Dr Julian Lewis: Because we are commemorating the 75th anniversary of the end of world war two, I shall concentrate entirely on that conflict. Madam Deputy Speaker, I know that you are quietly but rightly proud of your father’s brave record of fighting in the second world war, but as the years and decades go by, fewer and fewer people have that sort of direct personal knowledge. In the limited time available, I would like to take one brief example from each year of the second world war, to try to humanise the picture a little bit for those who do not have the sort of personal connection that I just described.
Let us take, for example, November 1939. A converted passenger liner, HMS Rawalpindi, found herself trapped by two of the largest and most deadly ships in the German navy: the Scharnhorst and the Gneisenau. The captain of HMS Rawalpindi was Captain Edward Kennedy, who was 60 years old. He had come out of retirement after his service in the first world war and between the wars to re-enlist. Rather than surrender, he took on those two deadly ships, and the Rawalpindi, as was entirely predictable, went down with all flags flying and with few survivors. I am going to develop that theme, which is that many of these events are not necessarily successful, but that does not mean that they are not ultimately setting standards for inspiring their fellow service personnel, their comrades and future generations. They certainly inspired me.
We move forward from Captain Kennedy – who, incidentally, was father of the late Sir Ludovic Kennedy – to November 1940. In 1940, another converted passenger liner, HMS Jervis Bay, was escorting a convoy of nearly 40 ships. The Jervis Bay found herself standing between that convoy and the German pocket battleship the Admiral Scheer. The convoy was instructed to scatter, and Captain Fogarty Fegen, who was the commander of the Jervis Bay, steamed towards certain death and destruction and saved three quarters of the ships in that convoy. There was a time when the names “Rawalpindi” and “Jervis Bay” were known throughout the land, and it is important that we periodically remind ourselves of these inspirational examples where people sacrificed themselves doing the right thing, even though they knew they had little or no chance of survival.
On a happier note, we turn to May 1941, when HMS Bulldog is a member of a flotilla of anti-submarine escorts that bring to the surface the U-110. My late friend, the then 20-year-old Sub-Lieutenant David Balme, heads up a rowing boat of half a dozen sailors. They get on board the U-110 submarine, which has been forced to the surface. They go down, not knowing whether the submarine will blow up from scuttling charges or whether there are people waiting armed at the foot of the conning tower ladder as they climb down, unable to defend themselves. They recover the Enigma machine and the code books and thus make a vital contribution to the winning of the battle of the Atlantic.
Then we come back to the Scharnhorst and the Gneisenau. It is February 1942, and half a dozen clapped-out, obsolete Swordfish biplanes take on the Scharnhorst and the Gneisenau as they sail up the English Channel with enormous air cover. Of those six biplanes, all six were shot down. Five of the aircrew survived the operation and four survived the war, and one of them later became my friend: Pat Kingsmill DSO. He is typical of these people who did courageous acts that were on everyone’s lips at the time, but then went on to live quiet lives – in the case of Pat Kingsmill, as an administrator in the NHS for many years.
John Healey: I suspect that, like me, the whole House is enjoying the right hon. Gentleman’s year-by-year exposition of the second world war. I wonder whether he would accept another minute as a result of my intervention.
Dr Lewis: That is extraordinarily generous, but quite typical of the right hon. Gentleman.
We come to September 1943, and three midget submarines attack the German battleship Tirpitz in a Norwegian fjord. Godfrey Place, the captain of the X7, escapes from his sinking submarine, and later becomes admiral in charge of reserves. Although he was a very important figure in the Royal Navy, he still had time to meet somebody like me – a schoolboy in Swansea, when he was there on a visit – and to autograph a book about submarine escape. These little gestures from truly great men inspire young people.
We come to the last two. The airborne assault at Arnhem in September 1944 was another disaster. But Tony Hibbert MC, who later became a friend of mine through my right hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh), went on to work throughout many years, trying to argue for civil defence and protection for this country.
Finally, Operation Meridian – the raids on the oil refineries at Palembang in Sumatra – happened in January 1945. Norman Richardson – again, a friend of mine, who sadly passed away – was commemorated on the 75th anniversary of the end of the war in the special edition of obituaries in The Daily Telegraph. He was a telegraphist air gunner. These were people who flew on a raid in January, when people in Sumatra were not expecting it, but they did not knock out all the oil refineries so they went back a few days later, when everyone was expecting them, and they did it again. They were shot down, but three quarters of Japan’s oil refining capability was lost to the Japanese war effort.
We remember them all.