Centenary of the Armistice

Part of Assessment and Treatment Units: Vulnerable People – in the House of Commons at 7:29 pm on 6th November 2018.

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Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) (Arts and Heritage) 7:29 pm, 6th November 2018

As many have said, it is a privilege to speak in this debate. I feel completely unworthy to speak, in a sense, following the many extraordinary speeches that we have heard this afternoon and this evening from right hon. and hon. Members. By my count, we have had 26 speeches from Back Benchers, and two excellent speeches from the Front-Bench spokesmen. The debate was opened by the Secretary of State for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, who was extremely ably answered by my hon. Friend Tom Watson, the shadow Secretary of State, who spoke brilliantly.

There have been so many brilliant speeches that it would be invidious to single one out. What struck me, however, is that we have heard speeches from all four nations of the United Kingdom, and on a variety of aspects of the Armistice and the great war, ranging from the role of women and Ireland—being of Irish heritage, I found that deeply interesting and significant—to the role of the Quakers; I was glad to hear Vicky Ford mention them at the end. It has been an extraordinary, illuminating and, at times, emotional debate. Hon. Members did well to hold it together at times, because there has certainly been a catch in the throat and a tear in the eye across the House from time to time.

We are grateful for the opportunity to commemorate the Armistice that marked the end of the great war, and for the chance to speak of our armed forces communities, and the sacrifices that were made and continue to be made for our safety. As we have heard, the Armistice put an end to over four years of tragic conflict between Germany and the allied forces, and mechanised killing on land, at sea and in the air. It was signed at 5 am on 11 November 1918 in a French railway carriage in Compiègne, and the guns stopped firing six hours later. As we heard earlier today in the service in St Margaret’s, the Prime Minister of the day, the Welshman David Lloyd George, when announcing the terms of the Armistice, expressed relief at the ending of what he called

“the cruellest and most terrible war that has ever scourged mankind.”

It is interesting to note how different people approach history, because I visited that railway carriage in Compiègne many years ago, and of course the same carriage was used by Hitler in 1940 to force the French into signing the surrender that resulted in Vichy France and Germany occupying most of France. However, when I visited it 25 years ago, there was no mention of that anywhere in the entire French presentation—there was reference only to the 1918 signing of the Armistice. We should acknowledge all aspects of history. This afternoon and evening, hon. Members have given an honest appraisal of the great war, the Armistice, its significance and all aspects of it, good and bad.