Speaking in a debate in the House of Commons to commemorate the Centenary of the Armistice, Iain Duncan Smith recalls that 28 years later the country was at war again and warns that we must never repeat the process.
The right hon. Gentleman is making a very measured speech. During the remarkable service that we attended, I was thinking that my wife’s great uncle signed up at 17 years old in 1914 and was dead just before his 18th birthday in 1915 in the Battle of Loos. Many of my own family also served. We talk about remembrance a lot, but 28 years later this country was back at war again and my father was fighting for his life, to save democracy and to save freedom. Although we may not forget them, we also have to remember that we never want to repeat that process ever again.
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Later in my contribution I will touch on some of the lessons learned, and perhaps the mistakes that were made, after the Armistice was signed.
I am listening with great interest to my right hon. Friend and I recognise what he is saying about that issue. There is another feature, which is often not well reported; I think Keegan brought it out in his book on the first world war. The fact that communications had not advanced at the speed with which munitions had, meant that often news of what was actually happening on the front took nearly half a day to arrive back at divisional headquarters, so nothing could be changed. It is a really important issue. We tend to condemn the commanders, but we forget sometimes that they had no idea, quite often, what was happening for hours, let alone minutes.
I hesitate to disagree with my right hon. Friend, particularly because of his own gallant service and that of previous generations in his family, but I would refer to accounts at the time, such as that of such a considerable figure as Sholto Douglas, later Lord Douglas of Kirtleside, who became one of the most senior RAF officers in its history, who was flying over the battlefield of Passchendaele, and who observed in his memoirs, with all that retrospective knowledge, that it was still inconceivable that the troops were sent forward time and again into a sea of mud, when it was absolutely clear that the attack had failed and had no prospect of success. I know there is a revisionist view of history that says the lessons of the Somme and Passchendaele were needed so they could get it right for the 100 days campaign at the end of 1918, but frankly, with the greatest of respect, I do not buy it.