§ LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH rose to call attention to the Report by Sir Frederic Kenyon to the Imperial War Graves Commission, and to ask whether, within reasonable restrictions, some latitude cannot be allowed to relatives of deceased officers and soldiers as to the exact form of memorial to be placed on their graves.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, it is only after much hesitation, and under a. strong sense of duty, that I have resolved to place this Question on the Paper for the purpose of discovering what are really the intentions of those in authority in regard to this matter. Every one of your Lordships will recognise that this is an exceptionally solemn and sacred subject, and it will be my earnest endeavour to say nothing that will have the slightest chalice of giving offence or even, so far as I can avoid, of raising controversy. I have read with great care the Report which I hold in my hands. Those of your Lordships who will have seen it will have noticed that it is not a Parliamentary Paper. It is not presented to either House of Parliament; it is published by the Stationery Office. There is no list given of the Commission under whose authority it is published, nor is there the warrant of appointment, nor by whom they were appointed, nor to whom they are responsible; nor does it say what authority will ultimately exercise final control in this important matter. Probably in the course of the reply of the noble Viscount 224 opposite we shall be told some of these particulars.
But I am concerned with the Report, and I will quote the instructions given to Sir Frederic Kenyon by the Commission, whoever they were. He is directed—
to consult representatives of the various churches and religious bodies on any religious questions involved; to report as to the desirability of forming an advisory committee from among those who have been consulted for the purpose of carrying out the proposals agreed upon.
And then there is this statement—
The Commissioners are of opinion that no distinction should be made between officers and men lying in the same cemetery in the form or nature of the memorial.
I am quite certain that with regard to the last paragraph there will be absolute unanimity of opinion. When officers and men have died in the same noble cause, I think we shall all agree that, after death, they should be treated on an absolutely equal basis.
I will go further and say that so far as the Report is concerned it could not be in better taste, so far as it goes. On page 4 of the Report Sir Frederic Kenyon says—
My endeavour has been to arrive at a result which will, so far as may be, satisfy the feelings of relatives and comrades of those who lie in these cemeteries; which will represent the soldierly spirit and discipline in which they fought and fell; which will typify the Army to which they belonged; which will give expression to those deeper emotions of regimental comradeship, of service to their Army their King, their country, and their God, which underlay (perhaps unconsciously) their sacrifice of themselves for the cause in which they fought, and which in ages to come will be a dignified memorial, worthy of the nation and of the men who gave their lives for it, in the lands of the Allies with whom, and for whom, they fought.
I will refer to the two alternatives suggestions which Sir Frederic Kenyon makes, and which will be found upon page 7 of the Report. He says—
There are two main alternative methods which may be carried out. Either the individual graves may be undistinguished (except perhaps by an inconspicuous number) and the names of the dead will be commemorated on a single inscription, or each grave will have its own headstone, of uniform dimensions, on which the name of the dead will be carved with his rank, regiment, and date of death.
He professes great admiration for the second alternative, in which I think most of your Lordships will agree.
But the question I want to raise is why it is necessary that the headstones should be absolutely uniform. Why should it be in a form which will look like nothing else but a line of milestones. That seems to be a wholly inadequate memorial of the sacrifices which have been made and the feelings of those who are left behind. There are two paragraphs from a Memorial which, if it has not been presented, is shortly to be presented on this subject, and it states in far better language than I can use the feelings which are aroused by this decision. The Memorial says—
We have been deeply wounded by the decision of the Commission that no crosses other than those engraved on the headstones, which time and weather will soon deface, are to be erected over the graves of those who gave their lives to preserve the lives and liberty of others. It was through the strength of the Cross that many of them were enabled to do so. It is only through the hope of the Cross that most of us are able to carry on the life from which all the sunshine seems to have gone, and to deny us the emblem of that strength and hope adds heavily to the burden of our sorrow.
There is not throughout this Report any indication of any real consideration of the religious side of the task laid upon Sir Frederic Kenyon. There is no indication how far the first instruction given to him has been carried out. He is told "to consult the representatives of the various churches and religious bodies on any religious question involved." There is no indication who was consulted; and one of the questions I desire to ask is, Whom representing any of the churches did Sir Frederic Kenyon consult? Did he consult the most rev. Primate? Did he consult the Church of Scotland? Has he been in any communication with the Roman Catholic Church and their authority? And there are other Churches in England and Scotland who have feelings, and who have just as much right to be consulted as those I have mentioned.
Even in the Report itself I think there is a condemnation of the suggestion that we should have this row of milestones, because on page 6 Sir Frederic Kenyon himself praises the artistic effect of some of the French military cemeteries. He says—
The military cemeteries, whether French or English, with their orderly rows of crosses (the French ones bearing, in addition, a tricolour cocarde), have both dignity and inspiration.
Yet this example of what he himself has seen is wholly disregarded in Sir Frederic Kenyon's Report.
§ I want to make it quite clear that so far as I am concerned, and so far as any for whom I am entitled to speak are concerned, it is to be distinctly understood that we want no large interference with the scheme proposed. We agree cordially that there should be reasonable restrictions, especially as to the material or size of the memorials, whether they be crosses or memorials in any other form. There is no objection to the restriction as to the material or to the size, or even I will go so far as to say, if it will conciliate the Commission and Sir Frederic Kenyon, I would have no objection to having models of crosses, one or other of which must be chosen. But I want to say that to the last power that lies within us we shall oppose the idea of being prevented front having that sacred emblem at all upon the graves of those who have died on our behalf. I want it to be clearly understood that I do not attack the Report as a whole. There is a great sense of dignity in it, but there is a want of sympathetic understanding for the grave of a sacred as well as of an artistic kind as a memorial of the dead—the dead who have died in so great and so noble a cause, died with the very ideal of self-sacrifice so inseparably connected with the Cross of Calvary. That is all I have to say in regard to the Question as it appears on the Paper.
But since I put it on the Paper another matter has been brought to my attention of which I gave the noble Viscount who is to answer me private notice. My attention has been called to an agreement—one of the Treaty series—between the United Kingdom and France. It is a Parliamentary Paper, and I hold it in my hand. Apparently the Treaty was made on November 18, but was not published or presented to Parliament until the 19th of last month. It contains a most astonishing Order. Apparently, even if the relatives of any deceased officer desire to bring the remains to this country and if they get the leave of the French Government to do so, they are not to do it without the sanction of the British Government. What is the reason for that? Why are we to be controlled in this way? If the relatives make an agreement with the Government of the country where the sacred remains are lying—I do not say that I wish to do, and I do not speak perhaps for those who do—why should they be prevented from bringing them back by the action of our own Government? What have the Government to do with the matter 227 so long as they are not put to any expense? More than that, there is a clause in the Treaty which says that even if an application is made to the French Government it is to be referred to the British Commission before the French Government gives an answer. I say that is downright and absolute tyranny. The setting up and continuation of this form of bureaucratic control will, if it is not immediately remedied, mean that we shall run the risk of very serious resistance and even of rebellion. I beg to ask the Question which stands in my name.
§ THE UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR (VISCOUNT PEEL)
My Lords, the Question that has been put on the Paper by my noble friend refers to a very serious and a very sacred subject, and I will do my best to answer it in the spirit in which it has been set forth. I think I can to some extent assure my noble friend that he has done an injustice to the Imperial War Graves Commission in the references that he made to the scheme of headstones, tombstones, and cemeteries when he referred to them under the rather contemptuous name of "milestones." My noble friend asked what religious bodies had been consulted before any of these decisions were taken. The tone of my noble friend rather suggested that he considered none of these bodies had been consulted. I would assure him that these bodies were most carefully considered and consulted before any of the decisions were taken.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
I am going to tell my noble friend in what way. I shall be glad indeed to give some of the names of those who were consulted before these decisions were taken. My noble friend asked me first as regards the Church of England. The most rev. Primate the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury was carefully consulted and gave his views on these subjects, and as a matter of fact I believe that at the present time he has been good enough to allow certain models of crosses and memorials to be set up in Lambeth Palace for inspection. My noble friend also asked as regards the Roman Catholic community. Cardinal Bourne was consulted several times. I cannot go through the rest of the names, but different representatives of the Nonconformist bodies 228 gave their advice, as also did the Chief Rabbi on behalf of the Jewish community. Therefore I have to repudiate most strongly, on behalf of the Imperial War Graves Commission, the suggestion that religious bodies have not had a thorough opportunity of expressing their opinions
A further question was asked by my noble friend as to the constitution of the Commission. The War Graves Commission is something more than—shall I call it?—a British institution, because it was set up under the advice of the Imperial War Conference, where these matters were very fully discussed, and on the War Graves Commission sit not only British representatives of various classes and kinds, but also representatives of the great Dominions. The Imperial War Graves Commission was incorporated by Royal Charter in 1917. The chairman is the present Secretary of State for War. It is quite true to say, as my noble friend suggested that a great many of the recommendations in Sir Frederic Kenyon's Report have been adopted by that Commission. The Commission were generally unanimous that there should be equality of treatment as applied to these graves and cemeteries, but they have all through recognised that on this subject, affecting people so deeply, there must be considerable disparity and difference of view, and they have at all times been not only ready to listen but have listened most sympathetically to all suggestions that have come from all quarters, whether from people eminent or lowly, as to the way in which these cemeteries should be organised and the graves arranged.
I think it may assist your Lordships in forming an opinion on this subject if say something of what has actually been done at present by the Imperial War Graves Commission as regards the designs of tombs, headstones, and cemeteries. The decision of the kind of tomb to be set up has not been arrived at merely on the suggestions or opinions of the War Graves Commission itself. It has been arrived at after the most exhaustive consultation. I believe that I am right in saying that the officers and men at least of every regiment that has been fighting in France have had some opportunity of expressing their views. Perhaps I may detail to my noble friend what is the general design: a tombstone with the regimental badge at the top, and below the name and number of the man, and again below that an incised cross, 229 and below again an inscription. The inscription is left almost entirely to the suggestion of the relatives of the dead men. Of course, there must be some limitation as to the length and nature of that inscription, but, broadly speaking, suggestions are invited from the relatives, and those suggestions are fully carried out.
But not only have views and suggestions been collected from officers and men of these different regiments, but they have also been very carefully sifted by a body of most distinguished architects and artists of the day. Sir Frederic Kenyon himself, whose Report has been quoted, Cook immense trouble in travelling round and collecting views from all quarters which might be interested in the subject. The central memorials—because the idea is that these cemeteries should have a central memorial—have been designed, and some of them have been set up in plaster. I have photographs of the cemeteries, with the suggested memorials, with me. I shall be very glad to show them to noble Lords, and I cannot help thinking that when noble Lords have had the opportunity of studying those suggestions and designs they will feel that this Commission has paid far more attention and consideration to the feelings which my noble friend so well expressed than I think he was inclined to give them credit for.
There are at the present time three special cemeteries being set up at Tréport, Louvencourt, and Forceville, and those will be finished in a few months. The details of those cemeteries will appear in all the illustrated papers at the end of the week, showing the cemetery as it will be with the tombstones and with the central cross. And again an illustrated pamphlet will appear giving further details drawn up by Mr. Rudyard Kipling, who is one of the members of the Commission and who has taken a very active part in this subject.
I come to that most difficult question—noble Lords will feel how difficult it is—of deciding how far private individuals should have an opportunity of putting up their own special memorials. Notices have appeared in the papers of various distinguished persons who have expressed themselves very strongly on the importance of allowing private individuals to set up their own memorials. What I wish to place strongly before your Lordships is this—that the number of those who have expressed themselves quite satisfied with 230 these memorials is large indeed. There is one very well known and energetic lady who, I understand, has been collecting signatures from those who desire this freedom for setting up memorials, and I understand that after working very hard she has been able to collect really a very small number of signatures compared with the vast numbers of those who are interested, and who are satisfied with what is being done. It is quite possible that those interested, after they have had the opportunity of studying these memorials in the illustrated papers, may possibly have their feelings to some extent modified as to the desire to set up their own special memorial.
My noble friend has spoken about uniformity and sameness of design. I with many of your Lordships have had the opportunity at different times of seeing cemeteries where individuals were allowed to exercise their own taste, and in many cases the result has not been very fortunate. I really would like to put this before your Lordships—whether these cemeteries, designed by some of the greatest artists of the day, and carefully executed, would not be as sacred and as touching a memorial of those who have fallen as if you allowed individual feeling and taste to have full sway. But I wish to say that in all these matters the Imperial War Graves Commission does not desire to set up any rigid or hard-and-fast line, and is most ready to receive suggestions front those who are interested. I would, however, ask your Lordships to weigh that matter very carefully, and to consider the question as between uniformity and giving various persons the opportunity of using their own designs.
I think, further, that this ought to be considered. These graves unfortunately run into hundreds of thousands in France and the other countries where our soldiers have fallen. Very few of the relatives or parents of those who have fallen are in a position to place their own memorials and set up their own tombs, and I think it worth consideration whether there might not arise some feeling—I will not say of unfairness but of difference of treatment—among the many who are unable to set up their own tombs if the wealthier few are able to do what they like in these cemeteries. I only lay that before your Lordships, because one wishes in this matter to consult as far as possible the feeling and the taste of every one
231 There is the second point which was raised by my noble friend, who was good enough to give me notice on the subject, with regard to the removal of the remains of the dead to this country. I should like to say, first of all, that the French Government have behaved with great generosity in this matter. They have spent a very large sum of money—I cannot give the exact amount, but it is a very large sum—in purchasing from owners the land where the cemeteries are to be, and they have allowed this land to be used by our Government, and by the Dominions also, for ever to be retained as a cemetery. And their fine example has been followed by Belgium, by Italy, and by Greece. I understand that arrangements for those who have fallen in enemy countries will be the subject of discussion at the Peace Conference, and will then be settled.
At the present moment there are something like 1,000 cemeteries in France, and, following the policy which has been agreed upon, those who are lying in graves, numbering about 150,000, are being gathered together in the larger cemeteries. Perhaps it may interest your Lordships to know that something of the same policy is being followed by the Americans. I happened to be some two or three weeks ago with some American officers in the Argonne, where the graves are very scattered, and there I found that they were following the same policy of concentrating the remains of the dead in one big cemetery in the Argonne which will contain, I think, no fewer than 24,000 graves when it is finally established and built. My noble friend asks, Is it not tyranny if you do not allow people to carry the remains of their dead from France or Belgium to this country?
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
That is the point with which I am dealing. I am assuming, of course, that the French Government allow it. I pass by for the moment the fact that the removal of certain bodies from certain cemeteries might cause some lack of harmony in the whole of the cemetery; I deal only with the question on which I have already touched—namely, that it is only the better-to-do, the few really, who will have the opportunity or the power of removing the remains of their dead from these cemeteries to this country. And is there not some danger—I put the 232 matter frankly before your Lordships—that if this is permitted, the millions of relatives and friends who are not in a position to make that change will feel that some invidious distinction is being set up?
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
I submit that consideration to your Lordships. Is there not some force, even some sentiment, on the other side, that it might be well, perhaps, that those who have fallen should lie together side by side in orderly array in these cemeteries—lie together in that land in which they have shed their blood and in which they have fallen. I do not know whether such answer as I have been able to give will satisfy my noble friend, but I most seriously and earnestly present these considerations to your Lordships. I can assure the House that all these matters have been most carefully and anxiously considered by the Imperial Graves Commission, not from any desire for tyranny nor from any desire to set up rules which others have to follow, but from a full consideration of the varied questions that arise and with a consideration for the feelings not only of the few but of the millions who are interested in these graves. I need hardly say, however, that any points which are brought forward and pressed by your Lordships in this discussion it will be my duty and my pleasure to put before the 'War Graves Commission, or before the Secretary of State, who is the official chairman of that Commission.
§ VISCOUNT HALDANE
My Lords, I do not rise to speak at length but merely to put a question to the noble Viscount in regard to the second part of his answer to the noble Lord who opened this discussion. The noble Viscount spoke of concentrating the remains. I will take a case out of my own knowledge, a near relative of mine, whose grave I visited twice in a village in France. An official letter came the other day stating that the place was too small to retain as a cemetery, and that the body must be removed. What is meant by "concentrating"? If what is really meant is simply digging up what is there and levelling the ground, and possibly—I do not know—moving something to some central cemetery, that is one thing. But if it means reverently moving 233 the remains (where there are remains) to a central cemetery, it makes a difference. I have not risen for the purpose of discussing the matter but to ask the noble Viscount to amplify his answer, if he can, by saying what was meant by the expression "concentration."
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
it is the latter part of the noble and learned Viscount's statement which is intended to be expressed by the word "concentration." The noble and learned Viscount will understand the reason for so doing. In the first place it is extremely difficult to care properly for these scattered graves, and every one is anxious to avoid the deplorable experiences through which I believe this nation went some years after the Crimean War when it was found that isolated graves—and some not isolated—were neglected. That is one of the great reasons for doing this. Besides, when the graves are collected in these larger cemeteries there will be an opportunity for memorials and so on, and chapels for those who wish to hold services for the dead, and for other arrangements which are only possible if the dead are gathered into these larger cemeteries.
§ VISCOUNT HALDANE
My question was, What about the actual remains? Some people care about that very much, although I myself attach very little importance to it—"earth to earth and dust to dust." if "concentration" merely means that you take such memorial as there is and transfer it to a tombstone, leaving the remains themselves to moulder, that is a different thing from removing the remains.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
It was no doubt my fault, but I thought I had made it plain that I referred to the second part of the noble and learned Viscount's suggestion, that the actual remains are reverently, conveyed to the cemetery.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Peel has explained how the Imperial War Graves Commission was constituted and whence it derived its authority, and he has shown that it has taken great pains to consult the leaders of the different Churches and has taken the religious side as well as the artistic into consideration. I may say that I have no personal interest in this 234 matter, because my son's grave is unknown; but I have very strong feelings on the subject—shared, as I know, by a great number of people—and I want, with such restraint of language as I can command, to impress on the Government through my noble friend the point of view as it strikes me.
Sir Frederic Kenyon has been my personal friend for nearly half a century, and I know that there is no man who could have approached this work with more reverent and patriotic feelings than he, or who could have given greater time, trouble, and thought to this extraordinarily difficult question. All of us will admit from the beginning, without reservation, that this matter requires organisation, and that the last thing we desire is that it should not be the subject of that kind of thought, of organisation, and, if necessary, of legislative interference, which the proceedings of this Commission indicate. But where I part company from my noble friend, where I differ from the ideas at the bottom of the Report of this Commission is this—and it really is fundamental. I say that these dead are not the property of the nation or of the regiment, but of the widow, of the father, and of the mother.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
I say without the slightest hesitation that this is the view which every English family, of whatever station in life, has held, and it is the point of view from which they will consider this question. It is not the regiment, it is not the Government or the nation, still less is it a Public Department or Commission, that ought to have the last word in this matter, but the father, the mother, or the widow. Therefore I say that it is nothing less than sheer tyranny—a gross and wicked tyranny—to state that a cross may not be substituted for one of these tombstones if that is the wish of the widow, of the father, or of the mother. I do not suggest that there should be no restriction on the form of the memorial. I go to this length, that I would give some body a veto, so that the beauty, taste, and symmetry of a cemetery should not be marred by the lamentable want of taste or judgment even of a father or a mother or of 'a wife. But I do say that, with that power of restraint in the background, there should be a margin of choice for him or her who alone of the whole world really cares for these remains. That is my contention, 235 and the focus of that contention rests in the sign of the Cross. If a father or a wife says, "I am not content with the particular representation of the emblem which is found on the sealed pattern suggested by the Government," I say that they have the right, within the limits which I have suggested, to have their way, just as my noble friend has stated that in the matter of inscription they will always have their way, within necessary limits. I only ask him and the Government to extend to the actual tombstone or cross itself that same latitude of choice which they have already conceded in respect of the inscription.
Then I pass to the question of the remains. I quite agree that there are very few who wish to have the remains brought to this country but if they do, why should not they?
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
Why should it rest with a Government Department to say they should not? If the French Government said they could not or that they were not prepared to arrange it, I think it would be hard, but it would pass beyond the limits of our jurisdiction or right to criticise; but when it comes to a Government Department, in any shape or form, saying that no one in this country is to remove remains which to him or her are so utterly and eternally sacred, except with the leave of that Department or Commission, I say that is bureaucracy run mad, and I do not know who suggested to my noble friend the reasons on which he bases this. I do not believe they are his own. He said that if there was any differentiation it would usually be as between the richer and the poorer. As regards the headstone, I think he is quite wrong.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
As regards the removal of the bodies, he is probably right. But unless I am greatly mistaken and the whole of my knowledge of my poorer fellow-countrymen for more than fifty years is at fault, he will find that there are a great number of the very poorest families in this country who will save up money and go through great sacrifices in order to put up headstones to the brother or the son.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
But the noble Viscount's criticism was that there might be jealousy and a sense of inequality and resentment at the invidious distinction.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
I do not think I said "jealousy." What I think I said was that there would be some feeling of invidious distinction.
§ TIIE EARL OF SELBORNE
That was perhaps my comment, and not the language which my noble friend used. I believe that to be utterly and wholly unfounded. In this matter of the treatment of our dead, I believe that there is a common sentiment among English people; that at any rate no barriers of class or opinion or creed exist. It is at the very bottom of the English character that the dead is the possession of the family, and that no one else has a right to say a word as to the disposal of the dead or the treatment. Our national character is entirely free from that kind of sense of inequality in such matters. I do not believe for one single moment that there is a family in this land, however humble, which would resent it if another family better endowed in this world's goods were able to remove to the home churchyard, to the family circle of the dead, the son or the father who had fallen. I do not believe for one moment in any such resentment. Therefore I say that the Government have no title to interfere between those who alone have a right to settle this matter and the French Government. If my noble friend pursues this matter I will go with him to the end in any pressure which may be put upon the Government to secure that those who are the only ones in the whole world who really care for these mortal remains should have a voice in these matters.
LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
May we know who has been regarded as representative of the various religious bodies. Has the Church of Scotland been consulted?
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
I am afraid I have no information as to that, but I shall be very glad to inquire. I have no right to speak again except with the consent of the House, but I should like to be quite clear that I appreciate the precise argument of my noble friend Lord Selborne. He suggests that 237 people should be allowed to substitute a cross for the tombstone as drawn in that design. Of course, he knows that there is an incised cross on the tombstone, and the relatives are asked whether they prefer the cross to be there or not.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
I do not want to be misunderstood. I think that more latitude should be allowed. There should be some power of veto in some public body, but, with that power of veto in the background, there should be considerable latitude, and I only mentioned the substitution of a cross as the case which struck me as most urgent.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
I do not know whether at a later stage the noble Earl would care to draw up in the form of a memorial the precise suggestions which he has in mind. It would be very helpful, and if put before the Commission would be very sympathetically considered. All I need say now is that I have listened very respectfully to the suggestions which have been made, and I have done my best to put the views as representative of the Commission. I will certainly represent to my right hon. friend the Secretary of State for War the strength and force of the feeling which has been shown in the speeches we have heard, and will lay the whole matter before him and see what can be done to meet the views of noble Lords.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LINCOLNSHIRE
If the noble Viscount would do that, he would be doing a very kind action. My son was killed in 1915, and he was the last man brought back to England. As Lord Lieutenant of the county I have had several letters from very poor people saying, "Oh! your son lies in Moulsoe churchyard; why cannot my husband (or my son) be brought back too?" It has been a very painful letter to have to write to say it cannot be done—that the, Government cannot allow it. What Lord Selborne said is true, that amongst the poor people it is a great hardship that their loved one is not with them. They feel that, I think, almost more than we do. And so if anything can be done, if they had a sort of consolation to think that if they could scrape money together it could be done, I am very certain in my own mind that it would be a very kind action on the part of the Government.
THE EARL OF MEATH
My Lords, as one who, with many of your Lordships, lost a loved son, I feel that I must say a word in support of the noble Earl, Lord Selborne. I quite agree with all that was said by him. I feel most intensely that no Department has the right to dictate to Parliament. If it is a matter of such great importance, then I say that the Government ought to come to Parliament to find out what really is the wish of Parliament. We feel deeply for those who have fallen, whether they are our own sons or the sons of the very lowest classes in the country—that makes no difference at all. All have fought in the same cause; all have died in the same cause. They were all Englishmen, or Scotsmen, or Welshmen, or Irishmen, and we who survive them surely ought to try to carry out what is the will of the people, and especially of those who have lost dear ones. There can be no doubt whatever that a very large number of people in this country are most indignant to think that they are not permitted by a Department to erect what memorial they like over the remains of their lost ones.
Personally I feel that the subject is a most difficult one, and I recognise that the reason why we are told that we cannot do what we like originates from the feeling that all have died in the same cause and that there ought to be no distinction. Is there any reason, except-that of expense, why the Government should not say, "We are willing to place an ordinary cross on the grave of every soldier, rich or poor, at the expense of the country"? That is what I am asking. I know we cannot decide upon such a question in this House; but I believe that the House of Commons, if it were put before them, would by a vast majority pass money for the purpose of satisfying the feelings of the relatives of the large number who have died for their country. In this matter, the question of expense ought not to be considered. Consider the feelings of the people.
I am not pleading, my Lords, for your sons or for your brothers; I am pleading for the sons and brothers and husbands of the whole people of the British Isles. I most respectfully ask the Government if they do not think they could do that, and say that the Government are going to show that they, as representing the nation, realise what was done by the people of this country, and intend to do what the people 239 of this country wish in that regard, and that if the expense is more than a poor man can afford, they will supply the difference. Let every poor man have the choice of a Cross or some other memorial in reason, and then say, "What are you willing to subscribe towards that?" If the man is not able to subscribe, assist him in some proper proportion, thus showing that there is no difference between rich and poor, and that the whole thing is done for the sake of the country and the country alone.
§ VISCOUNT FINLAY
My Lords, I hope I am right in interpreting what was said by my noble friend by way of reply as meaning that very favourable consideration will be given to what I think is the almost unanimous wish of the House—namely, that the desires of the friends should be consulted as regards the form of the memorial. That is a matter on which their wishes should predominate. Of course, there must be some form of control in order to see that nothing is done which would detract from the harmony of the place where so many gallant men repose. I am sure that if my noble friend looks into the matter himself it will all be done in the best possible fashion. Subject to that, surely the friends should be allowed to say that they prefer a Cross to the type of memorial which may have been decided upon by the Government. I recognise that the other matter, the removal of the remains to this country, is one that may present more difficulties. Every one would be most anxious, of course, to meet the desires of the family in a matter of that kind. At the same time, I recognise that there may be considerations which. require the most careful attention of those in charge of the matter. On the first point, as to the type of memorial, however, I cannot imagine any one having any doubt whatever.
§ LORD PHILLIMORE
My Lords, as the noble Viscount has intimated his intention of taking a note of the observations which fall from your Lordships, and as I think it is desirable that he and those to whom he represents the matter should feel how unanimous the opinion is, I should like to say a word. I trust that this debate will get rid of the hateful idea of compulsory uniformity with regard to all these graves, and also of the feeling, which is beginning to be prevalent, that those who 240 are in charge of this matter have gone out of their way to discourage the prominence of the Cross. I am aware that there is to be a Cross, but the prominence of the Cross such as many of the relatives of those who are dead would desire, appears to be almost unnecessarily discouraged by those who have had the care of this matter hitherto.
By all means let there be control. By all means let extravagant or luxurious monuments be forbidden. Let the size and the taste and the wealth of them be under control. Let there be a certain number of patterns of the Cross, if you like, but let there be a liberty to those who are interested in the (lead to say if they would like a Cross upon the tomb of the dead person, notwithstanding what any bureaucracy may desire in the matter of compulsory uniformity.
With regard to the other matter, as to which there might be two classes of opinion, I think our true complaint is that the Government have taken into their hands what ought to be done by Parliament. Under the guise of a Treaty with the French they have prevented ordinary Englishmen from exercising their ordinary rights. No body but Parliament ought to settle that an Englishman should not, if the French Government consent, be able to remove the body of his dead from France to England. Under the guise of a Treaty with France the Government have apparently passed an Act of legislation. That, I think, is a matter which deserves the strongest protest from your Lordships' House.