Armistice Day: Centenary - Motion to Take Note (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:28 pm on 5th November 2018.

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Photo of Lord Dykes Lord Dykes Liberal Democrat 6:28 pm, 5th November 2018

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Ashton, for his inspiring speech opening this debate and his detailed description of the memorialising that we are doing: the remembrances and the big service at the weekend, and all the minute but important details of this national act of remembrance, which is so important psychologically, spiritually and in practical ways as well. We thank him for the details that he has given and look forward to hearing more in due course when that is relevant and applicable.

I also feel a sense of gratitude that the intervention of the Indian soldiers has been mentioned quite a few times in this debate. It has been too often forgotten, but it made an enormous difference in that, the first of the European civil wars. The First World War was the beginning of the European civil war, with, 22 years later, the second version—the two tragedies linked by just two decades—continuing the mistakes that had been made the first time. We were lucky to emerge victorious from the First World War. We are grateful to almighty God for that, and grateful for all the efforts made by many people. Most of the speeches today have been detailed descriptions of the tragedy of the First World War and the terrible losses of military life—in that war more than civilian life. All those incredibly meticulous details are important because they are part of the psychological act of remembrance that we all need so that we do not forget these things.

I declare a geographical and personal interest because, since 2001, I have lived in the Picardy/Normandy area of France, where so much of the First World War was fought. It is a searing subject for the French in that whole area, right up to Calais. Simon Heffer, in a recent article for The New European, quite rightly said that our losses were terrible, but that the French losses were even more so, and that needs to be remembered as well. It is no wonder that in 1940, at the beginning of the Second World War, Pétain was moving for an armistice, which was incredibly popular because everybody in France remembered the bloodletting and the huge loss of young male lives in that terrible episode.

I go back to the mistakes made afterwards, referred to by my noble and gallant friend Lord Stirrup, the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and others. I thank them for drawing the lessons of the past into the future; their speeches were notable for that. Going through the details and remembering them is vital, but drawing conclusions for the modern lessons we should learn are even more important for the whole of Europe. Living in that area, I now see a new era where the latest town-twinnings are usually with German rather than English towns. The English ones came first, and now it is the German ones.

The Second World War was even more awful, because of the deaths of so many civilians, the history of National Socialism and the terrible incidents. The war in Russia, which is often forgotten, was much more savage and brutal than the war on the Western Front—fortunately for us. These lessons need to be drawn and yet after the First World War, as my noble and gallant friend Lord Stirrup said, one crucial mistake was that Germany was excluded from the peace conference at Versailles, being not even a participant in the efforts to have peace. How could you do that to a country? It of course resented what happened and then came the Second World War.

If it is seen as the European civil war, we can draw the appropriate lessons about the future for this country as well. I am still feeling very sad indeed, and as I repeat on many occasions, that this country has lost its way. The appalling, tragic idea of leaving the European Union is such a mistake for this great country. The other EU member states feel that very deeply, and would be delighted and thrilled if this country had the courage to look again and change its mind. There is a huge change in public opinion as recent polls have shown. Younger participants in elections and vote-receiving activities of one kind or another are now much more minded to vote for continuing our membership of the European Union.

I know this is difficult for some Tory colleagues to accept, and I understand the awkward position they are in—they wish to support their own party and Government—but this is the reality now. If we can seize those lessons properly, and draw the appropriate conclusions, we can save this country from perdition.