked next year both here and in Turkey. My noble friend Lady Suttie mentioned Hawick and the scale of its losses at Gallipoli. This was also remarked on by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London in his reference to countries of the Empire, now the Commonwealth, and the national tapestry whereby those countries are so much part of our lives today.
The Government will be maintaining a steady drum beat of projects and events right up to November 2018, and there are very good reasons why we have chosen to mark specific anniversaries. Marking Gallipoli allows us to mark the immense contribution made by servicemen of what is now the modern Commonwealth. Jutland was one of the Navy’s biggest engagements of the war, and I know that the noble Lord, Lord West of Spithead, has a particular interest in this. We will be making an announcement about locations and logistics as soon as possible. Arguably the Somme, to which the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Stamford, referred, was the war’s most infamous land battle.
I quite understand why the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, was not in a position to remain in the Chamber, but I thought that his extraordinary speech about the bravery of two former colleagues of his was spoken by an extremely brave man himself.
Passchendaele gives scope to portray the extreme conditions in which the men of both sides lived, and Armistice Day allows deep reflection on the war as a whole, and its dreadful cost.
Regimental events will mark a whole series of anniversaries, and we believe that the interest and engagement of the public will continue throughout. This will be sustained in part by the continuing programmes of school battlefield visits and Heritage Lottery Fund grants for local projects. It is of course open to those wishing to commemorate a particular centenary to develop a proposal and apply to the fund for support.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, for his words about nostalgia. I also want to reply to the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, and my noble friend Lord Elton. I would be extremely worried indeed if nostalgia played any part in what was a horrendous war. As my noble friend Lord Shrewsbury expressed so strongly, the whole purpose of these battlefield visits is to share in a humbling experience. I very much hope that the teachers and pupils and all who visit these battlefields will gain what I did on my visit: a belief that they are a reason why we must never have wars like this again. I believe that the horror of the sacrifice is what pupils will take back from their visits.
Broadcasters will be keeping up the momentum with a series of programmes over the four years. I acknowledge the exceptional range and quality of the First World War programming that there has been on both television and radio. I am particularly grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, for bringing this to the attention of your Lordships. BBC Radio 3’s excellent broadcasts only this week are but one example of the BBC’s remarkable contribution to the commemorations. I will also look into the points that the noble Viscount made about other research proposals, and perhaps I may get back to him separately.
The manner in which your Lordships have spoken today is proof, if any were needed, of the ongoing significance of the First World War in the consciousness of this nation. It was, alas, not the war to end all wars, yet it marked the start of the modern age—the time in which many features of modern British society had their beginnings of roots. It was a war in which a majority of British citizens, and vast numbers living in the Empire, now the Commonwealth, knew death and suffering as never before. As the noble Lord, Lord Watson of Invergowrie, said, it was the first war that affected civilians greatly through air raids, the shelling of coastal towns and attacks on the Merchant Navy. It was a war marked by extraordinary acts of bravery among the horrors of it. It was a war whose memory continues to toll a mournful bell through our cultural memory, in poetry, arts and literature.
I particularly want to emphasise to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scott of Foscote, that at no moment has the word “celebration” been used or thought of in our deliberations.
I was very struck by what my noble friend Lady Suttie, the noble Lord, Lord Watson of Invergowrie, and the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, said regarding their relations never speaking about the war. It is perhaps appropriate to mention that it was only when I had to give an address for a cousin and did my research for that speech that I discovered that he was a doctor who landed 45 minutes after the first landing on the Normandy beaches and looked after the wounded. He never spoke of it.
This will be a centenary in which the Government are giving a lead but which is owned by us all. It is for all of us alive today to mark the extraordinary events of 100 years ago in a way that honours the dead, respects the bereaved and the wounded in mind and body, and pays tribute to the service of so many. I am extremely grateful to your Lordships for your support of the plans so far. I will continue to keep the House informed of the progress for the commemorations. I look forward to the active engagement of your Lordships as we move into commemorations that are respectful, inclusive and enduring.