HL Deb 17 May 1927 vol 67 cc266-9

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords this Bill was promoted in place by the Imperial War Graves Commission. It was introduced by Mr. Harry Gosling, a member of the Commission, and it enjoyed the unique distinction that it was backed by three Prime Ministers, past or present—by Mr. Lloyd George, Mr. Ramsay MacDonald and Mr. Baldwin. The House of Commons is not the only place where past Prime Ministers are to be found; and, if it were the practice in this House to follow the same procedure as was adopted in the House of Commons, I venture to think there would have been no difficulty in obtaining the support for this Bill of three noble Lords, past Prime members of this House.

It may be asked why it should be necessary to promote a Bill in Parliament before the War Graves Commission can proceed to erect a memorial in honour of the officers and men of the mercantile marine who fell in the War. The explanation is this. Much difficulty was experienced in finding a suitable site in London. So great were the difficulties that at one time it was thought that it might be necessary to erect the memorial in some other part of the country. I think that that would have been very regrettable. London is the first port of the Empire, and the Port of London is frequented more than any other port of the world by officers and men of the mercantile marine. Fortunately, a very suitable Site has now been found in the garden of Trinity Square, Tower Hill. But here, too, there were difficulties. There are many individuals and public bodies interested in the garden of Trinity Square; for instance, there are the trustees who control the garden. The most important of them are the Tower of London, Trinity House, and the Port of London Authority. These bodies, together with others interested in the amenities of the garden, held meetings, and arrived unanimously at a decision to offer no objection to the proposal. Other bodies interested in the garden are His Majesty's Commissioners for Crown Lands, the Office of Works, and the Borough Council of Stepney, all of whom have expressed their acquiescence in the proposal. There remained the Underground Railway Companies, whose tunnel passes under the garden, and, as your Lordships will have observed, their interests are protected by a clause in the Bill.

Although there are so many different bodies connected with and interested in the garden, there is no one person and no one body who has the power legally to authorise the erection of the memorial there: hence this Bill. The memorial has been designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens and it provides that the names of all the officers and men of the mercantile marine who fell during the War and have no known graves should be inscribed on the memorial, in the same way as the names of officers and men of the Royal Navy have been inscribed on memorials which have been erected at Plymouth, Portsmouth and Chatham. The memorial will be 64 ft. in length following the boundary of the garden. It will extend only about 25 feet inside the garden so that the amenities of the garden are not affected. All the difficulties standing in the way of the erection of a memorial, therefore, have been removed and the Commission is waiting to proceed with the work for the passage of this Bill through your Lordships' House. I am certain that no recommendation is necessary from me to your Lordships of the object of this Bill. I am sure that it will meet with universal support. Nevertheless, perhaps I may be allowed to give expression to one or two reflections that have occurred to me.

It is now just ten years since the enemy's submarine campaign was at its height. My recollection of those days is so vivid that I find it difficult to believe that so long a time has passed since I used to go down to the Port of London to see what effect the campaign was having upon our shipping. So far as numbers were concerned they were, of course, greatly reduced, but the surprising thing was to find that there were any ships there at all when one considered the dangers and difficulties that beset every ship that attempted to enter or leave the Port. They were strange-looking ships, camouflaged and some of them, but by no means all, armed for defence, but what I think struck the imagination most was the knowledge that all these ships were manned by officers and crews, many of whom had already been torpedoed, some of them more than once, and not one of whom so far as I was able to learn—and I made it my business to enquire—ever refused to go to sea again. They followed their daily avocation silently, unseen, without any of the glamour that sometimes surrounded those who took a more active part in the struggle and often with no means of defence against a venomous and secret enemy.

In the pursuit of their daily avocation, so essential to the very existence of the Empire—without it indeed we must either have starved or surrendered—they faced sudden death from submarine and mine; they were shot whilst struggling in the water; they were cast adrift in open boats, and 15,000 of them perished. Of these 15,000, 3,000 have been commemorated elsewhere. There remain 12,000 with no known grave other than the sea. If your Lordships pass this Bill a memorial will be erected in their honour on a site more appropriate perhaps than could be found anywhere else in the country. On Tower Hill, where nearly all those who are accustomed to go down to the sea in ships pass sooner or later, overlooking the first Port of the Empire, within a stone's throw of the London docks, within sound of the ships' syrens, there will be inscribed the names of those 12,000 brave men as a perpetual reminder to all who go by of the sacrifice they made for the Empire in time of peril. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Ritchie of Dundee.)


My Lords, it would not be fitting that I should allow the eloquent words with which my noble friend has moved the Second Reading of this Bill to pass without stating on behalf of His Majesty's Government how deeply we concur with his Motion and with the sentiments which he has expressed in its support. It would not have been possible that amidst the many heroic deeds which took place in the War the deeds of these men alone should not receive their due memorial. It is a matter of great satisfaction, indeed a matter of great gratitude to all of us, that as we pass through our country we see these memorials of the heroes of the War in every village. But it would not have been possible to leave out the great mercantile marine. After all, they took almost as great risks as the combatant members of His Majesty's Navy. They were essential to the conduct of the War. They were essential to the preservation of the life of the community. I cannot pretend to emulate the burning words in which my noble friend has described their deeds, but I agree with him that no more fitting place could be found for a memorial of them than the site which has been selected, near the most historic spot in London, overlooking the Port of London, where, as he said, these members of the mercantile marine passed to and fro upon their message of heroism and, very likely, upon their journey to death. We are very grateful to my noble friend for moving the Second Reading of this Bill and I need not say that I am sure it will receive the unanimous support of your Lordships' House.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed.