Commonwealth War Graves Commission — Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:03 pm on 22 June 2015.

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Photo of Viscount Slim Viscount Slim Crossbench 8:03, 22 June 2015

My Lords, I look to Asia in my short speech. I thank the noble Lord for initiating the debate.

In Burma the Army was nearly a million. It had men of every religion in the world and of none and who spoke some 30 different languages, which was quite a problem. It was totally integrated with the air forces who came from Britain, India, Canada and America. They fought together, trained together, carried each other’s wounded and died together. It was agreed that they would all be buried together in one cemetery down in Rangoon. You experience a very poignant and great feeling when you go into this cemetery. Hindus and Sikhs, of course, cremate but their names go up on the memorial. Muslims bury, Christians bury and Jews bury.

If you switch quickly to Kohima in Assam, you will find among the Muslim graves two stars of David commemorating two Jewish officers of the Royal Welch Fusiliers. There is a lesson there for the people of Dewsbury or anywhere else in this country— this is not multiculturalism with ghettos but total integration.

The second thing about the war graves concerns the people who visit them. I took an old lady to Kohima who had never left England or flown. Her husband—a sergeant—had been killed. I took her into the cemetery with one of my sons and said to her, “Don’t stand beside the headstone and the burial place of your beloved husband; sit on the grass. You can sit here for two or three hours or all night if you want. My son and I will stay with you”. The point of this is that, when she eventually got up three hours later, she was a completely different woman. She was in her 80s. Her eyes were bright and she had been crying. I heard her say—perhaps I should not repeat this but it was so moving—“Darling, I am sorry it has taken me 25 years to get here to see you”. But she was alive again. The effect of visits of widows, parents, whoever is absolutely vital: please let us keep this up.

I get fed up with the three-minute speech limit we have in this House. We really must improve our technique. This is the second debate where I have only been allowed to speak about something vitally important for three minutes. The Front Bench ought to have a damn good look at themselves.