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 absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. We have been working very closely with the Governments of all the countries he has cited and more, as he would expect. The high commissioners, particularly in London, have been very keen to engage. Indeed, several of those high commissioners serve as trustees of the Imperial War museum, which is absolutely front and centre, and appropriately so, of our centenary commemoration.

This is an opportunity to bring us closer together. It is, however, important to understand that there are very often complexities in the relationship, and we need to be prepared to address them without prevarication. My hon. Friend knows that in Australia in particular the “lions led by donkeys” mythology is prevalent in some quarters, and it is important to be able to address those concerns without attempting to avoid or sidestep them, because in so doing we come to a better understanding and much closer to the truth. We will be working particularly closely with our Anzac cousins, as my hon. Friend would expect, as our history runs long and deep. This centenary is a wonderful opportunity to make sure we are not seen to be taking that relationship for granted, but that we broaden and deepen it, and I am very confident, having visited Gallipoli this year, that that is on not only our agenda, but the agendas particularly of our Australian and New Zealand friends.

I have to say that the complexities I have cited in our relationships with other countries have not all been in predictable places. In the main they really have not been with Germany, Austria and Turkey; they have been in some unhappy corners of relationships with allies. We have discussed already where some of those may lie, but we must in particular respect and acknowledge attitudes of the sort that are prevalent in South Africa to events that are deeply troubling, such as the sinking of the troopship Mendi in 1917 and the treatment of non-European participants in the war effort. All of this has to be part of our centenary commemoration, and we must do nothing to avoid it, airbrush it or finesse it.

On the very cusp of the centenary of the war to end all war, our first duty has to be remembrance, but the measure of our success will be the extent to which we lift our understanding of the conflicts, causes, conduct and consequences, and the advancement of relations with today’s close friends and partners from both sides of the great war’s great divide.