Motion to Take Note
My Lords, 75 years ago today, military forces in the United Kingdom stood poised to embark on the largest invasion—the greatest combined operation—in the history of warfare. I say “forces in the United Kingdom” quite deliberately because these were, of course, not only British forces. The largest elements of the armies that were to land in Normandy in the following days were drawn from American, British and Canadian forces, but other allied forces—in particular, from European countries whose homelands remained under occupation—also participated.
Among the first troops to land on the eastern flank of the invasion, as part of the 1st Special Service Brigade, were commandos of the Free French Forces. Naval vessels manned by personnel of the Free French, Polish, Royal Netherlands and Royal Norwegian navies formed part of the bombardment forces supporting the landings, and airmen from France, Belgium, Poland and Czechoslovakia, as well as from Commonwealth realms, operated with the allied air forces, providing cover for the invasion.
Of course, events in Britain and France were not the sole focus of military activity at the time. In Italy, allied forces had just occupied Rome, following the hard-fought battles at Monte Cassino; on the Eastern Front, our Soviet allies were preparing to launch Operation Bagration, one of the largest operations in an area where the numbers involved far exceeded those deployed in the West; in India, the siege of Imphal was drawing to its end; while in the Pacific theatre American forces were preparing to invade Saipan, in the Mariana Islands, as the next stage in their island-hopping campaign. This latter activity explains why the majority of the naval forces supporting the landings were operating under the White Ensign, rather than the Stars and Stripes.
However, it is of D-day itself—the landings on the coast of Normandy—that we speak today. This, despite the invasion of Italy in 1943, was the long-awaited Second Front, pinning large numbers of the enemy’s forces in western Europe and making possible a direct attack on Germany’s industrial heartland. The ultimate success of the invasion, in conjunction with the ongoing operations on the Eastern Front, is reflected in the destruction of Germany’s ability to continue the war and its end, in Europe, just 11 months later. Many noble Lords will be conversant with this history—indeed, there are Members of this House, although retired or no longer sitting, who themselves took part in those events—and I do not propose to rehearse the campaign in detail.
However, it is worth noting that there were very particular features of the campaign and the allied effort that have few, if any, parallels in our history. Although it is the anniversary of D-day itself that we are marking, preparation and training began much earlier and had a much wider impact. I will highlight just a few aspects. The accommodation and training of the large numbers of British, Canadian and American personnel meant the occupation of significant areas of the country and the evacuation of the civilian population from those areas. The most famous, perhaps, was the South Hams of Devon but many other areas became, in effect, closed, armed encampments.
The intelligence and propaganda efforts involved were remarkable. The story of Bletchley Park and Enigma, and the invaluable information that was provided to allied commanders, is well known. The tremendous effort that went into deceiving the enemy about where and when the invasion would take place, called Operation Bodyguard after a comment by Churchill that the precious truth should always be accompanied by “a bodyguard of lies”, is known in part—for instance, the story of Monty’s double—but some parts are still less familiar. The creation of a wholly fictitious First United States Army Group in southern and eastern England, commanded by the absolutely not fictitious General Patton, was intended to persuade the German high command that the real invasion was to be in the Pas-de-Calais. This deception was continued for several weeks after 6 June, until the general actually deployed into Normandy to command the American Third Army in July.
The last unusual aspect I would like to mention was the importance of weather forecasting. The invasion needed particular states of moon and tide times to offer the greatest chance of success. The original intention of General Eisenhower was that the invasion should take place on 5 June, in which case today would have been the anniversary of the start of the operation—indeed, 75 years ago today, some parts of the invasion fleet were already at sea and were recalled—but he was advised that weather on the invasion beaches would be so bad as to prevent the operation of landing craft. However, the RAF meteorological team had analysed the forecasts and predicted that conditions on 6 June would provide a suitable window. After much discussion, Eisenhower gave the order. This was particularly fortunate as in the next suitable period for tide, two weeks later, weather conditions were again so bad that the landing would have been impossible. The storm that took place completely wrecked the Mulberry harbour at Omaha beach.
This week we should speak not only of the past but of what we are doing in the present day. This 75th anniversary of the invasion is perhaps our last opportunity to mark such a significant milestone while we have a relatively large number of veterans still with us. Five years ago, when the 70th anniversary events were held in Normandy, we had about 400 British D-day veterans in attendance. The assumption was that this represented the majority of survivors. We were therefore surprised, although delighted, when the offer in 2014 by the President of France to honour all living veterans of the liberation with the Legion d’Honneur was met, within six months, by some 3,500 applications. In the years since, they have continued to come in—they are still being received—and we have now dealt with about 5,800 cases.
This year, we have significant commemorative events where, once again, our veterans will be centre-stage. We expect to have about 600 veterans present during the national commemorative event in Portsmouth and at events in Normandy. In Portsmouth, in the presence of Her Majesty the Queen and other world and European Heads of State and Heads of Government, those veterans from the UK and allied nations will form a thread of living history. The veterans and their memories are a direct link to the events of 75 years ago, and the assembled leaders will have the opportunity to hear directly from them.
About 250 of the veterans will then travel to Normandy on the “MV Boudicca”, a cruise vessel that has been chartered by the Royal British Legion, paid for by Libor funding, to take part in the events in Normandy on 6 June. I will have the honour and pleasure of joining the veterans for the crossing to Normandy, although regrettably I cannot stay for the whole week’s cruise that the veterans will be enjoying.
In Normandy, we will join the annual service held at Bayeux Cathedral and an event in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery. But perhaps the most significant event of the day will be the inauguration of the new British Normandy memorial at Ver-sur-Mer, overlooking Gold beach where the 3rd Infantry Division landed. I should like to pay tribute to Members of this House, in particular the noble Lords, Lord Dannatt and Lord Ricketts, who have played a major role in organising the creation of this memorial. It will bear the names of all those who lost their lives under British command from D-day through to 31 August, when the Normandy campaign was considered to be over.
I look forward to listening to the contributions of noble Lords in today’s debate, not least that of my noble friend Lord Reay, whom we welcome warmly to this Chamber. In conclusion, I should like to say to the House that we, who are fortunate to be living at a time when, despite other difficulties, we are not faced by mass war, should never forget the debt we owe to those who faced the dangers of crossing the Channel in frail aircraft and ships, and went ashore in the face of enemy fire to free Europe from the shadow of a tyranny whose like had never been seen before and, we can hope, will never rise again.
My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Earl, who put the Normandy landings so well in context. It is right today to mark the D-day landings and right to pay tribute to the meticulous planning of General Morgan and his team, based on Lord Mountbatten’s earlier planning. It was quite a feat—apart from the soldiers, the land forces—to organise 12,000 aircraft and 7,700 ships in the greatest amphibious operation of all time. It is right to recognise the success of the measures of deception and the work of Bletchley Park. Above all, it is right to salute the bravery of our air, sea and land forces. We should remember the sacrifice of so many lives, which will be commemorated in that memorial to be unveiled on Thursday at Ver-sur-Mer. With hindsight, of course, we can see hesitations, blunders and miscalculations, as shown by Antony Beevor in his perceptive Sunday Times article—but this happens in any military operation. Overall, the longest day was a total success; some say now that the victory was inevitable, but that is with the benefit of hindsight with 20/20 vision.
Paris was, of course, liberated by August. Casualties were severe on all sides. We should remember that 20,000 French civilians died in the fighting. They suffered then, and many also suffered as so much of the infrastructure was destroyed, such as the Seine and Loire bridges. The SS Division Das Reich came from the Mediterranean and up through France, wreaking havoc on so many French civilians, such as those in the Martyr village at Oradour-sur-Glane, the village of Dunes, and others. They left a trail of destruction en route to Normandy. There was so much destruction of towns—Caen, Saint-Lô, Falaise and Villers-Bocage. The terrain, the bocage landscape, the Normandy farmhouses, the hedgerows and the ditches were ideal for defence. Above all, it was, as the noble Earl has said, an allied victory. Nine countries provided ships and nine provided aircrew, apart, of course, from the land forces. Perhaps President Trump should be reminded of this triumph of multi-nationalism when he visits Omaha beach and sees that magnificent US memorial at the cemetery there.
At the risk of appearing self-indulgent, I have two personal memories to recall. In 1957, after sixth form, I worked for three weeks on a farm near Caen. Everywhere, there were still memories of the war, particularly the cemeteries, maintained so well by our War Graves Commission. I recall that in my village, the annual fete was preceded by a parade to the local British cemetery, where more than 200 men were buried. What struck me as a 17 year-old was that many of the men who died were roughly the same age as myself, perhaps a year or two older. I was proud to be invited by a group of villagers to head the procession with the French veterans, with their berets and medals. In spite of the deaths and enormous destruction in that part of Normandy, what was clear to me was that there was nothing but immense gratitude and good will among the people for the contribution of our British forces to the liberation of France.
Fast forward 50 years. I was taking a school party from my native Swansea around Parliament. Present was the head of the West Wales branch of the Normandy Veterans’ Association, Doug Gausden. When he saw in the Royal Gallery the memorial to Dunkirk, he remarked, “What about us Normandy boys?” I promised to do my best to remedy the omission. A year or so later, with the help of the then Black Rod, whose father-in-law I think took part in the landings, we had a ceremony with a piper to mark the gift from the West Wales Normandy Veterans’ Association of a casket made by a local woodwork teacher with sand from each of the five beaches: Omaha and Utah for the US forces, Juno for Canada, and Gold and Sword, our British beaches. That casket is still there to remind us of the 22,000 and more British men and women who died during the Normandy campaign. I hope noble Lords will visit that casket and reflect, as I have just done.
I cite these stories to give some small personal tribute to the veterans and those who took part in those Normandy landings 75 years ago.
“At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them”.
We will remember them.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a trustee of the Portsmouth D-day museum. I begin by thanking the British Legion for all the work it does with the surviving veterans of all our wars, and the War Graves Commission for its magnificent work maintaining the amazing cemeteries commemorating those who lost their lives on D-day and in all our recent wars.
I have lived eight miles north of Portsmouth for the past 30 years, having worked in Portsmouth for 10 of them. In the South Downs National Park, as it is now, most of the troops for Sword, Gold and Juno beaches assembled awaiting embarkation. Hardly a day passes when I am out walking in those fields and woods in my area that I do not think of the men, principally Canadians, who camped out, some for many weeks, and what kept them going. What were their aspirations and hopes? What happened to them on D-day? From looking at the graves in Normandy, as the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, just said, one realises how young they all were—18 to 20 seems to be the normal age—and how remarkable it was that they were prepared to give their lives to liberate Europe, where they now remain.
For Portsmouth, the centre of the planning and command for D-day, the anniversaries are always marked with great dignity and respect. Every principal anniversary seems to be bigger than the last. Not only do we honour those who died, we celebrate two things. We celebrate an amazing enterprise, a remarkable partnership of many nationalities, principally British, American and Canadians but, as the noble Earl, Lord Howe, said, also many nationalities in Europe whose countries were occupied, particularly the Poles. We also should celebrate the peace that determination and partnership have brought us for the past 75 years in Europe.
Looking ahead to the debate, with its great experts and speakers, I will briefly and modestly talk about three themes. First, I will talk briefly about a meeting that took place in the village I live in, Droxford, in the preparations for D-day. Secondly, I will say something about the amazing planning and logistics of the D-day operation. Thirdly, I will talk about the important legacy of D-day and its great international partnership, which should be how the young should understand and appreciate what was done in June 1944.
Droxford was, in 1944, a small rural village, which it largely is today, with a railway station and a small freight siding. On Friday 2 June 1944, a train carrying Churchill, Ernest Bevin and Field-Marshal Smuts arrived in the station siding. It is often speculated why Churchill came. Some think he was still trying to board HMS “Belfast” to take part in the invasion, others that he wanted to be involved in the final decisions on embarkation. Personally, I think it was his way of resolving the tension, stress and worry about whether D-day would be successful or a disaster. It was better to be out among the troops than worrying about them in London. He used the two days to visit the troops, see the embarkation, meet with Eisenhower—but not with Montgomery, who was fiercely opposed to his visit—and invite de Gaulle down to be told he would neither be leading nor going on the initial invading force.
It was not a happy meeting—a fierce argument ensued. Choosing a railway carriage for a meeting with a French general was not very politic. Telling de Gaulle this news in a crowded meeting, rather than alone, was not very tactful. Eventually, the argument exploded, and Churchill said that whenever in future there was an argument between France and the USA, the UK would side with the USA. It soured relationships for years afterwards and de Gaulle’s memory was one of the grounds for him refusing us entry into the EEC in the 1960s.
This was, though, very much an argument between Roosevelt and the USA and France. We were initially sidelined until it resolved in September 1944 when de Gaulle’s Government were recognised. It shows that even the best partnerships are not without divisions, arguments and disagreements. Perhaps we as a country have never resolved that conundrum of whether we should be closer to France and Europe or the USA, but perhaps it is always better to be involved with both sides of the Atlantic.
D-day witnessed many heroic actions and great bravery by all those who took part. Sometimes when the history of wars is written, it understandably concentrates on the battlefield stories and the developments there, ignoring the preparation, planning and build-up that gave victory to one side. D-day took many months and years to plan. The scale and logistics were incredible. There were no computers. Everything had to be planned manually and if those plans were changed, they had to be prepared manually again.
One man should have had more recognition for what he did: Admiral Bertram Ramsay, whose HQ at Southwick House was where the decision to go, eventually, was made. Probably because he was killed at the beginning of 1945, before he could publish his memoirs, he is more remembered for Dunkirk than the landings at Sicily, Anzio and those on D-day, which he brilliantly planned and organised. His statue is in Dover, but he needs more recognition in the Navy’s home in Portsmouth. We should recall Churchill’s comment: you cannot achieve victory through a glorious retreat. We should do more to remember Ramsay’s role in D-day and its success.
As we raise money for education at the D-day museum in Portsmouth, I try to think what D-day legacy young people should remember. It was a remarkable operation. People unselfishly gave their lives for freeing Europe; but I have to say, quietly and as unpolitically as possible, that this was a partnership where no country solely sought to follow their national interest. There was a wider international agenda and objective. America might well have sought to defeat Japan first if it had not followed Churchill’s advice and had the leadership of Franklin Roosevelt. It was certainly not an example of “America first”. The partnership set up for D-day succeeded and put in place the institutions that have kept the peace going in Europe for the past 75 years. As we seek to change these institutions, I hope we will make sure that we create sound and long-standing institutions before we destroy what we have. The young men who gave their lives and remain on the European mainland deserve that respect, combined with our ever-lasting gratitude.
My Lords, my noble friend the Minister briefly mentioned Operation Bodyguard and the deception carried out surrounding the D-day landings. I want to say something of the small number of courageous and imaginative MI5 case officers whose work underpinned the success of D-day. My late uncle, Hugh Astor, was one of the British MI5 operators who ran a group of double agents feeding false information to the German military intelligence and who the Germans believed were spying for them. An elaborate game of deception was implemented in which the aim was to trick Hitler’s generals into thinking that Normandy was not the main target, and also to try to understand the enemy’ plans and intentions. One of my uncle’s double agents was codenamed Brutus, who, together with Garbo, focused on this deception.
For all the Germans’ preoccupation with the approaching invasion, even though the allies were furiously preparing for it, they did not actually know where or when it was coming. German forces in occupied France would greatly outnumber the invading allies but if they could be kept in the wrong place, the numbers appeared less daunting. To dupe the Germans into thinking that the attack was going to take place at the Pas de Calais—the shortest route across the Channel—the operators set out to convince them that any landings in Normandy were a large-scale diversion. As the real army mustered in the south-west to attack Normandy, the allies created a mythical American army under General Patton, which boasted 11 divisions in Kent and was visited very publicly by King George VI. To support the deception, two fake corps headquarters maintained the constant radio traffic that would be generated by a real army. Dummy aircraft and inflatable tanks, together with 250 fake landing ships, all contributed to the illusion.
Crucially, the threat to the Pas de Calais would be maintained for as long as possible after the Normandy landings to ensure that the Germans did not send troops south to repel the real invasion, and half a million German troops remained in the Calais area until early July. Under my uncle’s direction, Brutus also sought to lure the Germans into preparing for an attack on Norway. A fake army was created in Scotland for a likely raid there, successfully keeping Hitler on high alert on a second front. At no point did the Germans redeploy their 250,000 troops from there.
My uncle was also the handler for a double agent, Bronx, who focused on the south-west of France. The Germans had substantial forces deployed in the Bordeaux area, notably two Panzer divisions. Once the Normandy invasion was under way, their tanks would certainly be deployed north to try to repel the allies. Every hour that the Panzers could be detained in the south-west would save allied lives. Amazingly, two weeks after the invasion, Bronx was still hinting at a looming second invasion in the south-west. As a result one Panzer division remained in position, defending it from an attack that never came.
The deception was built from myriad tiny fragments of carefully sown misinformation for the enemy to piece together. A great lie would be built up of snippets, gleanings and hints, some of them true. The work of these spies and their operators held a fascination for Winston Churchill, who described it thus:
“Tangle within tangle, plot and counter-plot, ruse and treachery, cross and double-cross, true agent, false agent, gold and steel, the bomb, the dagger and the firing party, were interwoven in many a texture so intricate as to be incredible and yet true”.
The codebreakers at Bletchley Park deciphered Nazi high command messages and revealed the confusion and disarray of the German troops before the invasion. By 1942 almost all the traffic of German intelligence services was being read, with more than 200 messages being decrypted every day.
From this trove of information, MI5 constructed a detailed picture of German intelligence; its personnel, methods, strengths and frailties. It knew who its enemies were, and what they were thinking. Amazingly, the allies controlled the German espionage network in Britain—every one of Hitler’s spies. Consequently, we could reinforce the misinformation being fed to the Führer and his generals. The invasion of Normandy came as a stunning surprise to the senior German commanders, who were not only unprepared but positively relaxed. On 6 June 1944, Rommel was at home, 500 miles away, lighting the candles on his wife’s birthday cake. Since this attack was assumed to be a diversion, it was not thought necessary to wake Hitler early that morning. As the Battle of Normandy raged, the Germans held fast, not to the reality, but to the illusion, so carefully planted and meticulously sustained. The failure to counterattack hastened the end of Nazi Germany. Once the allies were properly established ashore, the Germans were bound to lose in the end.
What do we know about these MI5 operators? They had an instinct for how other people thought and reacted to situations—they possessed empathy and imagination, in addition to a superior intellect. They had to tread a fine line between passing on accurate information and not giving away too much, which would imperil British interests. Lives were at risk. Every case officer was acutely aware that a single slip could bring the entire project crashing down, with catastrophic consequences. The Germans were constantly assessing and reassessing their agents, trusting and doubting them at the same time. Just as the double agents lived double lives, so each MI5 officer had to try to inhabit the life of his agent. With the stakes so high, handling them was an emotionally demanding and highly stressful business.
These MI5 handlers were real heroes. Their ingenuity, spirit and heroism were truly remarkable, contributing in no small measure to the success of D-day. The most ambitious deception campaign ever attempted saved thousands of allied lives and helped shorten the war. Their work remained secret for many years after the war and, under the 100-year secrecy rule, many of the files will remain secret until 2044. My uncle received no public recognition for the work he did, and he never mentioned his involvement until the very end of his life.
My Lords, I thank the Government for giving time for this debate and the Minister for introducing the subject with his customary touch and eloquence. I am also a member of the Normandy Memorial Trust, so ably led by my noble friends Lord Ricketts and Lord Dannatt. I will turn to the work of the trust in a moment, but first I will say a word about the importance of commemoration.
As someone who worked at Buckingham Palace for over 20 years, I have witnessed commemorative events large and small in every corner of the United Kingdom and in many countries overseas. I cannot recall a single one which did not strike a powerful chord of grief or loss, of loyalty or pride, of community heritage or a deep sense of national identity. These events honour historic occasions, places and people, but they do more. They set the present in the context of the past, to the benefit of us all: young and old, those with direct memories and others just trying to understand a little better the world about us. They teach and they explain a little more of what defines us.
So it is with D-day. Others in the Chamber today are more qualified than I am to remind us of how relevant the events of 75 years ago are to the world of today. I have appreciated the contributions so far and I look forward to those to come. We all need reminding, as RUSI’s recent YouGov survey of public awareness of D-day so dramatically showed. The epic story of that great military operation illuminates and explains so much of today’s world: the importance of the special relationship on show at Buckingham Palace last night; the importance of NATO; our endlessly difficult and complex relationship with the French and with Europe; and Putin’s ambitions for post-Cold War Russia. None of these can be properly understood without knowledge of this story. We are right to remember and to learn.
We are right also to honour the people who were there. The 75th anniversary is probably the last time that many Normandy veterans will make the pilgrimage to the beaches, honouring lost friends and recalling moments that defined their lives. It has been the ambition of many of those veterans, led by George Batts, the former secretary of the Normandy Veterans’ Association, to see a national memorial built to the memory of their fallen comrades. The Americans have a national memorial above Omaha beach. The Canadians have one above Juno beach. Although there are many regimental memorials in Normandy, there is no single place which commemorates all the British forces, and all those nationalities fighting under British command, who died in the D-day campaign.
The Normandy Memorial Trust was created in 2016 to realise the dreams of those veterans to build a British national memorial. Generous initial funding has been provided from the Government’s Libor fund. Help and support have been given by the Royal British Legion and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Land has been bought on the gently sloping hillside directly overlooking Gold beach, with the remains of the Mulberry harbour at Arromanches clearly visible on the horizon. A design for the memorial has been submitted to and approved by the French planning authorities. It will record in stone and in perpetuity the 22,442 names of all those under British command who lost their lives in the Normandy campaign. There will also be a memorial to honour the thousands of French citizens who lost their lives during the bitter fighting through the towns, villages and countryside of Normandy.
The start of the construction and the statue which will be the centrepiece of the memorial, as the Minister mentioned, will be inaugurated in a short ceremony on Thursday morning by the Prime Minister and President Macron. We hope that the memorial itself will be completed by the summer of next year, and there is then an ambition to raise funds for an education centre and other facilities. Of course, as the Prince of Wales, the trust’s patron put it, the memorial is long overdue, but it is not too late. We owe it to the remaining veterans and their families to realise their dream and to honour their comrades. We owe it also to future generations to remind them of the extraordinary contribution made by the United Kingdom in 1944 to the restoration of liberty, democracy and the rule of law to Europe. We owe it to ourselves to understand better today’s news agenda by learning from those momentous events of 75 years ago.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Janvrin. I will be quoting from a book, and there is a rather fuzzy photograph of him in that book. It is an honour to speak in this debate and to pay tribute to all the people, not only from our country but from our allies and friends, who made such a mighty triumph of Operation Overlord.
The mammoth task of preparing for D-day, including training troops for amphibious operations, started well over 18 months before the invasion itself. The principal allies—ourselves, the United States and the Canadians—used all the valuable intelligence resources available to us. It is true to say, as other noble Lords have, that the code-breaking capacity at Bletchley Park was vital in helping to secure victory in the war and certainly shortened it by a considerable period of time. Our ability to gauge the Axis powers’ deployments, strategy and tactics was invaluable. Furthermore, the assistance we got from the French Resistance and its ability to disrupt Axis forces was also extremely helpful.
There was so much planning and co-ordination for this huge amphibious operation. Months before the invasion we had reconnaissance troops deployed all over the north coast of France, from Calais to Brittany, engaged in beach reconnaissance in an endeavour to confuse the enemy as to the invasion destination. Nearer the time of the invasion, decoy models were parachuted into different areas. The organisation and co-ordination had to involve all the main allies, particularly, as I have said, the United States, ourselves and Canada. It also involved all branches of our Armed Forces: we had to retain air superiority to be able to bomb and strafe the enemy from the air and co-ordinate ships, naval gunfire support, landing craft commando, and glider pilot and parachute troops for the assault itself. In addition to transporting troops, tanks, armoured cars and other vehicles, fuel, ammunition, food, water and medical supplies had to be delivered. In sustaining the assault and getting reinforcements and the main body of the Army ashore, there had to be a system of landing, especially for heavy armour. The Mulberry harbours, an invention of genius, had to be towed to northern France and assembled after the invasion when the beachheads had been taken.
The House will know that the First United States Army landed at Omaha and Utah beaches, whereas the British and Canadian forces, comprising the Second Army, landed on Gold, Juno and Sword beaches. To gauge the massive scale and power of the initial result, it is instructive to look at the order of battle on D-day itself. The United States Army landed a division at Utah and two divisions, plus rangers, at Omaha. In addition to those forces, the 82nd Airborne Division and the 101st Airborne Division were dropped inland. The 3rd Canadian Division was landed at Juno beach, and the United Kingdom’s 50th Division was landed at Gold, with the 47 Commando Royal Marines. The UK’s 3rd Division landed at Sword with two commando brigades; the United Kingdom’s 6th Airborne Division was dropped inland. Over 150,000 allied troops were landed or dropped on D-day itself. This initial assault was on a massive scale that had never before been seen. The crucial reinforcement of the bridgehead in subsequent days was also of a magnitude unsurpassed in history.
It should not be forgotten that there were large Australian, New Zealand, French, Czech, Belgian, Dutch, Greek and Polish contingents, sometimes as many as a division in strength. The success of the operation and the work of the beach-masters and others involved in this operation was a triumphant achievement.
The United Kingdom Second Army was responsible for our initial assault and subsequent land operations. The commander of the Second Army was General Sir Miles Dempsey, a quiet but highly respected and hugely admired officer. To give the House an example of the intensity of the combat and the terrifying casualties sustained by the assault troops, I have chosen General Dempsey’s selection of 47 Commando’s capture of Port-en-Bessin as one of two D-day actions he considered especially outstanding. He wrote:
“The capture of Port-en-Bessin was vital for two reasons: firstly, it formed a junction point between the British right flank on Gold Beach and the American V Corps landing on Omaha; secondly, it was essential as the main terminal of our petrol, petrol being the life-blood of a modern, mechanised army”.
I am indebted to the late Professor John Forfar MC for his book From Omaha to the Scheldt, in which the noble Lord, Lord Janvrin, appears. Professor Forfar was the medical officer of 47 Commando and went on to have an equally distinguished career as a consultant paediatrician in Edinburgh. In a table in the book under the heading “Counting the cost”—this would include casualties that the unit sustained in the Scheldt some months later—63% of the fighting troop officers were killed in action and 75% of them wounded, giving a total of 138%. As to enlisted men, the total was 116%. Noble Lords might wonder how to get a figure of more than 100%; it is because the replacements and reinforcements were often killed or severely wounded as well.
One benefit of a debate of this nature is the chance to put on record our profound gratitude and indebtedness to the countless people from not only our own country but those of our allies and friends who were involved in this operation. We owe them all a debt of honour we can never repay.
Another advantage of the debate is the chance to emphasise the importance to this country of retaining and building on our amphibious capacity. In what I would loosely call the western world, the only countries with such a capacity are the United States—its amphibious capability is huge—ourselves and the French. Since World War II, the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines, often with Army and Royal Air Force ranks attached, have been involved in numerous amphibious operations, including the Korean War, Suez, Tanganyika—as it was—Limbang in Borneo, the first Kuwait threat from Saddam Hussein, the threat to Hong Kong in 1967, the Falkands campaign, operations in Sierra Leone, the invasion of Iraq and, the year before last, humanitarian operations in the Caribbean, as well as earlier operations.
In his speech at the Royal United Services Institute on 11 February this year, the then Secretary of State for Defence talked about the importance to this country of,
“increasing our global presence and building on our alliances”,
both east and west of Suez. Among other things, he stated:
“The UK is a global power with truly global interests”.
He talked at length about the “Littoral Strike Ship concept”, and praised the success of the Royal Navy and what he rightly described as our “world-renowned Royal Marines”. The point is that we need the capacity to retain these skills. Can the Minister confirm that the Government still have these aims? What exactly will they do to ensure that we continue to be able to mount amphibious operations throughout the world, with the necessary escort vessels, aircraft carriers and other vital support?
Finally, we should give thanks that we have had no western European war since 1945. I fervently believe that our membership of the European Union, with our European allies and friends, has made a great contribution to this ensuing peace.
My Lords, before I begin I offer an apology to several noble Lords, who over the past few weeks were led to believe—largely by me—that my maiden speech would address broadband connectivity in rural areas. It is an issue close to my heart, but I am happy to save that speech for another day.
I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Howe for introducing this important debate. How great an honour it is to participate and pay tribute to the allied troops who took part in the D-day landings. I thank noble Lords from across the House, who have been most welcoming and helpful during my initial few weeks, as have the staff and doorkeepers. As Mackay clan chief, I am delighted to join my distinguished kinsman, my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern. Some noble Lords may recall my father Hugh, who—like my grandfather, Shimi Lovat—served this House. I am proud to follow in their footsteps.
It is almost 390 years since my ancestor Donald Mackay was raised to the peerage. His was a doughty spirit, typical of the highlanders he lived among, and he loved a battle. Charles I was wise enough to harness rather than resist Donald’s energies, and he sent him and his men to fight overseas in the Thirty Years’ War on the side of the Swedish King Gustavus Adolphus. Thanks to their many victories, most notably at the pass of Oldenburg, Mackay and his men became known as the “Scottish invincibles”. I point out, however, that while Charles I was generous with titles, he was not so ready with his cash. The lack of payment for troops left Mackay in severe financial difficulties, from which he barely recovered. I trust a similar fate will not befall me as a result of my service to Parliament.
For several centuries the Mackay clan colonised Sutherland on the north coast of Scotland, an area of the country renowned for majestic scenery and excellent salmon rivers. It has recently become the prospective site of Britain’s first international space station. Large numbers of the clan were soldiers. Since it was easier in those days to travel to Scandinavia and the Netherlands by sea than to go inland, they fought abroad. Many married into Dutch families and one member of the family, Aeneas Mackay, became Prime Minister of the Netherlands.
The Frasers of Lovat shared a similar fondness for military adventure. Shimi Lovat was integral to the establishment of the Commandos in 1940, having been given the personal blessing of not only Churchill but the highly decorated General Carton de Wiart. The latter gave approval while reclining in his bath-tub, revealing World War I injuries including the lack of a hand and just one good eye—the other, alarmingly, uncovered. The Commandos played a key role during the Normandy landings. Lovat conducted his troops to Sword beach accompanied by his bagpiper, Bill Millin. When asked to pipe the men ashore, Millin hesitated, saying that the practice had been outlawed by the War Office. However, Lovat insisted that the Scottish war office had no such qualms. Years later Millin was to play at Shimi’s funeral. Aptly, Lovat’s Free French soldiers were the first to make land.
Five years ago, with about 100 Fraser relations, my family visited the Normandy beaches for the unveiling of a statue to my grandfather. Afterwards, at Pegasus Bridge, the wonderful Madame Arlette Gondrée, whose parents had played a prominent role in assisting the allied forces, hosted a magnificent lunch. It was at this scene on D-day that the Commandos achieved their primary objective of reinforcing Major John Howard’s Airborne Division. Café Gondrée remains a hallowed destination for Normandy veterans to this day. Since the liberation, as a token of appreciation the veterans have not been permitted to pay for food and drink. Unfortunately this generosity does not extend to relatives.
The amphibious assault on D-day and the ensuing two and a half months of battle to secure Normandy resulted in over 200,000 allied casualties. Some 2 million crossed the channel and 20,000 French perished, as well as over 200,000 Germans. Thankfully, out of this tragedy a more peaceful Europe emerged.
It is particularly important that younger generations are reminded about the courage and selflessness that was shown during this time to preserve our freedom and independence. As a nation we owe a debt of gratitude to the United States; likewise for the sacrifices made by their nation on our behalf. Having spent over 11 years in America at university, and working in the financial sector, I feel particularly strongly that the vital role the United States played in our support during World War II should not be overlooked.
I would like to conclude with the address that Lovat made to his troops in Southampton on the eve of the landings. He spoke first in English and then French, and ended as follows: “I wish you all the very best of luck in what lies ahead: this will be the greatest military venture of all time, and the Commando Brigade has an important role to play. A hundred years from now, your children’s children will say: ‘They must have been giants in those days’”.
Indeed, they were.
My Lords, what a privilege to follow that delightful speech of the noble Lord, Lord Reay, and an honour to welcome him to this House. It was a delightful, dignified and delicate speech, if I may say so, which is nothing less than we would expect from a noble Lord who is the clan chief of our own noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern.
I suspect it was always likely that the noble Lord would make an impact. He comes from a long line of Scottish lords, one of whom apparently was a legendary wizard who, having come out victorious from a clash with a local witch, was rewarded with a young gang of tireless fairies who liked nothing more than to work. I am not sure whether the noble Lord has that gang of fairies still at his disposal, but on the basis of that very fine maiden speech, we can all look forward to his tireless work for us in this House.
Earlier today, I had the great pleasure of showing some American friends round our Parliament—the former US Surgeon General, Admiral Richard Carmona and his family. I think they were impressed, particularly with the Royal Gallery, the most beautiful room in the kingdom in my opinion, dominated by those extraordinary murals of Waterloo and Trafalgar—ironically and exquisitely painted by an Irishman, Daniel Maclise.
The quiet corner of the Royal Gallery that spoke to the admiral and me more than any other is where we usually keep the books of honour recording our war dead, which for the moment are not in their place. Beside them, amid the glorious Gothic extravagance of Augustus Pugin, are two simple reminders of times past that touched both his and my heart: a chunk of stout oak that formed the jetty at Dunkirk, where we were hurled off the continent at the end of the beginning, and that small box which the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Swansea, so eloquently reminded us of earlier, that contains handfuls of sand taken from each of the five beaches of D-day, Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword —the beginning of the end.
They are such simple but intensely powerful reminders of what our fathers and grandfathers did. The outcome was no foregone conclusion—far from it. Churchill knew, after Gallipoli, the Norwegian campaign and Dieppe. Churchill certainly knew. And everything depending on that most mischievous of allies—the weather. Disaster hovered in the wings, looking for its chance. We can still see it today, in the old newsreel footage: the fear carved in the faces of those young soldiers as they ran from their landing crafts and up those bloody beaches, not knowing if it was the last step they would ever take. Their average age was little more than 20, with many of them still teenagers barely out of school.
More than 425,000 troops were killed or wounded in the battle for Normandy: there were between 5,000 and 10,000 allied dead on 6 June alone. They were not just British, of course, but Americans, Canadians, brave Poles and others, as the noble Earl so forcefully reminded us earlier. Mostly, however, they were American; we owe them an eternal debt. Many French civilians also died in the assault to liberate their country, and we should not forget the German dead, who were mostly young men and boys. I have a suspicion and a sense that they fought not with glory glinting in their eyes but with at least as much fear gripping their hearts as our own young men. “The glorious dead” is what we call them, but they would much rather have lived and grown old, like we who are left to grow old.
That brings me to a point I fear I must make—it needs to be made gently but firmly. The US President is here to help us commemorate D-day and the extraordinary sacrifices that were made to secure our freedoms. He is here not as Donald Trump but as the elected President of the United States of America, the greatest democracy on the planet. It offered up more of its young men on those beaches of D-day than any other country. They died for the freedoms that today we take perhaps too much for granted and which all too often we abuse. The protesters on our streets today are the same age as many of those who died on the beaches, and they of course have a right to protest—that is what their forefathers fought for. But oh how much happier I would be if that protest were conducted with dignity and thoughtfulness matching the moment we commemorate.
I am the first generation of my family for perhaps a thousand generations who has not had to face the prospect of fighting and dying on some battlefield of Europe. I have been given that most precious prize of all prizes: being able to watch my own sons grow to manhood in peace and freedom. How I would have welcomed the chance to listen to President Trump address us here in this Parliament and reflect on the ties of liberty and mutual interest that still bind us. The refusal was, I think, a mistake, and diminishes us all.
Now, more than ever, we need reminding of those links and of what price all of us, but particularly the young, have to pay for political failure. During this current political turmoil, it is often said that Britain is looking back, trying to regain lost glories. But if that was glory, let me have none of it. Let us instead take the lessons and look forward to a better world based on the liberties that so many brave young men fought and died for.
On Thursday, as old men gather on those beaches, let us honour the sacrifices that they and their comrades made for us and for future generations. In the morning—every morning—let us remember them.
My Lords, I too welcome the noble Lord, Lord Reay, and look forward to hearing from him many times in the future, especially on rural broadband connectivity.
We approach this 75th anniversary of D-day in sombre mood, not only for the anniversary itself, with its huge significance for the war and the scale of sacrifice involved, but because, as our own Lords Select Committee report, UK Foreign Policy in a Shifting World, put it:
“We are living through a time of worldwide disruption and change”.
The report, debated on 21 May, reminds us that today’s trends include populism, identity politics, nationalism, isolationism, protectionism and mass movements of people. It goes on to warn that the global balance of power is shifting and fragmenting in a way not experienced since the Second World War, undermining the rules-based international order that was so properly set up at the end of that war. Therefore, while we commemorate and reflect this week, we must also attempt to learn some of the painful lessons of the war, as the noble Lord, Lord Janvrin, said. It is my deep and personal belief—some might say heresy—that, for instance, going ahead in a cavalier fashion with Brexit is not really learning those lessons, but may be flying in the face of them.
The veterans of the D-day landings and the bloody battle for Normandy that followed are in their very old age now and fewer are able to return to the beaches of Sword, Juno, Gold, Omaha and Utah. To see the 250 veterans preparing to sail from Portsmouth with their families this week was an absolute joy and I am very pleased that the Minister will be accompanying them. Our gratitude for their participation in the most ambitious military operation that the world has ever seen is boundless, as it ensured our present freedom and democratic way of life, as noble Lords said. That democratic way of life is so easily and so often taken for granted.
On the matter of veterans, I was contacted recently by the family of a surviving World War II veteran, Harold Mason, from another theatre of that war. Harold joined the Royal Navy aged 17 and is a survivor of the Arctic convoys. His extraordinary personal bravery in rescuing Norwegian men, women and children in one incident from the Arctic water is yet to be officially recognised and I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Howe, as Minister of State for Defence, for agreeing to discuss Mr Mason’s case with me even though I am aware that a resolution would be extremely difficult and that the family’s MP, Mr Philip Hollobone, has already worked on their behalf in this matter.
While we remember and honour our veterans today, it is also important to remember our war widows. I was delighted and humbled to be asked this year to become a vice-president of the War Widows’ Association under the wonderful presidency of the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, and I follow in the footsteps of the late, much-missed, Baroness Dean, who would definitely have been speaking today. The War Widows’ Association is a most extraordinarily brave and feisty group of mainly women and some men, who should be considered veterans by anyone’s measure. I was very moved to read the recollection of one of the war widows, Bernice Lois Bartlett, of the day the letter came to tell her that her husband Harry had been killed in 1944. She said:
“I just didn’t expect it. The letter came, the ordinary blue envelope and I put it on the dresser. I didn’t open it because it was the children’s teatime … and I thought, get them done, put them to bed, then I’ll read my letter. Of course I didn’t realise what the letter contained. You just don’t think it’s going to be you”.
No doubt that scene was played out time and again across the country and, unfortunately, it still is.
The WWA was originally set up to fight for the rights of those widows and especially to put right the fact that their war pension was being taxed by the Inland Revenue. Once that campaign was won, there was a further push to ensure that war widows did not lose their pension if they remarried or cohabited, and that was resolved in 2015. However, those 300 or so war widows who were affected before 1 April 2015 are still cut off from their pension. Will the Minister meet me in coming weeks to discuss this unresolved and very important issue for the War Widows’ Association? I am testing his patience. Like buses, he does not see me for months, and now I am asking to see him twice in one week.
Finally, I am thinking today of Bob Maloubier, a French SOE agent who I was proud to have known and call a friend. Bob died in 2015. He was awarded the DSO in 1945. He came to lunch here in the Lords as my guest not long before his death and was a famous Anglophile. Bob was twice parachuted into France and carried out a series of daring sabotage missions with fellow SOE agents, including the courageous Violette Szabo, whose daughter Tania is a good friend, whom he attempted to rescue from the Gestapo. In the early days of the battle for Normandy, Bob Maloubier was parachuted back into France after being injured and went on to play his part in weakening the German response to D-day. Bob and all the brave SOE agents should be in our thoughts today because their fearless work as saboteurs behind enemy lines throughout the war did so much to bring about the final victory.
As the allied veterans return to the beaches of Normandy one last time this week, they will know that the gratitude of a grateful nation and indeed of the free world is with them. What is less known is whether we, who have not had to face war on such a scale, are paying proper attention to the shifting world we live in.
My Lords, how fortunate we are that my noble friend Lord Reay chose to make his maiden speech in this debate so that he could remind us of the wonderful exploits of his grandfather Lord Lovat, who was so distinguished a figure in the Second World War.
In opening this important debate my noble friend the Deputy Leader of the House reminded us powerfully of the truly breathtaking scale and extent of Operation Overlord, whose 75th anniversary we are commemorating today. By happy coincidence, it comes a few days after the 225th anniversary of the Battle of the Glorious First of June, when my noble friend’s renowned forebear, the 1st Earl Howe, smashed the fleet of republican France in the Atlantic.
The noble Lord, Lord Stoneham of Droxford, referred to a fine sailor of the Second World War, Admiral Ramsay. I strongly agree that his huge contribution to victory should be more widely known and recognised.
I shall devote most of my remarks to the great man who was indispensable to victory: Winston Churchill. He agonised over the opening of a new front in northern France. He was haunted by the memory of the long, bloody, inconclusive battles of the First World War and feared their repetition. He told the King, and his indispensable Soviet ally Stalin, that he was prepared for casualties of around 10,000 on the first day alone, but as,
“the supreme climax of the war”,
as he described it, drew near, the great man was in buoyant mood. His principal military adviser, General Alan Brooke, a man much given to gloom, recorded on 5 June that,
“I found him over optimistic as regards prospects of the cross Channel operation and tried to damp him down”.
The doubt-ridden general did not succeed.
Churchill, who was also Minister of Defence, wanted to be associated as closely as possible with his troops as the greatest armada in human history sailed to its destination. So, too, did the monarch, King George VI. On 30 May, they agreed that they would both be present on D-day, aboard HMS “Belfast”. The King was quickly dissuaded. His Private Secretary, Alan Lascelles, asked him whether he was seriously prepared to advise Princess Elizabeth on the choice of her first Prime Minister in the event of her father and Churchill being sent to the bottom of the English Channel. The King then told Churchill that his life was far too precious to be put at serious risk. For several days his entreaties had no effect. Lascelles noted,
“the trouble is that none of those who have access to Winston can influence him once he is set on a course, not even Mrs Churchill nor, apparently, his anointed King”.
The Prime Minister eventually gave way with the utmost reluctance. He made his feelings plain later in his war memoirs:
“As a result of what I saw and learned in the First World War, I was convinced that generals and other high commanders should try from time to time to see the condition and aspect of the battle-scene themselves”.
Was it not only right and just, he added, that,
“when sending so many others to their deaths he may share in a small way their risks?”.
It was here in this Chamber, then being used by the Commons, that Churchill delivered the first official statement on the events of D-day. Harold Nicolson, a National Labour MP and a marvellous diarist, recorded the scene here on 6 June 1944:
“I go down to the House, arriving there at about ten to twelve ... Questions had ended unexpectedly early and people were just sitting there chatting, waiting for Winston. He entered the Chamber at three minutes to twelve. He looked as white as a sheet. The House noticed this at once, and we feared he was going to announce some terrible disaster”.
Two pieces of typescript were placed on the Dispatch Box. Churchill spoke first of the liberation of Rome two days earlier by General Alexander’s conquering army.
“Alexander gets a really tremendous cheer”,
Nicolson noted. Churchill took up his second sheet:
“I have also to announce to the House that during the night and the early hours of this morning the first of the series of landings in force upon the European Continent has taken place”.
He spoke for some seven minutes in confident terms:
“Everything is proceeding to plan. And what a plan! This vast operation is undoubtedly the most complicated and difficult that has ever taken place ... Complete unity prevails throughout the Allied Armies. There is a brotherhood in arms between us and our friends of the United States”.
To these stirring remarks, the House listened “in hushed awe”, in Nicolson’s words.
Does not awe remain the right emotion 75 years later—awe at the precision and attention to detail with which this vast operation was put so successfully together; and awe, mingled with gratitude, at the courage of those drawn from many different countries in Europe and around the world who served under D-day’s banner of freedom?
I was one of a small group who submitted a rough draft for Margaret Thatcher to consider as she prepared a speech for the 40th anniversary of D-day in 1984. She stressed the importance of retaining for ever the great war-time alliance that was later to be enshrined in NATO.
This is a moment above all for honouring our fellow countrymen for their valour in June 1944. My noble friend Lord Black of Brentwood, who pressed for this debate, is sadly unable to take part in it today. He is in Normandy, accompanying one of the veterans we are still lucky to have among us. My noble friend has asked me to say this on his behalf: Corporal, later Sergeant, Les Birch of the Royal Engineers landed at Asnelles on Gold beach on D-Day+1 to begin the work of building the Mulberry harbours, commissioned personally by Churchill, which were so vital for the success of our early operations in France. In recent years he has returned faithfully on 6 June to pay a silent tribute to those of his friends who fell and to give thanks for the success of Overlord. He will be doing the same again on Thursday. On 6 June 1944 Les Birch was one of many thousands to whom General Montgomery sent this message:
“To us is given the honour of striking a blow for freedom which will live in history; and in the better days that lie ahead men will speak with pride of our doings”.
That pride will surely be safeguarded faithfully by those who follow us throughout the generations to come.
My Lords, 75 years ago today the allied invasion of Nazi-occupied France was delayed one final time. Appropriately, it was in the face of the British weather that General Eisenhower pushed back the beginning of Operation Overlord, this time by just 24 hours, and on 6 June 1944 D-day began. Pilots and aircrew from 12 different nations led a 1,200-plane airborne assault, preceding the largest seaborne invasion in history, when nearly 7,000 vessels carried 160,000 troops across the Channel.
The historian Antony Beevor records that General Eisenhower, without telling even his closest advisors, had prepared a brief statement to be made in the event of failure. It read:
“Our landings … have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based on the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone”.
If this extraordinary undertaking on D-day had failed, the post-war map and the future of Europe would undoubtedly have been very bleak indeed; but it did not fail. The allies gained the foothold they needed and the five beachheads were connected six days later. In the course of that week, 54,000 vehicles and 105,000 tonnes of supplies were landed on the beaches of Normandy and by the end of August more than 2 million allied troops were in France.
Their sacrifice was great, with 226,000 allied casualties and nearly 40,000 killed during the three-month Battle of Normandy, but a decisive victory was achieved, one that led to the liberation of Paris and laid the foundations for the allied victory on the Western Front and—together with the Soviet Union—the defeat of Hitler. It was the end of a war that claimed 70 million lives worldwide—the greatest man-made destruction in history.
In a war that revealed the very worst of human nature, the events of D-day showed some of the very best: the courage, sacrifice and dedication make us proud to this day. We should for ever be grateful for what those men achieved—grateful for the peace in Europe they created and grateful that because of them we are free to lead the lives we lead today.
My own grandfather played his part on the beaches of Normandy. He was a tank mechanic, helping to get the tanks out of the water and up through the sand. I do not know how common this is, but he would never talk about his own experiences. He did not want to remember. All he wanted to do was forget. There are now very few veterans of D-day left alive who can tell their stories and, with the passage of time, there will one day be none.
I do not believe my generation can even conceive of the apprehension those men, waiting to cast off in their landing craft, some on board for up to a week before departing, must have felt or even imagine their terror at the scenes that greeted them as they landed under heavy gunfire at their destination.
That those experiences are now so alien to our own way of life makes them harder for us to relate to, harder to appreciate the significance of and all too easy to grow complacent about. Commemorating the events of 75 years ago should be an opportunity to show gratitude—an opportunity for remembrance but an opportunity for education too. The question for our generation is what we want these events to be remembered for: what role should they play in our national story?
The scale of sacrifice and destruction in the Second World War led many throughout post-war Europe to say “never again” and they began to unite Europe economically and politically in order to secure a lasting peace. Arguably, without their energy and motivation, we would not be living in the sphere of peace and security that today we take for granted. Now, as Britain seeks to remove itself from those institutions, it has become commonplace to hear the battles of the war used to invoke nationalist sentiment. Yet it is surely completely wrongheaded to claim the events of 75 years ago for an isolationist cause.
Britain recognised then that we were stronger when we worked as an alliance of countries and that it was in our national interest to do so. It was the demonstration of a patriotic internationalism—a recognition that we can best succeed not by standing alone, isolated, but by co-operating and working together. This failure by some to properly comprehend our past—the nature and scale of the alliance we were part of—and to properly understand our present, with the nature of globalisation and the interdependencies it brings, is much more than just a harmless delusion. It has been harnessed to create the most profound policy failure, cutting ourselves off from our allies and diminishing internationally and economically the country those people profess to feel pride in.
D-day did not just lead to a victory for our allies, it led to a victory for our values. They defeated not just a country but an ideology, not least a virulent nationalism, the demonisation of other races and an intolerance of dissent. So it really must be said that you cannot put up a poster that says “Breaking Point” and then seek to appropriate the brave men who fought fascism.
It would of course be wrong to make the Second World War an instant reference point for all contemporary controversies, but there is a very real risk today that the ideology Britain fought against 75 years ago is not dead, just dormant. Whether it is drawing up a list of Roma people in Italy, anti-gay purges in the Chechen Republic, or a Muslim travel ban in the US, the preservation of the values our ancestors fought for can never be taken for granted. We must never grow complacent that our way of life is somehow guaranteed.
When these threats to freedom re-emerge and where this ideology becomes resurgent, let us be clear: it will not be defeated by aping or appeasing it. We will defeat it only by confronting it. Let us hope that next time—if there is a next time—we can defeat it not with bombs and bullets but with our words and our deeds.
My Lords, a commemorative debate, such as we are having today, needs both to look back to the event being commemorated and to situate the lessons from that event in the context of today, never more so than in the present instance when the controversy surrounding the state visit of President Trump risks overshadowing the real and continuing significance of D-day. First and foremost, we should salute the courage and the sacrifice of those Americans, Canadians and others who joined our own Armed Forces in a truly unprecedented military operation that led a year later to the liberation of Europe. Let us face it: they saved our bacon and helped deliver a victory that we could not have delivered on our own.
Are we sufficiently grateful? I sometimes doubt it. For example, why have we not, as the French have so generously done towards our D-day veterans, honoured all those surviving? Should we not now be honouring all surviving US veterans of D-day? I think we should. In the context of today, we need to realise that the Anglo-American alliance remains as important to our continued security as it was then. This is easy to forget when the Trump Administration take a whole range of decisions contrary to our view of our national interest—for example, on policy towards Iran, on the United Nations, on climate change and on trade policy—and do so without paying much attention to our own Government’s views. But we must not let our criticisms of and our opposition to this Administration metamorphose into that ugly brand of anti-Americanism which so disfigured our politics 40 years ago. We must do our best to ensure that the NATO summit to be held in this city in December strengthens the alliance and demonstrates its continuing validity.
Then there are the lessons of D-day for our own place in Europe, of which we are an integral part, not just geographically but culturally, economically and historically. Our failure to recognise the full implications of that in the 1920s and 1930s contributed to our having to fight our way ashore in Normandy 75 years ago.
There are of course no direct analogies with the present day but we need to realise that no isolation-from-Europe option for our present predicament is available to us that will not damage our future prosperity and security. We need to remember that D-day was fought to uphold a range of values—democracy, freedom of thought and speech, and many others—that were eloquently set out in the Atlantic Charter, which was drawn up by Roosevelt and Churchill two years or so before D-day, and which then became those of the United Nations when that organisation was founded in 1945. Among a lot of loose talk in recent months about the rebirth of nationalism, we need to recognise that our compatriots died to uphold those values and we must not desert them now.
My Lords, the landings of allied forces on the Normandy coast on 6 June 1944—Operation Overlord—were a combined naval, air and land attack on Nazi-occupied France. We must remember that Germany had occupied France since the spring of 1940, and in early 1943 the planning for the invasion started. There was then the 1943 Tehran Conference on opening the second front in western Europe, and, as the noble Earl, Lord Howe, said in opening the debate, Stalin agreed with the launch of his own front.
By 1944, 2 million troops from over 12 countries were in Britain preparing for the invasion. As has been mentioned right up front and throughout the debate, the allied forces consisted not just of Americans and the British but of Canadian, Belgian, Australian, Czech, Dutch, French, Greek, New Zealand, Norwegian, Rhodesian and Polish naval, air and ground support. Whenever we talk about D-day, we picture the beaches and the horror that took place, but we must also remember the 18,000 allied airborne forces who were parachuted in for the assaults on the beaches of Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword.
In that 24-hour period, the allied air forces flew 14,000 missions in support of the landings. They had already achieved air supremacy, and the decimation of the German fighter force by US aircraft in the spring of 1944 was a key factor in the Luftwaffe’s “poor showing”, as it was called, over Normandy. Seven thousand naval vessels were involved. Naval forces were responsible for landing 132,000 ground troops on the beaches and providing artillery support in the bombardments. The scale and magnitude of D-day was phenomenal. In one day alone the allies landed eight divisions and three armoured brigades on German-occupied France.
Of course, the casualties were huge. By the end of August 1944, Germany was in full retreat out of France. There is no question but that D-day was an unqualified success and paved the way for the liberation of much of north-west Europe. On that one day alone, the total number of British and Commonwealth casualties —killed, wounded or missing—was approximately 4,300.
I do not think that anyone has mentioned in this debate what “D” stands for. People take it for granted that it stands for “day”, because the date was not exact at the time, and “D-day” has been in parlance ever since, including in the services. It was the biggest seaborne invasion and, arguably, one of the greatest military campaigns ever. By the end of 11 June—D+5—over 325,000 troops, almost 55,000 vehicles and 104,000 tonnes of supplies had been landed on the beaches.
Nor must we forget the German numbers, although they are not well recorded. It is estimated that between 4,000 and 9,000 German troops were killed. The noble Earl, Lord Howe, said that there were almost 20,000 French civilian casualties, but that does not include the 15,000 who had been killed during the bombardments prior to D-day. Without D-day, Adolf Hitler would have deployed many more divisions to resist the Red Army. He would have had more time to develop his weapon of terror, the V-2, and the war might have continued indefinitely.
We have heard many accounts of individual stories. It has been an excellent debate and we have also heard a superb maiden speech. I was reading one account by SLA Marshall about the epic human tragedy that unfolded when the allied troops landed. Talking about Boat No. 4, he said:
“Half of its people are lost to the fire or tide before anyone gets ashore … Already the sea runs red. Even among some of the lightly wounded who jumped into shallow water the hits prove fatal … Other wounded men drag themselves ashore … and are knocked off by machine-gun fire”.
There was huge bravery, but the loss of life and the casualties were tragic.
We must not forget—the noble Earl mentioned it up front—that D-day was possible only because of allied efforts elsewhere. It depended on allied control of the Atlantic. What those working at Bletchley Park did to help control the Atlantic, let alone what they did for D-day, has been mentioned time and again. The campaign in Italy directed German troops away from the Western and Eastern Fronts, and of course the Soviet Belorussian offensive, Operation Bagration, was launched just after Overlord.
I have been chair of the Memorial Gates Council—the gates that commemorate the service and sacrifice of the 5 million troops from south Asia, Africa and the Caribbean who served in the First World War and Second World War. In the Second World War, 2.5 million Indian volunteers served in north Africa, the Middle East and Italy, and they also fought the Japanese in Malaya, north-east India and Burma. They were awarded 31 Victoria Crosses. Thousands of lives were lost and thousands of casualties were incurred.
The Italian campaign was particularly important. My father’s cousin, Lieutenant-General Satarawala, who was in my father’s regiment, the Fifth Gurkhas, was awarded the Military Cross in that campaign. Over 5,000 Indians lost their lives. The Gustav Line was finally breached on 14 May. While the Fifth Army made a flanking attack to the south, the Eighth Army of British, Polish, Canadian and Indian troops made a frontal assault on the line at Cassino. The number of Indian casualties in the Italian campaign was huge—over 24,000. My father’s own regiment, the 1st/5th Gurkhas, was in Italy from December 1943 to May 1945. One battalion suffered over 1,000 casualties during that period, including one who received the Victoria Cross.
I asked Major-General Cardozo, who wrote the book about my father’s life, whether any Indians took part in D-day. He said that they were not there because they had been fighting in Italy. It needs to be understood that because the Indian army and the Gurkhas were fighting in Africa, Sicily and Italy, the Germans were not able to move their forces to hold the allies who attacked across the channel on D-day. I do not think that we should ever forget that—a point made at the beginning of the debate.
However, the success of D-day was not enough. American, British and Canadian troops faced another two and a half months of vicious fighting in Normandy. Antony Beevor, who was quoted earlier, said:
“Normandy was martyred in its suffering, but this terrible concentration of fighting at least saved Paris and the rest of the country from destruction”.
Most importantly, as has been said, it was a bright and shining moment for liberal democracy, defeating what Churchill called a “new Dark Age” of Nazism. The historical significance of D-day can never be underestimated in terms of democracy and international collaboration overcoming totalitarianism. A point that has not been emphasised enough is that, by early 1944, Germany and the Soviet Union were beginning to take over Europe. We can only imagine what have happened had they done so; D-day helped save us from that.
This was an allied victory. As we celebrate its 70th anniversary, we thank NATO for the peace that it has brought. The noble Lord, Lord Janvrin, talked about commemoration; our youth, and future generations, must never forget. We must always be grateful to all those who fought on D-day. Today we must thank our Armed Forces, and we will always remember all those who made the ultimate sacrifice. We thank them because they gave their today for our tomorrow.
My Lords, I begin by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Reay, and saying how pleased I am that he has joined us on these Benches. I am sure that he will make many valuable contributions on connectivity, as well as on many other things, and I look forward to hearing them.
Most of us in this Chamber have two things in common: we were nowhere near the Second World War, but we have benefited enormously from the international settlement that followed it. I was born just before D-day in what was very much another country. One factor in the Britain—or England—of that time was that some 20% of males between the ages of 20 and 40 were from outside the UK. They were soldiers from Canada, the United States and many countries of Europe who were in Britain as part of the build-up to help with that invasion and what followed it. I have a few figures: there were apparently almost 3 million US servicemen in this country by 1945. They had come, some had moved on—they were not necessarily here at the same time—but they had been here.
I echo the sentiments of other noble Lords that we must not confuse the personality of the President of the United States with the people and institutions of that country, to whom we owe a debt of gratitude. By coming out of isolationism under Roosevelt, the United States did more to build the western European—now European—values that we believe in than probably anyone else. By the time D-day happened, albeit a very important happening, the Germans were already on the road to defeat. It was a question of time, as in the case of Japan in the summer of 1945: it was going to be defeated, but how long would it take? The Germans were going to be defeated, but how long would it take? We needed all those troops. We should not forget the enormous contribution of General—rather than President—Eisenhower, who pulled together the disparate politics and attitudes of many different people, and many leaders in the different contingents that made up the allied forces of the Second World War. Eisenhower was a truly inspiring politician who wore uniform; he certainly pulled everybody together.
Denis Healey—a noble Lord in this House many years ago and a leading member of the Labour Party—once said of the European Union at a small meeting that I attended: “Europe will be in trouble when there is no longer a generation that remembers the war; that remembers Anzio and why the post-war institutions were built”. He was absolutely right. The Second World War was in many ways just a continuation of the First World War, at the end of which the mistake made was the retreat of internationalism. When I lectured in history, I used to say: “You can rewrite your history, but you cannot rewrite your geography”.
I would like people to take a closer look at the history of inter-war Europe. It was not a history of flourishing democracies and a wicked Soviet Union; in the eastern part of our continent, it was a history of pretty repressive regimes. There was not much democracy to be found in the countries of central and eastern Europe, or in the countries of the rest of Europe. Southern Europe had a variety of authoritarian regimes. If we start with Ataturk in Turkey, Venizelos, Mussolini, Franco, Salazar and swing round to the country my family came from, the Republic of Ireland, they were all quite authoritarian regimes. To my mind, what we got out of the Second World War was the liberal democracy that has persevered since then.
The person we have to thank for that is largely Roosevelt, who had a vision of what could happen. Both Roosevelt and his successor, Harry Truman, had had the advantage—an unusual one among those from the United States—of spending time in Europe. Harry Truman spent this time in uniform; Roosevelt—who was from a much more privileged background—crucially spent time in Germany as a young person. We tend to forget what we owe to these people. We forget what we owe to a heroine of mine, Eleanor Roosevelt, who saved the International Labour Organization, getting it moved to Canada during the Second World War, who wrote the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and who had an enormous impact on social issues in America as well as on the development of, for example, the principles of the Atlantic Charter.
After the war—it could not have happened without D-day—we had the Council of Europe, the European Union and the European Coal and Steel Community. All were built on the hope and belief of a generation of which I am pleased to be a member that we could build a better Europe together. The biggest lesson of D-day is the multinationalism in its endeavour to achieve an ideological objective, which was the Atlantic Charter and its principles of democracy. To me, that is what D-day was about and why we are, rightly, celebrating it now. But we would not have the institutions that we have in western Europe had it not been for the assistance of the United States. Without Marshall aid, there would have been no rebuilding; without NATO there would have been no guarantee of defence. The European Community would probably not have existed had it not been for the way in which the Americans quite openly intervened in European elections to get the results they wanted, with Governments who would build the type of societies that they wished to see. We should remember that: the societies we live in are owed in part to the determination, thoroughness and vision of, in particular, General Marshall, President Truman and Dean Acheson, the American Secretary of State. By all means, let us be critical of the current inhabitant of the White House, but let us remember the debt we owe to the people of the United States who, in so many ways, gave so much to make Europe a civilised continent.
My Lords, it is a real pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, and his most eloquent speech; I will echo many of his arguments and sentiments.
D-day marked the beginning of the end of the Second World War; we should never take that subsequent victory for granted. Modern scholarship tells us that, fighter for fighter, the Germans were the most ferociously effective force in the field in that war but Hitler, thank goodness, made a number of critical errors that would hasten his demise. He took on the Soviet Union, a huge, populous country with a hostile climate. His biggest error was to declare war unilaterally on the United States two days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and thus propel America into the war.
Before Hitler’s declaration of war, President Roosevelt had wanted to intervene in Europe, but the mood in Congress was isolationist and hostile—let us note the warning. The US began the war against Germany with much diminished military capacity, but it quickly swung into action and, with its industrial might, soon constructed ships faster than the Germans could build U-boats. America went on to transport vital materials and supplies to the UK.
We had begun the war strategically exposed: two-thirds of our food, one-third of our iron, 90% of our petroleum and 100% of our rubber all came from across the sea. The Battle of the Atlantic, however, would now be won: 3 million US troops and a mass of materiel would arrive in the UK before and immediately after D-day. That was possible only because we were an offshore island from which an attack on mainland Europe could be successfully launched.
Hitler’s final mistake had been not to attempt to invade and conquer the UK when we were at our weakest, post Dunkirk. Without our independent island status, it is inconceivable that the US could have launched an invasion on mainland Europe direct from America. In the east, the Soviets fought Hitler to a standstill, but at a price we should never forget. Of the 50 million who died in World War II, 25 million were Russians. As my noble friend Lord Bilimoria reminded us, the invasion of Italy had begun a year earlier in 1943. By the time of D-day, Hitler was extended on every possible front, and persistent bombing from the UK by the RAF and the United States Air Force weakened his defences in Europe even further.
Therefore, let us give thanks today, as others have said, to the British men and women of my father’s and my mother’s generation, who fought bravely to protect us on the land, sea and air. Let us thank the Russian people for their great sacrifice. Above all—and here I echo my noble friend Lord Hannay—let us thank the US for coming to our aid a second time and with concomitant sacrifice in this most cruel and destructive of wars. Let us recognise that, while we may not all concur with President Trump’s policies and attitudes, he is the Head of State of our greatest and most important ally and should be honoured accordingly. Let us secondly recognise that if the US had not entered the war, Hitler might have ultimately vanquished the Soviets and ruled all of Europe, including—eventually and inevitably—the UK itself. Alternatively, if the Soviets had prevailed, western as well as eastern Europe might have ended up under the Soviet yoke. Either way, the UK would have tumbled into a totalitarian nightmare.
Let us finally recognise—and many have said this, as Her Majesty did last night—the genius of those after the war who created an institutional framework, including the UN, NATO and eventually the EU, which has underpinned the stability of our continent for 75 years after centuries of war and strife. D-day, 6 June, is a day for us to be intensely grateful, to proclaim that we take nothing for granted and to speak up in support of those very institutions which have underpinned our peace and prosperity for so long.
My Lords, in congratulating my noble friend Lord Reay on his maiden speech, I have to add my apologies for attempting to leave the Chamber as he rose to his feet to deliver a most impressive maiden speech.
Several references have been made in this debate to the meticulous planning by the joint British, Canadian and American teams in the two years or so before D-day. There is one aspect of these preparations that, perhaps, has not had the attention it deserves: the intensive training given to all formations that were likely to be involved in the Normandy landings. I am most grateful to the Minister for highlighting this point. I pay tribute to Mr Peter Caddick-Adams, a summary of whose findings appear in this month’s BBC History magazine. Broadly, the main areas where this training took place were, for the British forces, that surrounding Loch Fyne in the Clyde estuary; and for the American forces, south-west England, particularly Devon and Cornwall.
In order to make the training as realistic as possible, normal safety procedures had to be bypassed. Live ammunition had to be widely used. The inevitable result was that casualties were high. Among the infantry there were a number of deaths through drowning, not helped by the heavy equipment that many would have been carrying. There is a chilling account of a mistake made by a landing craft in one of those exercises: they mistook landfall, and 10 heavily armed infantrymen vanished into the sea, never to be seen again. Inevitably, casualties were also heavy among the airborne troops.
Perhaps the best known training disaster was Exercise Tiger at Slapton Sands in north Devon in April 1944, involving 30,000 US servicemen. A fleet of German E-boats came across the assault convoy and, unaware of the true purposes of the exercise, loosed several torpedoes before they made their way back to France. The torpedoes and the ensuing chaos caused the deaths of just short of 1,000 US troops. Occurring as it did close to the date of the planned invasion, the disaster was hushed up at the highest level and whole villages in north Devon were placed in quarantine, to which my noble friend has referred.
In May 1944 there was a massive rehearsal, Operation Fabius, designed to be as near as possible to real thing. Nobody below the rank of lieutenant colonel knew that it was not. Mr Caddick-Adams wrote:
“Everything possible was rehearsed and umpired: minesweepers cleared the sea; aircraft dropped ordinance; the coast was bombarded with live ammunition; command ships issued orders and monitored frequencies. Alongside swimming tanks, landing craft tanks shipped armour onto the beaches”.
Obstacles and real minefields were laid. Here again, the operation was made as realistic as possible. Casualties were regrettably high.
Mr Caddick-Adams has come to the chilling conclusion that probably more lives were lost in the preparations and training for D-day than in the first 24 hours of the battle itself. He wrote:
“The Allied servicemen who invaded northern France had experienced an incredible degree of rugged and realistic training that put them at the peak of physical fitness, acclimatised them to battle and equipped them mentally and physically to win”.
My Lords, my father landed on Sword beach at about 8 am on 6 June. He was not in the first wave, but he arrived very soon afterwards, after a long night feeling seasick and very scared. He was finally back on French soil, soil he had left earlier in the Dunkirk retreat. He was a major in charge of a battalion with the Suffolks and their mission was to take a bunker, nicknamed Hillman after the popular car. My father’s first job was to secure the small village that lay between the coast and the bunker. This he did, and it went without a hitch, the sole enemy being a sniper in a church tower, whom Dad and his men dealt with easily. The bunker, however, was another story. Hillman, as I was to discover for myself, was virtually impregnable. It was entirely underground, defended by gun turrets which peaked above the grass. My father’s role was to provide covering fire for the company undertaking the assault. Shots were exchanged and time passed—time that had not been scheduled into the battle order of the day. It was, for the Suffolks, a grim time, one my father would worry about for the rest of his life, because their failure to take the bunker quickly had somewhat delayed the advance on Caen.
Seventy years later, my father long dead, I stood at the entrance to that bunker. It seemed incredibly insignificant to have caused so much trouble. I was there for the anniversary celebrations and a group of us had hired a guide. We had asked him to retrace my father’s footsteps from the beaches to where he was wounded. From Hillman we walked inland, arriving at the bottom of a long hill which led up to a chateau wall. My father had been tasked with taking the chateau, but he had no armour or artillery support. There were panzers in the chateau’s grounds, concealed behind the walls, their guns pointing down the hill.
Our guide, a retired major-general, told me that my father was leading his men up this hill when he was wounded, “Somewhere round here”. He waved his hand towards a stretch of grass. “Actually,” came a voice, “it was right here. I was next to him”. We had not noticed an elderly chap coming up behind us. He told me that my father had been taken down to the field hospital—here he pointed down the hill at a barn—while he had somehow gone on up to the chateau wall. On arrival, he turned around and looked back, aghast to discover that he was the only member of C Company to have made it up to the wall. The tanks stationed behind it were spraying bullets across the hillsides. “What on earth did you do?” I asked. He grinned. “I beat it back down again and I lived to tell the tale. But this was carnage.” My father, meanwhile, was patched up and shortly afterwards returned to his regiment.
As it was the 70th anniversary year, there were re-enactments all along the Normandy coast. We went back to Hillman, where there were veterans in uniforms mingling with German officers and men in uniforms. I was introduced to the grandson of the bunker’s commander, who was an Austrian. The grandson is a lawyer in Germany and a reservist in the Germany army. In fact, he had done a spell at Sandhurst, part of an army exchange. We talked. It was very sunny. We were getting on very well, remembering my father and his grandfather. I really liked him, and I suspect I would have liked his grandfather, and that my father would have done too. I told him that Dad had always been puzzled about something: why did his grandfather, when he finally surrendered from the bunker, come out carrying both his leather suitcases in his hands, his batman walking behind? The grandson was puzzled. He said, “I don’t have a clue, but there is someone here who can answer this question”. He pointed me towards an elderly German soldier, dressed up in his uniform. He said, “This is the batman”. It was an extraordinary moment. The answer was translated. He was smiling. He said, “Well, the commander carried his cases because he did not want to come out with his hands up”. I stood there, feeling goose bumps on my arms, just wishing that Dad had known this. It would have made him laugh; it would have given him enormous pleasure. I shook the batman’s hand and thought how immensely lucky I have been.
After that almost endless conflict was over, Europe resolved that it would do everything possible not to end up fighting each other again; that trading and co-operating could avert future wars; and that sending a young reservist in the Germany army to Sandhurst for a spell could cement ties that were very strong and durable. NATO and the UN resulted, as, of course, did the wonderful European Union. It has been fundamental to the peace, prosperity and security that I and all of us have been so privileged to enjoy.
I still have the lump of shrapnel dug out of my father’s calf that day. It is a quite horrid bit of metal. It is jagged and very spiky. It is a reminder of what neighbour can do to neighbour, of what potential friend can do to potential friend. I am extremely proud of my father, as is my daughter, and I know that he, like me and Daisy, would find the prospect of leaving this extraordinary Union both very sad and very alarming. I bet that the commander’s grandson and the retired batman, if he is still with us, feel the same.
My Lords, this and other acts of commemoration this week about the D-day landing and its aftermath are important and necessary. Memory, it has been said, is the architecture of our identity and sense of belonging, both individually and collectively. Embedded in our memory, individually and collectively, are often the powerful effects of great historical events. Some are likely never to be forgotten and continue to provide the basis for the maintenance and, I hope, development of our national character.
D-day was such an event. As has been said, it was the largest seaborne invasion in history, with landings spread over 50 kilometres of the Normandy coast. As the noble Lord, Lord Burnett, emphasised, there were over 150,000 allied troops on D-day 75 years ago. As my noble friend Lord Anderson pointed out, there were thousands of sea vessels and aircraft. These are not just numbers; they are a physical expression of national unity and determination. They impress now as, no doubt, they impressed then. The noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, pointed out intelligence. Some have mentioned the French Resistance. All must have felt a sense of destiny. It was marked in particular by allied co-operation, probably greater than ever before in numbers and in such a mighty conflict as began this Normandy campaign.
To illustrate at a small level numerically, but nevertheless an equal standard of bravery, there were two outposts on the Normandy coast. One at Merville, during the night before the boats left the UK, was the subject of an intended attack by 600 UK paratroopers. They landed in various parts during the night. Only 120 of the 600 reached their target. That is attrition. On the US side at Pointe du Hoc, this and Merville being places where the Germans had spread artillery and gunfire along the beaches, 200 US Rangers took on that outpost. One hundred and thirty of them were dead or wounded. That is attrition. At small and large level, they exhibited the qualities which we should be not only proud of, but grateful for.
As numbers grew after D-day, as I understand it there were pretty soon 39 divisions in Normandy—22 US, 12 UK, three Canadian, one French and one Polish. That illustrates the allied nature of the invasion. They fought as one army, commanded by General Eisenhower, an American, the commander-in-chief, and led in the field by the general in charge of the army on land, General Montgomery. With such casualties and such a determined attack, only someone with no understanding of nation, history or duty could fail to appreciate its importance, as a result of alliance. There are no better allies—not only the ones who will sign a defence treaty, but the ones who will join you on the battlefield.
As Her Majesty said last night in her speech,
“we owe an immeasurable debt to the”,
United States and to our other allies. It would be helpful to be reminded, as the noble Earl, Lord Howe, pointed out, that in the Asia theatre, similar allied action was taking place—the British were in southern Asia and the Americans were attacking across the Pacific—with the same results, albeit with an entirely different enemy.
Those who died, as the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, pointed out, were young—at the beginning of their lives, which ended. Oratorical words such as duty, honour and country come to mind, but these ordinary young men from ordinary backgrounds exhibited service, loyalty and sacrifice. I remember the day when the local British legion man in my village in the Cotswolds read out the name of every young man killed in both wars from that village—a quarter of its young men over two wars. It is very moving. None of us in this great metropolis or in our great cities should ever forget that throughout this country—in our villages, families and communities—families, friends and descendants do not forget.
Historical ignorance is an ever-present danger. It produces cultural superficiality and an unjustified belief that, in the modern world, military alliances are outdated and unnecessary—dangerous thinking. With all this in mind, on this day of remembrance, let us give respect and gratitude, especially to those who died, in this initial step towards the ultimate victory of freedom and democracy and the end of totalitarian rule in Europe.