FIRST WORLD WAR COMMEMORATION – 7 November 2013
Dr Julian Lewis: Madam Deputy Speaker, I am very grateful for your permission to contribute to this debate, particularly as the first ever televised session of the Intelligence and Security Committee meeting today prevented me from attending by far the greater part of the debate. I shall just make a few very brief remarks and hope that I am not unwittingly repeating things that others have already raised.
We all have our different methods by which we have been in contact with or affected by the First World War. Mine dates back to my days as a schoolboy, when I became friendly with a veteran of the Royal Navy, Mr Leslie Horton, who served from 1915 to 1945 in just about every variety of Royal Naval ship. He served on the destroyer HMS Landrail in the First World War, for example, and the S-class submarine HMS Seadog in the Second World War. The force of character and personality of all those people who have been through these vicissitudes, ordeals and dangers cannot help but transmit itself to people of a younger generation.
In the brief time available I want to make one point for the Minister to consider in his reply. It will not come as a surprise to him, because we have discussed it privately previously. I want to be certain that when, in the course of commemorating the events of the First World War, we focus on particular spikes in the history of that catastrophic conflict, we do not end up focusing solely on those events that marked terrible mistakes and defeats. It is a reality that the generalship behind the Battle of the Somme was sadly lacking – some would say it was grossly negligent. It is a fact that the mistakes made at the Battle of the Somme were repeated at the Battle of Passchendaele, but it is also a fact that by the time we got to 8 August 1918, the lessons of those disastrous earlier offences had been learnt, however belatedly. The Battle of Amiens, which hardly anyone has heard of by comparison with the earlier battles, was a stupendous victory for which our forces gain too little credit.
Of course commemoration is about reconciliation, but we must not blind ourselves to the fact that those battles took place not on the territory of a country that did the invading, but by definition on the territory of countries that had been invaded. It should be a matter of pride for the people of this country that we fought on the right side in the First World War. Indeed, the failure to draw the right lessons from what happened at the end of the war had the consequence that after the Second World War we were determined there would have to be unconditional surrender – so that next time nobody could argue, as they had done after 1918, that they had not really been defeated. Let us of course reach out the hand of friendship and remember the terrible mistakes made, but let us remember the victories, too, and the justice of the cause for which British soldiers, sailors and airmen fought and died.