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D-day Memorial

Volume 798: debated on Tuesday 9 July 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what ongoing support they are giving to the construction of the memorial to those under British command at the D-Day landings in Ver-sur-Mer, and in particular to the creation of an education centre.

My Lords, the Ministry of Defence was extremely pleased to provide the inaugural event for the British Normandy memorial at Ver-sur-Mer during the commemorations for the 75th anniversary of D-day. We continue to liaise closely with the Normandy Memorial Trust, a wholly independent body, and have made suggestions for ways we might best support the trust with its fundraising efforts for further facilities, such as the education centre and ongoing maintenance.

I thank the Minister very much indeed for his positive reply. Does he agree that the planned education centre, while commemorating the valour of the troops who lost their lives on D-day, should also highlight decisive events in the Battle of Normandy which followed? For example, will it make known that the American troops encircled a huge army of German soldiers who were retreating and attempting to escape through the Falaise gap? Did not 1,500 Polish soldiers with tanks and artillery block the only useable way out? Come what may, the Polish soldiers stood their ground. Were they not down to their very last rounds of ammunition when, on 21 August, with direct Canadian assistance, about 50,000 German soldiers were taken prisoner, and was not the liberation of Paris only four days away?

My Lords, my noble friend is right to acknowledge the gallant and important role played by the Polish 1st Armoured Division under General Maczek, and the sacrifices that it made in the final defeat and destruction of the enemy forces in Normandy. Its determination to hold the line and block the retreat of the German army from the Falaise pocket was a major factor in the capture of some 50,000 enemy personnel. Its efforts are marked by the monument that crowns Mont Ormel, but the construction of an education centre may well—subject to the wishes of the trustees—provide a means of telling its story in a graphic way.

I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I declare an interest as chairman of the Normandy Memorial Trust. I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Selkirk, for raising the issue with the House today, and for the generosity that the Government have shown towards the memorial project so far. Does the Minister agree that the project to commemorate the 22,500 under British command who fell during the Battle of Normandy has been very much adopted by the public with widespread support, following the launch event on 6 June, as evidenced by the fact that we have since received over half a million pounds in public donations? Can he reassure the House that as we move to finish the memorial in time for next summer, we can continue to count on the support of HMG?

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Ricketts, and his fellow trustees, who include the noble Lords, Lord Dannatt and Lord Janvrin, deserve great credit for the way in which they are taking forward this important project. As the noble Lord, Lord Ricketts, knows, the Government have already provided significant support through the Libor fund, but we are naturally keen to assist the trust in other ways, so far as we are able.

My Lords, this is a good news story so far, and I too thank the trustees. This is not before time. We have had lots of little memorials around Normandy, but nothing specific that covers all three of our services in one place—and that is extremely important. One of the joys for me is that listed on the memorial will be the Royal Navy and Merchant Navy people who died on the beaches and offshore, as no memorial does that at present. It is interesting that, of the 5,500 British ships off Normandy, the biggest was HMS “Rodney”, whose 16-inch guns destroyed several Waffen SS battalions that were trying to advance. She of course was built well before the war, and there is a need to have ships before wars happen; they stop them happening and, if they do happen, we need them. Does the Minister not think that it is about time we ordered some frigates so that we will be in a good place if something does happen?

My Lords, I agree fully with the noble Lord that the Royal Navy plays a vital role in the defence of the nation and of our interests around the world. As he will be aware, the first Type 26 frigate is now under construction, and we look forward to seeing the Type 31 emerging over the next few years.

My Lords, at the same time as commemorating the fantastic event of D-day and those who lost their lives, should we not look five years back to the 80th anniversary of the sending of the BEF to France? The BEF fought valiantly but not very successfully in the end, although it did defend the beachhead at Dunkirk. The remaining survivors are now getting on for 100 or more, obviously. Should we not commemorate their sacrifice in some way, perhaps with a small reception?

My Lords, my noble friend makes a very constructive suggestion that I will take back to my department.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Selkirk, mentioned the importance of the Polish contribution in this respect. I have found on several occasions, in the referendum campaign and since, that people argue that we British beat the Germans in two world wars and now they are trying to tell us what to do. I have tried to argue that we had some help from other countries. I think that there were troops of 30 nationalities under Britain’s command at Normandy. Can we ensure that the memorial and the education centre stress the collective activity that made this a tremendous success?

My Lords, my understanding from the trust is that that is exactly its intention. The overwhelming majority of the 22,442 names on the memorial will be British, but troops of 38 different nationalities will be commemorated. Predominantly they were from Commonwealth countries and Europe, but there is also provision to record the contribution of the Merchant Navy, French agents who were parachuted in to observe German movements and the SOE, as well as war correspondents.

Does the Minister accept that as well as acknowledging and commemorating the valour of all those who died in the past, it is equally important that we safeguard the institutions of Europe which were devised to try to make sure that war like that never happens again? Will he therefore recommend to people who talk about recalling the valour of the past that they should not capriciously destroy the institutions of the European Union, which are there to prevent war happening again?

My Lords, I have sympathy with the spirit of the noble Lord’s question but of course we now have the NATO alliance, which represents the values of all western nations. Although we are leaving the European Union, we are not leaving Europe in terms of the values that we share with our European friends and the defence of the international rules-based order.