Commonwealth War Graves Commission — Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:17 pm on 22 June 2015.

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Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Liberal Democrat 8:17, 22 June 2015

My Lords, when I put my name down to speak in this debate I was inspired purely by my image of what the war graves mean. I realise that the main reason that I did so was that they are individual graves. They are not monuments or something telling you that something great happened. Let’s face it: the thing about monuments is that we do not put them up for our defeats, do we? Here, we put up something for each individual person. As has been said time and again by all speakers in this debate, it is the fact that we remember those people as people. As the old quote says, if one person dies it is a tragedy but a million people dying is a statistic.

The war graves do not allow the dead, who died on an industrial scale, to become a statistic. That just does not happen. The image, whether you see it in the flesh, on film or in a picture—the row upon row of graves—means that you know there was an individual attached to each of them. This means that we can remember the history, and our interpretation of history changes over time. When reading up for this debate, I discovered that it was felt in the 1960s and 1970s that as the veterans of the Great War disappeared, interest would diminish. Indeed, for those who remember “Steptoe and Son”, Steptoe senior was not a great example to us all of a wonderful remembrance of the First World War. As this image disappears, it becomes something else: a way back into history and the individuals connected to it. Unless we are prepared to throw away a cultural asset of the first order, we must make sure that it is maintained and that we always remember.

If the Commonwealth War Graves Commission were replaced, it is difficult to see how anything could possibly do the job as well. I hope that when the noble Earl responds to the debate—I can just about remember when he answered me on a subject other than health—he will assure us that the Government will ensure not only that this work is carried on, but that the cross-party consensus clearly displayed here today is maintained and developed to enable it to be carried on in future.