Debate on the programme of commemoration for the First World War

Neil Parish MP made a speech in a debate in the House of Commons on the commemorations planned for the centenary of the First World War to remember those who fell during the war, including the Honourable William Walrond who was the Member of Parliament for Tiverton from 1906. He died on 3 November 1915 while serving as a Lieutenant with the Royal Army Service Corps during the First World War.


Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): It gives me great pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr Donaldson), who made a very poignant point about how Ireland fought together in the first world war. I am sure that that spirit will mean that all people can live together in Ireland in future. I thank the Minister and the shadow Minister for their great contributions to this debate, which is a very poignant moment for us to remember the war. I congratulate the hon. Member for Newark (Robert Jenrick) on an excellent maiden speech. We look forward to many great speeches from him. The people of Newark are very well represented in this place.


As we stand here some 100 years on from the start of the first world war, we take so much for granted—our freedom of speech and our ability to vote in democratic elections. We must remember the 887,000 soldiers from the United Kingdom and the British empire and the more than 1.6 million in total who were killed in that conflict. We must remember that at that time there were significantly lower populations in this country and across the world, so a huge percentage of young men were cut down. Perhaps some will dispute this, but—dare I say it—it was such a pointless, needless war: a war of imperial powers muscling up to each other to see who was the greatest. Such a waste of life is quite unbelievable.


Of course, even today, conflicts go on across the world, but, thank goodness, we do not see them in our own country or across much of Europe. That is very much to be welcomed.


I congratulate the Government and all the political parties on the events that will take place throughout this memorial year, because it is right that we remember. For many of us, perhaps, this is history, and when we see things about battles on television and in films, it brings home to us what happened. As the generations of young people go by, they need to be reminded of it, not in a bloodthirsty way but in a way that shows them the loss of life that took place and what happens in war, so that we can try to bring about a situation where there is far less war in future.


I very much welcome the centenary apprenticeship scheme that the Government have launched, which encourages 100 companies that existed 100 years ago, at the start of the first world war, to offer apprenticeships. That is a very good scheme.


I have strongly supported Devon county council in its commemorative project, Devon Remembers. We have to make sure that the memorials in all our villages are remembered, maintained, and brought up to a reasonable standard.


The Woodland Trust is planting four woods across the country, and that is a very good idea. With my farming background and my great belief in growing things, I think there is nothing better than a tree as a living thing that represents bringing things to life again after such a terrible war.


In Beer, a small village in my constituency on the coast of south Devon, men who were called up to the Royal Naval Reserve marched along the streets to a band as they went off to war. That will be commemorated on 3 August, 100 years on, when the same thing will happen again.


Even politicians were not immune. The hon. William Walrond was Member of Parliament for Tiverton from 1906—a little while before me. He died in 1915 while serving as a lieutenant with the Royal Army Service Corps during the first world war. His name is listed on the memorial to the dead in Westminster Hall and is on one of the 42 heraldic shields in the House of Commons Chamber commemorating each of the MPs killed during both world wars.


It is not possible for me to attend the Remembrance day services in all the villages and towns in my constituency, because they are so spread out, but I attend services in Honiton, Tiverton, Axminster and Seaton on an alternate basis. On reading the list of names, I find it poignant that the number of those killed in the first world war is probably two to three times the number of those killed in the second world war, and many of the family names of those who lost loved ones in the first world war are repeated on the list of those who died in the second world war. That is what brings it home to me. We need to remember that and create a memorial that is about not which country was right and which was wrong, but bringing those countries together. It is good that we now remember alongside not only France and Belgium, but Germany.


My mother is 89 and our family were fortunate, because five of her uncles went to war from farms in Somerset, with their horses, and all five of them returned. That was, of course, very unusual, and we were blessed that so many of our family returned. The relatives of many of my constituents did not return, so it is very good that we are holding this, not celebration, but memorial to what happened in the first world war. The treaty of Versailles led very much to the rise of Hitler and the Nazis and all that followed. Let us in the 21st century remember what happened in the 20th century and pray to God that we do not let it happen again.


Hansard source (Citation: HC Deb, 26 June 2014, c525)