Motion to Take Note (Continued)
My Lords, it is fitting to remember the 75th anniversary of D-day, not just because it was an amazing feat of arms by the allied forces involved but because it gives the nation a chance to honour those still alive who fought at the time, and to remember with everlasting gratitude the thousands who lost their lives making the supreme sacrifice or who have since died, some facing and coping with life-changing injuries.
It is sobering to realise that the deaths and casualties on each side were in the many thousands, each one a deeply personal tragedy for a family, a fiancée or a girlfriend. War is a brutal endeavour, no less so now than in years gone by. Today, individual families and partners still suffer and bear the same sense of grief and loss, just as much as those in World War II, but we have been saved the horrors of massive casualties because the nature of recent conflicts has been far more contained. Modern trauma treatments and rapid casualty evacuation have also saved hundreds of lives; in earlier generations, those people would not have survived. Modern medicine helps even the severely wounded to make remarkable physical recoveries. Sadly, success with mental illness is still elusive.
While it is fitting to celebrate the anniversary, it should be a celebration of an extraordinary allied effort in which all involved played their full part. It irritates me to see claims that either the Americans or the British made the greater contribution to D-day. It was not a football contest with one team scoring more than the others. All the many nations involved, including the Commonwealth, the colonies of the day, the Free French and other Europeans, were playing a team game together. To claim that more troops were put ashore, more attack missions were flown or more barrages were fired from ships as a means of arguing who did the most on D-day is ridiculous. Normandy was not the only theatre of war in 1944; all allies were engaged in fighting elsewhere as well as in France. It was a collective effort to which all contributed massively, not least in blood and treasure.
Like other noble Lords, I have been involved in events helping to mark the 75th anniversary of D-day. Last Saturday, I formally opened a special heritage event at Langham, near Blakeney, in Norfolk. A small, dome-shaped building was the centrepiece of the event. It was used to train anti-aircraft gunners in how best to shoot down enemy aircraft. Indeed, more than 40 of these secret trainers were built during World War II. After the war, they were all decommissioned and almost all were bulldozed into hardcore for new motorways or building sites. Although a listed building, the one at Langham was just left to decay. It escaped the bulldozers, slowly deteriorating as all neglected buildings will do.
Then, in 2010, a group of enthusiasts, recognising the historic value of this near-unique building, raised funds to refurbish it to its original role as an anti-aircraft trainer. However, they did much more. The building is now a speciality museum and visitor centre, recording and demonstrating not only its trainer role but a host of information and displays about the Royal Air Force, the airfield at Langham, and the Royal Australian Air Force and the Royal New Zealand Air Force squadrons of coastal command, which were based there in 1944, operating mainly against enemy shipping off the coasts of Norway and Holland. There is information there about individual Australian and New Zealand aircrew. Many had travelled from home via Canada to train before joining their national squadrons at Langham. There is information about the loss of life and the deaths of more than 150 aircrew from this one airfield. Many have no known grave but are remembered on the memorial at Runnymede. Others lie in graves in Norway, Holland, Germany or this country. One is buried in Sweden.
All this information, and the information about the subsequent Cold War use of the airfield until it was closed in 1958, gives a most interesting and telling account of Langham’s war. What particularly impresses me is the effort to tell the story of those years with contemporary touch screens and other devices in ways to interest and attract all ages. Special efforts have been made to excite and engage the interest of the younger generations. As the Friends of Langham Dome team say, they want to make it clear to all what fathers and grandfathers—indeed, mothers and grandmothers too—did then to ensure that we live in peace and freedom today. This mini-museum and visitor centre has just been awarded the exclusive and prestigious Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service, and the unique facility has been much praised on social media, TripAdvisor and the like. If your Lordships are ever on a visit to Norfolk, spare an hour or two to visit the Langham Dome; you will be impressed.
Many other venues and imaginative schemes about this period in our nation’s history are to be found all around the country. Their great achievement and attraction is to help to bring life to history, to explain and pass on to today’s generations what their predecessors did and thought and felt. As a mark of respect for all those who fought on D-day, these efforts deserve universal praise and support.
My Lords, yesterday, I was at the celebration of the life and contribution to humanity of Kofi Annan. Tomorrow, as a freeman of Portsmouth, I will be at the D-day celebration. In my view, there is a strong connection. Within two years of D-day, the great UN international conference at which the first Secretary-General was appointed was taking place across the road in Central Hall.
I was a boy during the war, growing up in south London on the edge of the North Downs. I vividly recall the outbreak of war, the unfolding saga of Dunkirk, the Battle of Britain, which could be seen from our back garden, and the Blitz; we could clearly see St Paul’s, majestically standing there amidst the smoke and flames of burning London, from our attic. I was at our local village school, barely two miles from Croydon Airport, which, as a fighter base, was constantly under attack. I can still hear the wailing sirens and the anxiously awaited all-clear in my mind. When the sirens sounded, our teachers would quickly lead us into the deep shelters. They were wonderful; they led us in singing and reciting times tables and generally distracted us from the noise of the bombardment above. Through all this, the Union Jack flew undaunted in our playground. The all-clear would come and, as I recall, we would run home for some lunch with our teachers’ stern words in our ears, saying that if another siren sounded on the way home, however short the distance, we had to go into the nearest shelter.
Around all this was the constant threat of invasion. There, in the south of England, it was a matter not of if there would be an invasion but of when the invasion would come. On our local golf course and green spaces around us, there were concrete blocks to hinder gliders. We were on the edge of the Downs and my mother—out of character, in many ways—kept an axe at the foot of the steps down to the back door. She said, “I’ll have a go if any German appears”. We all laughed after the war and found it funny that she never thought a German would have the audacity to come to the front door.
Late every night, the BBC used to play the national anthems of every occupied country in Europe. It really meant something to us all. My father had fought with the Italians in the First World War, and I remember the real joy in our family when the Italians broke with the Germans and changed sides.
Then came 1943. I remember the defiant spirit: “V for Victory” signs up everywhere. There was talk everywhere about when and where the second front would open. As we cycled around the North Downs in early 1944, we became aware of the tremendous presence—even on the North Downs—of the allied and British troops. In every copse and wood, under every gathering of trees, vehicles and equipment would be parked. The soldiers were very friendly to us and became heroes in our estimation. I remember that when the battle really started we were all terribly concerned about how many would be killed, lost or taken prisoner.
Our local mental hospital had been transformed into a military hospital and was being prepared to receive severely wounded casualties straight from the front—driven up from their point of entry in Sussex or Hampshire in converted Green Line coaches, I recall, for the attention they needed. The community used to gather outside the hospital and cheer as the coaches arrived. I can still see the nurses at the windows of the coaches waving to us.
The anticipation was intense. The relief on D-day, obviously tinged with real anxiety, was terrific. I believe those brave and courageous young men—assembling over that period and then gathered, encamped, on the beaches of Sussex and Hampshire—should be central to all our considerations in this debate and the affairs of tomorrow. Imagine their feelings, their emotions: excitement, yes, but also obviously fear, knowing that within hours thousands of them would be dead, lost or maimed. That is real courage, rooted in reality. Indeed, some of their officers—in the paratroopers, for example—had told them they had only a 50% chance of survival. We should think of them and what we owe them above all tomorrow, whatever the distractions.
There are so many other lessons, but I will mention just two. One, of course, is the need for strong, firm, courageous leadership. The other is that we always achieve more when we have a clear objective and are co-operating together selflessly in the interests of the community as a whole. That lesson came home to me clearly as a youngster and, I must admit, has done a great deal to shape my political career.
The other point that came home to me was the indispensability of international co-operation. We have heard in various speeches—there have been some very good speeches in this debate—about all the countries represented, not least the Free French but also the Poles and the rest. International co-operation was so essential. Then, after the war, we decided that we never wanted it to happen again and that we must have the institutions to make it impossible. I have never understood why we in Britain have not overwhelmingly seen the argument that, while the European Union may have had all sorts of economic and other manifestations, it was about building peace, stability and security in Europe because we did not want these things to happen. I believe it is a tragedy that we have turned our backs on that when we remember those young men assembling on the south coast.
My Lords, I welcome this debate, the opportunity to make a short contribution to it, and the noble Lord, Lord Judd, for getting the energy back into it. I am still getting used to the customs of the House, but I think it is a shame the debate was subject to an interruption; I am sure it was for a good reason, but it is lost on me.
As the debate so far demonstrates, many want to recall the historic importance of D-day, the scale of the endeavour, the context of the time and particularly, as we have just heard, the bravery and fortitude of those who took part. I come from an old and proud regiment, the Green Howards—now part of the Yorkshire Regiment—and we featured significantly in the D-day story. The 6th Battalion that landed on Gold beach early on D-day itself made the most progress of any unit of any nation on that day, reaching the small village of Crépon. We have a fine regimental memorial in the middle of Crépon: a statue of a soldier sitting down, looking exhausted, having a smoke. It is a great place to go. En route to Crépon, the sergeant major of B Company, Stanley Hollis, earned the only Victoria Cross awarded on the day for repeated acts of bravery. He is still remembered as probably our greatest regimental hero, as much for his humility and quiet demeanour as for his remarkable example. He is also remembered because D-day does not feel so very long ago, particularly to the officers and men I grew up with, many of whom were, or served under, Normandy veterans and could tell first-hand tales.
My thoughts today are more about the lessons that D-day holds for us—particularly, why did so many countries have to pay so much in human terms to re-establish peace, stability and freedom? Do we take peace, stability and freedom too much for granted today? My strongly held view is that the United Kingdom has become somewhat complacent about its defence—not about its security; the two are different. Indeed, as a society, if anything we have become far more sensitive to the so-called novel threats of the age, which are, in truth, largely a reflection of the relative weakness of our enemies. These novel forms of conflict—so-called—such as cyberattack, disinformation, proxy-terrorism, hybrid war, political assassination and fake news are the asymmetric tactics of the weak; they do not represent existential threats. They are not the true wars of our time; they are security challenges which breed a wholly understandable societal anxiety.
To me, the lesson of D-day is that we should guard against complacency about our national defence—a complacency borne of the forgetfulness that peace and stability are not naturally occurring. They have to be earned, paid for and, occasionally, fought for. People need to remember that, to a large extent, armed forces are built on an expensive paradox: the better they are at fighting wars, the less likely it is they will have to. Most importantly, as many have said, the more like-minded friends you have, the safer you are far more likely to be. Security challenges, I fear, are the natural symptoms of a restless and dynamic planet. Strong and collective defence is what keeps them in that perspective. D-day should remind us of that.
My Lords, like other speakers this evening, I am most grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Howe, for bringing this debate and giving your Lordships the opportunity to reflect on D-day, to think about what happened in our past, where we are today and where we may go in the future.
Past, present and future are what the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Houghton, has just been talking about, and in many ways that is what is so important at a time of an anniversary. We could simply look back and be mawkish about the past; we could reflect simply on the history books; we could say that that was another country, and we did things differently then. There was a touch of that in at least one of the speeches this evening.
One of the key things to remember about this anniversary and the commemorations this week, and the anniversaries and celebrations five years ago on the 70th anniversary of D-day, as well as the four years of anniversaries we had to commemorate the First World War is that they provide us with opportunities to commemorate the acts of sacrifice of so many, so that we can live the lives we have in 2019. People can demonstrate outside the Palace of Westminster. We may not wish them to do that; we may feel that it is inappropriate to demonstrate against the President of the United States, but the sacrifice given by so many has enabled all of us to be free. For that, we can and must be grateful.
This has been an absolutely fascinating debate, and one in which if you are speaking towards the end of it, it is clearly foolish to write a speech in advance because everything could have been said, everything that I might have written would have been said and on this occasion could absolutely have been said far more eloquently by people who have been involved in the military or whose families have been deeply embedded. What we heard this evening were cases of deeply remembered sacrifice of families. We heard the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, telling us about his uncle being involved in a spy ring and reminding us that, even 75 years after D-day, we do not necessarily know the full history. It is not just a 30-year rule but a 100-year rule that applies in some cases. Even in 25 years’ time, when people celebrate 100 years from D-day, we will still be finding out more about the sacrifices made and about the activities undertaken at that time that are so crucial to our history.
What we learned this evening was about so much preparation. It was not just a day—people talk about D-day, and we are having a debate to commemorate it, but we already know that there were 18 months of preparations and three months of a serious battle. It was not simply a day. The sacrifices were made by so many—by hundreds of thousands of people who all came together at a point in time for us to remember.
The noble Lord, Lord Astor, told us of his uncle. The noble Lord, Lord Livermore, told us about his grandfather who had said that he was there on D-day but did not want to talk about it. How many more have felt that they could not reflect on what they had done, but wanted to lock it away? Yet, it is so important that we talk about D-day and about what our service men and women did. If we do not commemorate it or forget it, we are destined to repeat the mistakes of the past.
It is so important that we have such debates to talk about what happened and also to commemorate not just what British service men and women did, but what we did with allied powers. As the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, pointed out, so many Americans and Canadians were in the United Kingdom and fighting on D-day—helping to liberate this continent. We forget at our peril the importance of working with allies. In 2019, it is crucial to remember the relationship with the United States and with our Commonwealth partners—with the Canadians but also, as the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, pointed out, with the Indians who were fighting to ensure our freedom. It is absolutely essential to retain alliances and remember that one of the key factors of D-day was not simply the United Kingdom acting but the United Kingdom acting in collaboration and co-ordinating with allied powers.
Several Members have pointed out that, in the 75 years since D-day, we have created a whole set of international institutions that have ensured that the sacrifices of hundreds of thousands of young men—and some women—were not in vain, that we have been able to work in peace, and that those patterns of co-operation have become hugely important. We must not throw that away, and we need to think through not just what people did in the past but recall that their sacrifice was to ensure our future.
The noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, pointed out that it is not just those who gave up their lives on the same side as us who matter. Some of the co-operation and collaboration that we have in the 21st century are alliances with countries that used to be on the opposite side. The European integration process has enabled us to ensure that we work with Italians and Germans now not as foes but as friends. The legacy of the past needs to be overcome.
Perhaps the most important historical aspect of today’s debate, however, came from the noble Lord, Lord Reay, in his excellent and very timely maiden speech. I suspect that we may not have been listening quite so acutely if we had been hearing about rural broadband, but when he talked about his noble forebears and their important role in the Second World War, we all listened and we all pay tribute to them. We welcome him to this Chamber and look forward to his role here.
Today is about looking back to the past and to those who gave their lives, but also about paying tribute to veterans; those who will be at Portsmouth this week or travelling to Normandy thanks to the Royal British Legion and the War Graves Commission. Like my noble friend Lord Stoneham, I think it is important that we pay tribute to those organisations that ensure we remember—that we do not simply look to the history books to remember D-day but have the opportunity to visit museums and go to the beautifully preserved war graves. They are the living testament to what has gone before, the people who have gone before and the sacrifice they have made.
The lessons we heard from the noble Earl, Lord Howe, were of timing, weather and logistics. Much of D-day may now seem inevitable, but, as we heard, the timing was contingent on the weather. Logistics were crucial, as was working effectively with our partners, day by day, from 5 June onwards. It ensured that we in the 21st century have democracy, human rights and the rule of law as of right. Those values we enjoy, we share with the United States, the Commonwealth and our European partners and allies, and we must not lose them. As the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Houghton, said, we must ensure that we are not complacent.
We must pay tribute to not just our former service men and women but, as the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, said, to the serving Armed Forces as well. Just as in the 1940s, so in 2019 our armed services are vital to securing the United Kingdom’s peace and security.
My Lords, I thank the noble Earl, Lord Howe, for introducing this debate, and congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Reay, on his maiden speech.
I was going to read the excellent speech that my adviser prepared for me, but I realise that it is not valid. I have no relations who were involved in the Second World War; my father was a hospital worker throughout that period. Little bits of the story have been so well told this afternoon that I will limit myself to commenting on what came out of the quite extensive reading I did in preparation for this debate. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, for reminding me how useless it is preparing speeches.
The first thing that comes across to me is particularly relevant given the present visit of the President of the United States: the role of America in the 20th century, in particular its great President, Franklin D Roosevelt, and how he managed that presidency. The decision to enter the Second World War, in a country that had been isolationist for many years after its experience in the First World War, was enormously difficult for Roosevelt, who had seen that it was going to be necessary to gradually move to that decision. Fortunately for Europe, it was aided by first the Japanese at Pearl Harbor, and then by Hitler declaring war on America two or three days after that event—a tactical and strategic error of enormous proportion.
To me, there is no obvious reason why the Americans then committed themselves to a Europe-first strategy. They had an enormous threat in their own back yard—the Pacific—but they decided that the best way to face it was to commit to Europe. That commitment, not just in the Second World War but in the peace that followed and with the Marshall plan and the creation of NATO, has been the bedrock of the very privileged peace that we—particularly our generation—have enjoyed. When an unfortunate person, in my view, becomes President, we must not lose sight of just what western democracies owe to the commitment of Americans—both in blood and treasure—to that peace.
We also lose sight of the importance in this story of the Russians. Hitler once again helped there by not reading his history. Had he studied Bonaparte more carefully, he might have worked out that attacking Russia had never been a successful enterprise. But he did not do that, and he declared war on Russia. That drew the Russian people into the war, whether they liked it or not. One cannot do other than admire their enormous fighting retreat. The Germans got within artillery range of Moscow, but they fought back at enormous cost, in people and resources. By the time of D-day, they had stopped the advance at Stalingrad and effectively won that battle. The battle of Kursk, the biggest tank battle of all time, had taken place, and the Germans were effectively in retreat and devoting a substantial part of their military capability to the eastern front. D-day and the campaign that followed it would have been very different if the Germans had been able to focus their total military effort on the second front.
Today of course has to be a commemoration, but to a degree it also should be a celebration. D-day was one of the most brilliant pieces of logistics in all history. The bringing together of the resources—the men, the machinery, the supplies and the training, all working together to get the procedures right—was so successful; anyone who, like myself, was involved in bringing things together will know that. It was an exercise that was not, I am sure, on budget, but it was certainly on time. It is not an easy thing to assemble 2 million people, ready to attack. Things must have gone wrong, but the machine barely paused. The extremely clever, in-depth logistics had self-amending built in, so that when things went wrong they were corrected, and everything came together on time. It was also a magnificent example of co-operation, between nations and between senior people and those working at all levels of the machinery. There was interaction between the three Armed Forces—the Navy and the Air Force and the Army—and between those of different nations, coming together. It was a brilliant piece of logistics.
Sitting alongside it was an incredible deception. It started with the code breaking, but the security services were able to ensure that every spy that the Germans tried to infiltrate into this country was caught. As far as we know from the records, no German spy was successful in England. They were caught and executed or turned. The successful turning of those agents meant we were able to build this tremendous deception, which carried on many days after D-day—forces actually turned back to Calais again. The Royal Air Force made a brilliant contribution by dropping pieces of foil in its progress across to Calais which looked on the German radar as if there really was an invasion about to happen.
One of the few things that I know a bit about, having been an aviator, is the contribution of Group Captain Stagg. People do not notice how good modern weather forecasts are. If we think back, we would not believe it. We get a very good picture now of the weather about seven days ahead with only relatively minor variations. The world was nothing like that in 1944. There was not even an agreed allied way of doing forecasts. There was a very clear difference between the American view and the British view. Because of his eloquence and his ability to explain things, Stagg’s view prevailed. He and his team had one advantage. A book by John Ross states:
“The Allies had a much more robust network of weather stations in Canada, Greenland and Iceland; of weather ships and weather flights over the North Atlantic and observations by secret agreement from weather stations in the neutral Republic of Ireland … Those weather stations, in particular one at a post office at Blacksod Point in the far west of Ireland, proved crucial in detecting the arrival of a lull in the storms that Stagg and his colleagues believed would allow for an invasion on June 6”.
It had been a dreadful summer and the weather on 6 June was crucial. The invasion would have failed on 5 June or 7 June because of the weather. The next slot in terms of the moon, tide and those sorts of things was 14 June, when the worst summer storm for years destroyed one of the Mulberry harbours. The contribution of Stagg and his team would not have been easy. One has to admire Stagg, who would have had to stand up to considerable debate, and the bravery of Eisenhower backing him to go on 6 June that made it possible. I am just in awe that all these things worked. I wish things I have planned had gone so well and I bet that the Government do too—imagine if they could have done universal credit like D-day. But we put that to one side.
If I were of the age then I suppose I could have had a go at the logistics. If I had done the training I could have had a go at the meteorology. But I cannot understand the raw courage of those young men, many of them conscripts and most of whom had never been in combat before, who knew in the first wave that they may lose half of their people. I do not how they got into those boats or how they got out of the landing craft. I cannot look at myself and be sure that I could do it. There were very ordinary people who had the raw courage and selflessness to do it. It is impossible to express my awe and admiration for them and the leadership that made it a success.
We are commemorating and, as I said, in a sense celebrating D-day because it is crucial that we remember it. I am not a historian, but my vague feeling for the history of Europe is that, broadly speaking, over the last 1,000 years, Europe has either been at war, recovering from a war or preparing for a war. That may be a slight overgeneralisation, but the 70-plus years of peace that we have enjoyed since the Second World War is a very special period in European history. It is so dangerous to forget what it came from. We must remember how to avoid war. We must spend our time preaching that and of course deterring war. Commemoration is essential so I applaud the work of the Royal British Legion and of the Government in their co-operation in the commemorations. D-day and the subsequent campaign was a brilliant success. Things went wrong, but it was a brilliant success. It was born and persisted out of selflessness, courage, sacrifice and co-operation. If only we could show more of those qualities today, the world be a better place.
My Lords, it is a feature of your Lordships’ House that a debate of this kind is virtually certain to elicit contributions of the highest calibre from all Benches—not only for the wealth of informed comment and historical detail that noble Lords are able to lay before us, but equally for the elegance with which such contributions are delivered. So it has proved today. I thank all speakers for taking part in this debate, timed as it is to mark one of the most momentous events in the history of this country and that of many other countries around the world. The issues on which we are focused, it goes without saying, are not ones that in any sense divide us politically, and in recalling the events of June 1944 I believe that all of us have welcomed the opportunity to do one thing above all: to pay tribute to the men and women who served this country and its allies during a period of the Second World War that was so critical to Europe’s successful liberation over the weeks and months that followed.
I hope that I will not be contradicted if I say that no facet of the D-day story or the lessons to be drawn from it has not been touched on today by one or more of your Lordships. That leaves me to say very little. However, it is right that I highlight the themes that have so appropriately threaded their way through this debate, whether through the personal stories that we have been privileged to hear, as from my noble friend Lord Astor or the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, or the historical context of D-day, which many noble Lords focused on. A great many of the themes can be brigaded under one heading—the debt that we collectively owe to that extraordinary wartime generation.
We owe debts to our own forebears for their sacrifice and courage; to our friends and allies, not least the United States, as has been rightly emphasised, for its indispensable contribution to D-day and the victory that followed; to the countries of the Empire, now the Commonwealth, and to the veterans of those countries. We owe much, too, to some remarkable individuals: Churchill, of course, whose wartime leadership is today universally acknowledged, but other political leaders as well, such as Roosevelt and Truman. Inspired military leaders such as Eisenhower and Admiral Ramsay have been singled out but, of course, there are many others who have not been named today—and there are many, often, without names, such as the brave agents of the SOE and MI5. There is Stagg and the forecasters of the weather and, as was rightly said by the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, our war widows and the families truly bore the human cost of the war.
The debate today has enabled Members of your Lordships’ House to bring that whole time to life and to shine a light on those aspects of the D-day story that we should constantly remember, especially the human dimension: the men who fought and died, and their courage. Those who landed in Normandy to defend our freedom were the flower of the youth of the countries that participated. In some cases those young men were not yet 20 years old, as is evident from the age of the veterans who will be gathering in Portsmouth tomorrow and around whom the forthcoming commemorative events will be centred. These themes have brought an elegiac flavour to our debate which I am sure will stay with us as we go back to the safety of our homes this evening.
I shall answer one or two specific questions that have been put to me. I will be happy to meet the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley. The Government recognise the unique commitment that service families make to the country, and we remain sympathetic to the circumstances of those widows who remarried or cohabited before 1 April 2015. However, as I am sure the noble Baroness recognises, this is a complex policy area and it is taking time for us to consider as carefully as we need to the potential options within the constraints that inevitably bear upon us, but I assure her that we are working across government to find a solution. I look forward to talking to her about that.
I am happy to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Burnett, about the Royal Navy’s amphibious capability. While the noble Lord well knows that the Royal Navy no longer operates the same number of ships, I am sure he will acknowledge that today’s modern fleet delivers a strong and versatile service, with ships that are able to deliver more fighting capability than their predecessors and are better equipped to deal with the threats we face now and those we anticipate facing in the future.
It is right that this generation should do what it can to honour and commemorate the people who paid the ultimate price in the Normandy campaign. In that context, I again emphasise how much I welcome the work of the noble Lord, Lord Janvrin, and his fellow trustees, whose efforts will lead to the creation of a most dignified memorial to the British dead from those crucial months of 1944. From the designs I have seen, I can tell noble Lords that it will be a very inspiring memorial. The Government will continue to support the efforts of the trust in completing it, and I believe the commitment by the President of France jointly to inaugurate the memorial is indicative of its special place in the consciousness of both countries.
I shall also respond briefly to the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, who suggested that we should do more to honour all living United States veterans for our freedom as well as our own veterans. I understand the sentiment that lies behind that suggestion. Britain is perhaps parsimonious with honours. It is not our way to offer honours and awards so long after the event. After the First World War, we honoured the US unknown warrior with the Victoria Cross, and that was reciprocated with an American award to our unknown soldier, but that award was intended as an acknowledgement of the sacrifice of all the US servicemen who fought for freedom.
I shall, of course, write to noble Lords to whose contributions I have not properly responded, and I hope I will be forgiven for not mentioning the majority of today’s speakers by name. The noble Lord, Lord Brennan, like many other contributors, spoke warmly of the fact that the D-day landings and the Normandy campaign were an allied effort. The truth of that observation is undoubted, and it is reflected in the attendance of so many Heads of State and Government or their representatives at tomorrow’s event. That is our salute to their veterans as well as ours and to their extraordinary sacrifice.
To make a personal observation, I am particularly pleased that so many D-day veterans will be congregating in Portsmouth tomorrow. The noble Lord, Lord Livermore, referred to his grandfather’s reluctance to speak of his experiences. This is something that many of us have been told many times. Equally, we also hear that sometimes when anniversaries such as this occur those men and woman start to open up, often to their grandchildren or great-grandchildren, to relate their experiences.
As the noble Lords, Lord Livermore and Lord Hannay, and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, so rightly said, the issues at stake on D-day were above all about values. We have today been speaking of a time when Europe was not divided not just by politics but by steel, concrete and barbed wire. We are now in a very different world. Germany is now our close ally rather than the enemy it was on D-day. That is highlighted by the presence of the German Chancellor at the commemorative event tomorrow. The values that were fought for on D-day are the ones that we still cherish today.
Sadly, of course, we are now divided from one of our most important wartime allies, although that situation has fluctuated over the intervening period. As many noble Lords have said, we should never forget the contribution of Soviet Russia to the eventual victory in Europe. Thankfully, Europe is not divided in the quite the way it was even 30 years ago. The barriers that our veterans fought over 75 years ago remain only as a few historic relics. The barrier that subsequently spread across the middle of the continent has gone. I think we would all agree that no matter what our views are on the future relationship with the institutions of Europe we would not wish to see any new barriers erected. That could be seen as a real and lasting memorial to the efforts of the veterans and heroes whose exploits we are remembering this week.
House adjourned at 8.17 pm.