Commonwealth War Graves Commission — Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:14 pm on 22 June 2015.

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Photo of Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts Conservative 8:14, 22 June 2015

My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend for initiating this debate. I wholeheartedly associate myself with his comments and those of others about the importance of the role of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and the brilliant and imaginative ways in which it fulfils its obligations.

I will make three quick points. First, I studied military history at university and an important element in the study of conflict is the examination of the collateral damage to society: the destruction of many family units, of course, but, more importantly, the damage to civil society as a whole, which can take generations to repair. While of course it is absolutely vital and right that we should continue to commemorate the personal sacrifice of millions, in my view the commission has an equally important role in reminding us of our history. After all, those who do not remember the lessons of history will be condemned to repeat them.

Secondly, my noble friend Lord Forsyth and other noble Lords referred to the scale of the sacrifice. My military history professor had a statistic that I will share with the House: if the British and Commonwealth war dead from the First World War alone were lined up in column of route three abreast, as the head of the column passed the Cenotaph in London, the rear would be somewhere between Middlesbrough and Newcastle.

Thirdly and finally, because what gives the work of the commission its poignancy is so personal and so tightly woven into our society, I will give a personal example. In so doing, I am very pleased to be able to follow the noble Viscount, Lord Slim. My godmother’s father was killed by a Turkish sniper at Gallipoli. Colonel Palmer, as he was called, was commanding a battalion of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment. One of his junior officers was a certain Lieutenant Slim.

Colonel Palmer’s body was lost after the Allies evacuated the Gallipoli peninsula so his only memorial is on the big memorial at Anzac Cove. Lieutenant Slim, of course, went on to other and greater things.