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First World War (Commemoration)

Part of Bill Presented – in the House of Commons at 12:50 pm on 26th June 2014.

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Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence 12:50 pm, 26th June 2014

I commend my hon. Friend’s project. Other hon. Members will wish to emulate it. Like me, he has a large number of Commonwealth war graves in his constituency. I know that primary schools in particular in my constituency are keen to honour the fallen. Several of those schools have similar projects. The centenary will be an occasion when our minds will be focused closely on the subject. I suspect that, over the four years, interest will increase, particularly in schools. I hope that MPs will be able to take the lead in promoting that, as my hon. Friend has done in his constituency. It is important that parliamentarians apply leadership in such matters. I am confident, given the interest among colleagues, that they will do precisely that.

It is important also to ensure that our war memorials are in a fit state. A centenary is surely an opportunity to ensure that we revisit those extraordinary monuments that lie at the heart of most of our communities. I am pleased to say that over £5 million has been made available from Government to ensure that local war memorials are in good order. For details of that and the extensive work being done by Government Departments and agencies, I recommend the Government centenary webpage.

My hope is that the centenary of the first world war will provoke a wider interest in history and that it will enrich the teaching and study of the discipline more generally. It is not just about educating young people. I learnt about the wars of the 20th century from my parents and grandparents, who were contemporary witnesses. Young children these days do not have that advantage. In a curious reversal, to our surprise and delight, we have found that children participating in the £5.3 million battlefields project have been inculcating awareness of the great war among their parents, so it is bottom-up replacing top-down.

The Government intend to continue to work with the 60 or so countries worldwide who have a direct interest in the centenary. In Ireland the great war centenary falls within a decade of commemoration. It is an opportunity for reflection and conversation facilitated by the Queen’s historic visit in 2011, and it is set to further mature and strengthen one of the most important relationships for both countries.

This year a Commonwealth War Graves Commission cross of sacrifice is being erected in Dublin’s incredibly important Glasnevin cemetery, which I had the great privilege of visiting recently. Given the history, the significance of such a monument in the shadow of Daniel O’Connell’s tomb is very clear. History is often complex and nuanced, but no good is served by finessing its inconveniences.