HL Deb 23 May 1946 vol 141 cc469-91

6.15 p.m.

LORD SALTOUN rose to call attention to the statement made by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for War in the House of Lords on 15th May in reply to a private notice question as to a directive issued by the Allied Control Commission in Germany that certain War Memorials including those of the 1914–1918 War shall be destroyed or mutilated, and to move to resolve:—

"That this House disapproves of and dissociates itself from the action of His Majesty's Government in permitting the destruction or mutilation of certain war memorials in the zone of Germany occupied by British Troops and begs them to reconsider the matter." The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg leave to move the Motion that stands in my name. I would first of all like to say that I quite realize that His Majesty's Government may not be willing to accept that Motion as it stands. I do not actually know that they have—in fact I sincerely hope that they have not—permitted the destruction of any war memorial. But I do hope that in some form it will commend itself to them, and I would especially direct their attention to the last line. I am perfectly certain that the feelings which actuate me, and the opinions which I hold, or many of them, are not held by me alone but by every noble Lord in your Lordships' House. I do not except from that my noble friends on the Government Bench, because in the too short weeks in which I have known them, and I hope have become friends with them, I have learned quite definitely, and am quite certain, that none of them would themselves approve of what we are told is to be done.

I not only speak the opinion of everyone in your Lordships' House but I speak the opinion of every thinking man in the country and I am perfectly certain that I am voicing the unanimous opinion of the British Army in occupied territory and in this country. There is only one small body of men about whom I was not certain in regard to this order. I hope your Lordships will not mind my using the word order; I am so English I do prefer the English language where it can possibly be used. There is a small body of Englishmen forming the British Cabinet, and it was very difficult for me to think that this order had actually been published without their knowledge, cannot think so. They are Englishmen like I am, and I am perfectly certain their feelings were exactly the same as mine. If the noble Lord who is going to answer me has any information, I would like him to say what the position is so far as the Cabinet is concerned, and whether it is a Cabinet decision or not, because I would not like it to be thought in the country that it was a Cabinet decision if in fact it was not.

In the first place I must touch briefly on the question of destroying memorials and statuary in general, because it is always possible for the noble Lord in reply to say, "We do not mean the things you mean, but things which are most objectionable." Take a statue of Hitler, or any other statue. I can describe one to you which was described to me to-day. There is a plinth, with an eagle on the top, and a swastika. You may destroy that. I do not mind very much. But I think it is worth your Lordships' while to consider what you actually effect if you do so. If such a thing is done, it becomes perfectly certain that as soon as pressure is removed the statue will be re-erected or, if it is not re-erected, the memory of it will be cherished and not forgotten. If it is left alone nobody notices it. Who can tell me all the statues he passes between Piccadilly Circus and this House? Who ever looks at them?

These statues in Germany make no difference, and if they are noticed, what are they noticed for? It is brought forcibly to the minds of Germans that Hitler was the origin of the evils which at present surround them. It is the best propaganda you could have, and I would remind your Lordships that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church. It is always a mistake to destroy these things, quite apart from it being a very ancient custom not to touch them. I am not primarily concerned with that, however. I only say that in case I am ridden off my subject.

I am dealing with war memorials, and whatever subsidiary ideas may be attached to war memorials, however grossly they may offend what happens to be our own taste, war memorials have as their principal object the commemoration of the dead. The order is directed against memorials which tend to preserve and keep alive the German military tradition, to revive militarism, or to commemorate the Nazi party, or which are of such a nature as to glorify the incidents of war. In the first place, a statue or any work of art may elevate the mind or debase the mind, but there is one thing which I think is the greatest characteristic and most valuable part of a work of art, and that is that by itself it cannot express that vast category of abstract ideas which have to be formulated in words. It is the one refuge of the human spirit from the prison of words.

I can give your Lordships a very good example. The most passionate dirge in the Scottish Song Book is Flowers of the Forest, itself a war memorial. Before that tune was wedded to those words I understand it was the lilt of an old ranting beggar song, maybe the Gaberlunzie Man itself. That is where it originated. That shows it is the ideas you bring to a work of art that give it its meaning, and not the work itself. If you eradicate the ideas, it does not matter if you touch the work of art or leave it; if you do not eradicate the ideas it is no use attacking the bronze or the stone. I think that probably the most effective commemoration of the Nazi Party, and what will promote its disappearance more than anything else, will be the disaster to which it has brought the people who followed it.

But we are told that many of these war memorials tend to preserve the German military tradition, to revive militarism and glorify the incidents of war. A war memorial is a cenotaph of the dead. What should it do? What do our own war memorials do but to glorify the British military tradition? What else does the Shrine at Edinburgh do, what else the Guards' Chapel, endeared to us more than ever by its having been wrecked at the hands of the enemy? I hope our war memorials will long cherish the British military tradition. And as for militarism, your Lordships know that our war memorials did not preserve militarism. It would have been a very good thing for us if they had tended to preserve militarism. That emphasizes my point that the memorials do not do these things; it is the idea which you bring to them. I wish they had preserved militarism. The incidents of war which come naturally to the mind when looking at a war memorial are the patience and cheerfulness in suffering, the constancy and determination in danger. Those are the things that come naturally to the mind in contemplating any war memorial. Nobody worries about the inscription or anything else. And sometimes also it reminds us of what the soldier very seldom mentions—his feeling for his country. It is not the military virtues which everybody associates with war memorials that have disgraced the Germans. It is the brutality, the arrogance and the subservience of their civilian nature, which the military virtues have failed to eradicate.

Now the order appears to me to be a little insincere, if I may say so, and a little inconsistent. That is shown by the exception, Monuments of artistic merit will not be destroyed, but only offensive features glorifying Nazi or militaristic creeds. That means we do not mind being vandals against every primitive instinct of human decency, but Heaven forbid that we should be thought vandals about art. As soon as you chip a single war memorial you are in danger. If the Germans had been in occupation of my own county of Aberdeenshire and desecrated our own local war memorial—which as you know they would not have done—I can imagine the huge feeling of contempt that would have filled me. It would not have hurt us at all, but I can imagine my enormous feeling of contempt, and how carefully and how cunningly I would have planned an inscription on the carefully preserved mutilation to record their baseness. It would have hurt them for ever; it would not have hurt us very much.

We are in a very great danger in this matter. If a single tablet is chipped you will never be able to persuade the world as to what you have done and what you have not done. Everything that is damaged will be ascribed to you. I know the Germans pretty well—they taught me themselves—and I know that they are always the prey of some secret society or other. They are quite capable, as soon as we lay a finger on a single memorial, of themselves secretly desecrating the most holy commemorations and attributing the damage to us. How will we ever be able to deny it? We cannot go forward with a list and say, "No, we did not do that." From generation to generation that will be written up against us, and who will disbelieve it? There is the order, and there is the result.

At least I would plead that if this work is to be done, it ought not to be done by soldiers. It is not right for people here who are sitting at ease to order soldiers to do work for which they feel a moral loathing and reprehension, and which they feel instinctively to be base. Sometimes in your Lordships' House, when I have listened to those noble Lords who are most violent in expression against the enemy, I have wondered if any one of them has ever been present at or taken part in the sack of one quite insignificant village. When people give orders, they should realize how they are to be carried out, and who are to carry them out. If His Majesty's Government are determined—I do not believe they are, and I certainly hope they are not—then this order should be carried out by volunteers. It comes from the Control Council and one suspects that some of our Allies may be at the bottom of it, such as the Russians or the French. Let us take the French.

There are no troops for whom I have more respect than the gallant troops of the French Republic. If they can produce from their fighting forces one man who, of his own accord, will carry out this work, well, use him as your agent. I can give you a precedent for that, or something very like it. After the Battle of Waterloo, when we were in occupation of Paris, Blucher was quite determined to blow up the Pont d'Jena. Its name and everything about it was, he felt, an insult to Prussia. The old Duke was not an easy man to get to windward of. He did not want it done, hat he could not prevent what his Allies wanted to do; so he posted a Guards sentry in the middle of the bridge. Blucher could not blow up the bridge without blowing up the guardsman, and that did the trick. If this has got to be done, then let it be done by the men who are willing to do it.

I hope the Government's recent intimacy with foreigners has not made them insensible to something which I feel to be one of our greatest assets, namely, our national reputation I was a prisoner of war during the last war, and mingled with all the races of Europe. It is not saying too much to say that one was associated with some of the choicest scoundrels in Europe, and very often one found oneself amongst them only. The thing that carried one through the whole time was the high opinion that the very worst of them had of the character of an Englishman. I remember one officer who got into trouble. He had forged a very important person's name on a document, and, unfortunately for him, the document was found in his possession. So the Germans put him in prison, and kept him very short of food. One afternoon, three German officers, having nothing better to do, came into his cell to amuse themselves. They told hint that the whole garrison was horrified that a British officer should have sunk to the crime of forgery.

After a little of this sort of thing the officer decided to end it, and he said, "I will tell you something. There were some Germans at the College where I was at Oxford, and very nice lads some of them were. There was one whom everybody liked, but I will not tell you his name. He was very badly wounded at Le Cateau and brought in. We did our best for him, and as he was dying he said that he wished his mother could know how well he had been treated, and bitterly wished that it was possible for him to hope that British officers in German hands would be treated like he had been. Now," my friend said, "at our college we have a list of the fallen for our memorial, and that lad's name is down with the others. We are all there, all together. Can you tell me what is the practice in the German Universities?" One of the officers said, "I am very sorry to say that I do not think there is any German University where that would be done. It is fine, Dass ist echt englisch—that is English through and through." Do you think it is worth while to sacrifice a national asset like this to gratify a momentary whim and to please a pack of wily foreigners? If that is the meaning of what the noble Lord said about frontiers being as obsolete as bows and arrows, then I think we had better close them again very quickly.

One final word. This war and the last differed from other wars in, I think, principally one thing, and one thing only, and that is in the very large number of men who disappeared entirely, men who were drowned in the mud, men who were captured and never reported. I know of one case with the Fifth Grenadiers, where men disappeared, but I know why they were never seen again; the shell-fire was too hot. War brings different sufferings to different classes of people, but for each class there is, as a rule, healing. Sons may grow up, deriving something of the inspiration from their fathers' reputation that they might have got from his counsel. Widows may, and very often do, remarry. But for one class there is no consolation. Mothers who have given you their sons have given you everything. Even Pericles, in that most famous and best of all funeral speeches, falters and grows lame when he comes to the mothers; he has really nothing to offer them. They have given you everything, and for them you can do nothing—nothing except one thing, and that is not to turn to evil the gift that they have given you. If their children have disappeared, the only one spot in the whole world upon which they can fix their thoughts is the memorial where their gift is registered. In defiling these, or any portion of them, in Germany, you defile and sully our own, and stain our reputation. And that stain will not be washed out by all the seas of the world, nor will it fade in all the ages of time.

Moved to resolve, That this House disapproves of and dissociates itself from the action of His Majesty's Government in permitting the destruction or mutilation of certain war memorials in the zone of Germany occupied by British Troops and begs them to reconsider the matter."—(Lord Saltoun.)

6.39 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to add a few words in support of the Motion put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun. I hope the Government will find some means of extricating themselves from the very discreditable position which they are called upon to defend this afternoon. It is true that in his speech last week the noble Lord, the Under-Secretary of State for War, endeavoured to console himself and us by pledging that war memorials of artistic merit were not going to be destroyed. Who is going to be the judge of artistic merit? It is always a very difficult task to know the good from the bad. It is to be hoped that it will not be left to some subaltern in the Royal Army Service Corps or the commander of a bomb disposal squad to decide these delicate, artistic questions.

Perhaps I may be allowed to give your Lordships an example of the difficulty which arises on these occasions. From his window in the War Office the noble Lord looks down on the memorial statues of Lord Haig and the Duke of Cambridge. The one, Lord Haig's memorial, is compact in power and imagination. The horse's head is compressed and strong, the cloak more rigid than any cloak should be in real life, and the whole conception alive with the grave integrity of the man himself and the indomitable tenacity of the people who held the Western Front. Here is an undoubted work of art, an undoubted work of artistic merit, impossible to pass by without receiving an aesthetic emotion—at any rate for those who know what an aesthetic emotion is and are capable of experiencing it. Close to that memorial, on the right hand, is the memorial to the Duke of Cambridge which means, and is, nothing at all. It neither has any artistic merit, nor does it convey anything of the man or of what he did. If the noble Lord turned away from his window and took a plebiscite of the hundreds of people he has in his department, I have no doubt that they would be in a majority for removing Lord Haig and retaining the Duke of Cambridge. I should not be at all surprised if the same lack of artistic appreciation was present in your Lordships' House.

To judge these things rightly, qualities such as those possessed by the exponents of fine art are required. I hope the noble Lord will tell us what machinery will be set up to deal with the questions of artistic merit, and later on the names of competent people who will be appointed to administer that machinery. But this lip-service to artistic merit, so unusual and unexpected from the Department over which the noble Lord presides, must not divert our judgment from the general principle involved. The Government have no easy task in dealing with foreign countries, and Mr. Bevin has deserved and received the congratulations of all parties in this country, not because he is supporting a Party or a Conservative or Labour Policy, but because he stands everywhere for decent behaviour. It is all the greater shock to find that our military administrators in Germany have allowed themselves to be dragged at the heels of a nation less civilized than our- selves. There is nothing English about this policy, which offends every moral and religious sense. Suppose the Germans had won the war. What should we have said if they had, as they would have done, dynamited the Cenotaph and obliterated the grave of the unknown soldier? We should have said, of course—and I can imagine the speech the noble Lord, Lord Vansittart, would have made on the occasion—that it was typical Nazi behaviour. So it would have been, but so it is when we do it ourselves. I put it before the noble Lord, who looked so uncomfortable when he was defending this case last week, that when we desecrate the memorials of the dead we dishonour and humiliate not the Nazis but ourselves.

6.45 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to support the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun's protest and also to draw a distinction, first of all thanking him very warmly for what he has said. I am asked by the most reverend Primate to say that the Bishops did, in Convocation this week, pass the following Resolution on the subject of war memorials for the fallen: That this House deeply regrets the reported decision of the Allied Control authority in Berlin to destroy or deface German War Memorials arising out of the 1914–1918 war as well as of the war just ended, and expresses the hope that no such defacement or destruction of memorials for the fallen may in fact be carried out in the British zone in Germany. It is not possible to justify the destruction or defacing of memorials of those Who have fallen in war, wherever they are, in a church or the churchyard, on the village green, in the public park, in the town square, or anywhere. The memorials of the fallen may be accompanied by marks of mourning or gratitude or honour, and different nations express these sentiments in different ways. It would be an act of sacrilege to mutilate the war graves of those of any country who have fallen for their country. We are all with the Government in desiring to eliminate Nazism and militarism, but as the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, has said, to mutilate and destroy memorials of the fallen would in fact have the opposite effect, and I hope with confidence that there is no intention on the part of the British authorities to interfere in any way with memorials of the fallen.

I wish to draw a distinction which I think is important, and is implicit, if I understood him aright, in Lord Nathan's reply the other day—the distinction between memorials of the fallen wherever they may be and gravestones. The words used in the directive are, "Germany military and Nazi memorials and museums which tend to preserve and keep alive the German military tradition, to revive militarism or to commemorate the Nazi Party, or which are of such a nature as to glorify incidents of war." I notice that the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, was very careful to avoid the use of the words "war memorials." Those words, and all that they imply, may be absent from the directive. The reference may well be to monuments which are not memorials of the fallen, but glorifications of war, museums of militarism, shrines of Nazi ideology and memorials of military passion. If that be so, that is a very different matter from what is ordinarily described as a war memorial.

I would like to give you an illustration of what I understand to be the policy of the Control Commission in the British Zone. In the current number of the British Zone Review there is a description of the great cathedral of St. Blaise in Brunswick which was built between 1173 and 1195 by Henry the Lion, It contains the relics of Henry the Lion, who was the great rival of the Emperor Frederick Barbarossa and an English Queen Matilda. That is the most important of all the churches in Brunswick and it still survives. In 1935 Hitler decided to turn that cathedral into a Nazi shrine.

He made it the glorification of Nazism. He removed the former furnishings, he wiped out all the mural paintings. It ceased to be a Lutheran church and became a building for State worship. There was a long frieze etched into the plaster which has always been regarded as one of the principal factors in Nazification so far as Brunswick is concerned. It not only described people on the march, people at war and people at work, but paid particular attention to Henry the Lion's March to the East and placed among a group of Slays the figure of Marshal Stalin. Now, after the war, the military government in the British zone has completely de-Nazified that shrine. The crypt and the cathedral have been re-consecrated. It has been given back to the Lutheran Church. The frieze has been cleared away but all the old features, so far as possible, have been restored. That is the right kind of doing away with emblems of militarism, the right kind of elimination of Nazi memorials and museums. If the Government goes along in that good way, restoring what is good and eliminating what has been put in in this militarist and Nazi fashion, then I do not think we shall have much to complain of, and I hope very much that the Directive, so far as interpretation in action in the British zone is concerned, will be followed out exactly in that spirit.

6.53 p.m.


My Lords, until I came into this House I never really realized that it was seriously contemplated to destroy memorials in Germany or in other enemy countries. I can hardly believe now that it is seriously contemplated. The idea seems too puerile, too small really for the minds of the great British people. And it seems hardly worthy of a Government that has talked so much about freedom—freedom of thought, freedom of ideas and freedom of action. To destroy memorials in Germany and other enemy countries is the antithesis of freedom. Does anybody really believe that memorials in marble and other kinds of stone have contributed anything vital to the actual fighting. I do not believe that they have done so, unless they are the works of Epstein or Picasso or someone of that sort. I do not believe that to destroy ordinary memorials in marble and other kinds of stone is going to have any good result. And, as I say, I do not believe that they contribute anything to the warlike spirit. You might as well say: "Look at Trafalgar Square. See that great column with the statue of Nelson on the top," or you might say: "Look at the Wellington statue," and suggest that those memorials contribute to the military spirit. The factors that cause the great gatherings that are to be seen in Trafalgar Square are the open spaces, the pigeons and the fountains—not the statue of Nelson on the top of his column. I do feel that the destruction of these memorials is too paltry an action to meet with any approval from the British people.

Speaking as a Scot, I assure your Lordships that if our great national shrine at the top of the Castle Rock in Edinburgh were to be swept away that would not contribute to a peaceful outlook. Anyone who said that it would would be talking rubbish. Certainly it would only make me more warlike and more inclined to fight more fiercely than ever. Is it proposed by the Government to dig up the grave of the Unknown Soldier in any enemy country? Surely not! Surely the Government are not going to stoop so low as to dig up the remains of an Unknown Soldier in Germany or in any other enemy country; and I suggest that if you are going to leave one kind of memorial then you should leave them all. You will not get peace by destroying anything beautiful, by pulling down anything which is revered by a nation. You will only get peace by building up a democratic and enlightened nation. So I would beg, let us leave the memorials.

6.56 p.m.


My Lords, there is just one thing I wish to say in this debate. I happen to have returned recently from the Island of Jersey, which, as your Lordships know, was occupied by German troops for five years. I am glad to be able to tell your Lordships that those German troops committed no desecration of our war memorials in the island, nor any other act of vandalism so far as I could hear.


My Lords, at this late hour may I just say a very few words upon this subject. As a soldier I fully support the noble Lord who moved this Motion. For six years His Majesty's Forces have been not unsuccessfully employed in reducing Naziism, and even Hitler himself, to ashes, and I cannot imagine anything more likely to fan those ashes into flame, than the directive that is now before us. If they are fanned into flame then our work will be all to do again. So much has been said already that I had contemplated saying, and it has been said with such eloquence, that there is little need for me to add much more. I would, however, like, if I may, to support what has been said by my noble friend the Earl of Selborne. I, myself, took some trouble to inquire what has happened in Northern Italy, where I have a certain interest in memorials which have been put up there. I am able to make a similar report to that of my noble friend the Earl of Selborne. Not one of those memorials of which I speak has been touched or interfered with in any way. The picture I particularly dislike is the picture of a British platoon being armed with crowbars and picks, and possibly dynamite, and ordered to deface monuments of any sort, I am quite sure it does not matter on which side of the House your Lordships may sit, you all took some part, and many of you played great parts in this war, and I am quite sure there is nothing any of you would resent so much as being put in command of such a platoon. Finally, I do sincerely express the wish that I am not too late in endorsing the hope expressed by Lord Saltoun that nothing has so far been done, because I cannot help saying that in my opinion this directive can only perpetuate bitterness, that it is ignoble, un-English and un-Christian.

6.59 p.m.


My Lords, I will not keep the House for more than a few moments, but there are just two or three words I wish to say. I hope that this directive may be so interpreted—and I think it can be so interpreted—that no memorial of the 1914–1918 War shall be destroyed in the British zone at all. It is because I believe that to be possible that I hope that His Majesty's Government will take that line. I do not entirely accept the form—the form only—of Lord Saltoun's Motion but I entirely accept its spirit. Now I just want to add this. What shocked us, I think, when we heard about this proposal with regard to the memorials was the idea that memorials should be destroyed which were put up to brave men who fell in a war in which their country was defeated. All our Allies are not so fortunate. There was a memorial set up in East Prussia of a great German victory over Russia. That memorial was used as a glorification of all the most boasting and arrogant parts of Nazism. If the Russians came and said, "You do not understand; you have not got a monument like that; may we not take away that exhibition of Nazi arrogance, even though it is a memorial of the 1914–1918 War?" I, for one, do not feel that I could take a very high line and be so righteous as all that. It is only fair to remember that, but I still hope that the directive can be so interpreted that no memorials to the fallen whatsoever shall be destroyed in the British zone. For historical reasons, which we need not discuss, some of our Allies on the Continent think that intolerance is a virtue, and that tolerance is a crime. I hope that we shall always insist on just the opposite—that we believe intolerance is a crime, and tolerance is a virtue.

7.2 p.m.


My Lords, I feel I must apologize for intervening once again. I only hope that with the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne's return I shall have my day of silence. I think it would be wrong if the debate on this very important subject were to close without a word or two from this Bench, because I am sure that the anxiety which has been expressed, and so well expressed, in This House to-day—and in both Houses of Parliament—represents a very real anxiety in the country. The answers we have had have been very brief. Both the reply which we had from the noble Lord last time, and the rather fuller reply which was given in another place, were obscure and far from satisfactory. I hope that to-day we shall have an answer which is both a clear and a satisfactory assurance. I say quite frankly, if a mistake has been made—and in these international matters we should not be the only people to retrace our steps on second thoughts—it will be much more satisfactory to admit it, and to state our intentions in a way which would command general approval in the country. As this debate has shown, people are anxious about this matter. People who are most strongly anti-Nazi in all their sentiments—and after hearing the noble and gallant Earl I say this with confidence—probably those who feel most strongly in this matter are those who have fought for six years to destroy the Nazi system. Everybody agrees that that system must be destroyed, and that the whole spirit of Nazism must be eradicated.

If you had a directive confined to Nazi memorials, memorials intended to commemorate and glorify the Nazi system or its leaders, no one would have the least hesitation—at least I personally would not—in saying that they might very well be obliterated. But we have not seen the whole of this directive. I am sure that the noble Lord will agree that we ought to see it. As far as I can understand it, and from the rather fuller account given in another place, it goes a great deal further than the destruction of Nazi memorials. If it were carried out it would have exactly the opposite effect to what I am sure the Government intend. If we take it literally, and I would much rather not try to get away with some interpretation, let us say quite frankly what do we intend to do. Would this directive compel us to destroy war memorials of 1914–1918 unless they have artistic or utility value? If so who is to be the arbiter of taste? There are a number of war memorials in this country which are sacred to people in their own localities, but which would hardly pass sustained aesthetic examination.

The Minister who answered in another place said that we were not to destroy tombstones. I should hope not. One of the few decent things the Germans did in the last war was to see that the cemeteries in all the countries which they overran, and certainly in the territories in which we fought, were respected and safeguarded. What have ordinary memorials of the last war in the towns and villages of Germany got to do with the Nazi system? Hitler was an obscure corporal somewhere behind the lines. These memorials do not celebrate victory; they do not really celebrate war, as war, at all. They are the spontaneous tribute of ordinary people to their dead—fathers, husbands and children. These local memorials certainly do not commemorate any Nazi system. They commemorate the dead. I doubt if in any real sense they revive militarism. I do not believe that anybody as he passes the Cenotaph, or walks through the cloisters at Winchester, or bares his head at a little village shrine, is reviving militarism. So far as the Germans are concerned, I can think of nothing better calculated to inspire hatred, to revive militarism and drive disillusioned Germans back to Nazism than the destruction or defacement of their memorials of the first world war.

So far as the British people are concerned, such action would be wholly repugnant to their unexpressed but deepest sentiments. I do share the feeling of the noble and gallant Earl, that it would be an utterly distasteful task to impose upon British soldiers. I beg the Government to give the assurances which the country wants, and which I feel sure the Government themselves want to give. If we have made a wrong commitment, let us reconsider it. We have the responsibility of what we do in our own zone. It is not as if we were dealing with a situation where there was unity and agreement all along the line. We shall certainly not lessen our prospect of agreement with our Allies on much larger and more difficult matters if in this matter, in our own area where we are responsible, we insist on pursuing a line of conduct in keeping with British sentiment and tradition.

7.9 p.m.


My Lords, at this hour perhaps I may be allowed in a very few words to endorse the sentiments of the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, and the noble Viscount, Lord Esher. Of all war memorials in Europe, perhaps the most conspicuous and best known is the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, at the foot of which the four Foreign Ministers recently saw a victory parade. It is undoubtedly a monument to wars of flagrant aggression. On its sides are inscribed names of battles, such as Jena, Wagram, and other victories of the flagrantly aggressive Napoleonic wars. The Germans were in occupation of Paris. They could have blown it up. They did not do so. If they had done so, everyone would have said, "How very childish." Let us take example by that. If we pull down such memorials in Germany, undoubtedly they will be rebuilt. If they are to be pulled down, let them be pulled down by the peoples themselves, in an age of greater enlightenment, rather than by foreign conquerors.

7.11 p.m.


My Lords, importance has been given to the debate upon this subject by the contributions made by the Leader of the Opposition and the Leader of the Liberal Party. Yet the subject of itself is intrinsically important. When the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, asked me a private notice question last week, the sentiment generally of your Lordships upon the subject was clear to me, and that sentiment has been made clearer to-day, if additional clarity were necessary, by speakers in various parts of your Lordships' House. Let me say at once that the kind of consideration that has impelled this Motion, and has informed the speeches that have been made, is a consideration which is also prominent in the mind of His Majesty's Government. But I think it will be useful, before I come to a more specific statement, in answer to some of the in quiries made of me, if I make an effort to put this matter into a different and perhaps more accurate perspective.

It was inevitable, having regard to the statements that appeared in the Press, which reported from Berlin this directive as applying, as it seemed from the reports, only to war memorials, that the minds of members of your Lordships' House, as of the people of the country in general, should have inclined to the view that that was the limited objective of this directive. That is not the case. It has a far wider extension than that. The noble Viscount, the Leader of the Opposition, indicated that it would be useful if the context were given in which this matter has arisen and, before I sit down, I hope I may be allowed to give that. It must be remembered that the general background out of which this directive has emerged is provided by the decisions taken by the great Allied Powers at Potsdam regarding the elimination of all forms of German militarism, the destruction of the National Socialist Party and of Nazi institutions, and the prevention of all Nazi and militarist activity and propaganda, leading finally to the eventual reconstruction of German political life on a democratic basis.

To attain these objectives, various measures have been taken, and are in the course of being taken. Let me mention a few of them. There is, for instance, the destruction of German war potential by the disbandment of armed forces, the destruction of war-like stores and the prohibition, or at least the severe curtailment, of industrial production that might furnish materials of war. There is the annulment of Nazi laws which provided the basis of the Hitler regime or established discrimination on the ground of race, creed, or political opinion, and the complete cleansing of the judicial system. There is in the course of being carried out the exclusion from public office, or permanent or official positions in public life, of all Nazis and militarists as well as industrialists who encouraged and supported the Nazi regime, some of the most prominent of whom are in gaol. There has been the breaking up of the great industrial trusts and the expropriation of the leaders of industry, who were so largely responsible for the rise of Hitler and for the war. And then, perhaps as important as any, there is the purging of all schools and universities, and the checking of all material supplied to the pupils in order that Nazi and militaristic teaching might be eliminated.

It is really in the context of the elimination of Naziism and of militarism that this matter has to be considered. It is as a part of that programme that this directive was issued. The directive is not aimed primarily at war memorials. I had contemplated giving to your Lordships a compressed statement, but, lest inaccuracies should arise, I will, for the sake of greater accuracy, as the phrase goes, and in the light of the suggestion made by the noble Viscount opposite read a few lines from the directive. It provides that the planning, designing, erection, installation, posting or other display of any monument, memorial, poster, statue, edifice, street or highway name marker, emblem, tablet, or insignia which tends… and these I think are the important words which tends to preserve and keep alive the German military tradition, to revive militarism or to commemorate the Nazi party, or which is of such a nature as to glorify incidents of war, and the functioning of military museums and exhibitions, and the erection, installation, or posting or other display on a or other structure of any of the same, will be prohibited and declared illegal. Then it goes on to provide for such objectionable elements to be destroyed.


Is that a new instruction?


They are prohibited. They are to be destroyed. Your Lordships will have observed that the provisions of the directive are far wider than might have been judged, either from the question put to me last week or from the form of the Motion now before your Lordships. I ought to add that the terms "military" and "militarism" and the phrase which I quoted—"incidents of war" —refer to warlike activities after the 1st August, 1914, that is, including the 1914–1918 war. It is clear that it is not every monument, every statue, every street name or memorial that is to be removed, but only those which would serve to perpetuate Nazi and militarist principles.

Under the directive there is to be selection, and, in the first plate, responsibility for selection is to be placed in the hands of German officials. It is the Germans who will be charged with compiling lists of memorials and the like which are recommended for demolition within the terms of the directive. It will be open to them to recommend to the zone commander in each zone that certain elements which appear to be covered by this directive shall be spared because of exceptional artistic value or public utility. It must be borne in mind—


I want to get this right. What I would like to determine is whether the Germans will be able to say what they think ought to be destroyed, or merely have to interpret literally a directive and only be able to say, "We want to preserve this because it is of some artistic merit." Could they say, for instance, "No memorial of the 1914–18 war is to be destroyed?"


No, I think it is quite clear they would have to come within the general purview of this directive. They would have to look at particular memorials and the like, and draw those memorials to the attention of the zone commander. The ultimate responsibility would clearly rest on the zone commander for accepting or refusing the advice that was given to him. But I will revert in a sense to that matter in a moment, because it is important in considering a directive of this kind, which clearly arouses much feeling in every part of your Lordships' House, that the British position should be understood. In that connexion it is most important to realise that the directive is quadripartite; it is the result of consideration by all the four occupying Powers. Now it is inevitable that when a document of that kind is prepared, the points of view of the four Powers may differ, and the result may be to some extent a compromise.

When answering the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, last week on his private notice question, I informed your Lordships' House of one respect in which we should have preferred the directive to be different, namely, in the fixing of the time-limit of August 1, 1914. We felt obliged to defer to the views of our Allies on this date in order not to obstruct agreement to the document as a whole, and we had to bear in mind that there was, in fact, some feeling that no early time-limit should be fixed at all. August 1, 1914, was therefore a compromise as between a later date put forward by the British representative, and an earlier date, or rather no anterior date at all, as suggested by other parties to the discussion. Noble Lords will of course bear in mind that criticism has been directed against us for the way in which we are alleged to have fulfilled our obligations on de-militarization in the British zone. We rebut such accusations as being wholly unfounded, but your Lordships will know that we have recently agreed to an American proposal that a quadripartite mission shall investigate the progress of demilitarization in all four zones. We are naturally sensitive on this question and we are unwilling to fall behind our Allies in agreeing to proposals designed to remove all traces of Nazism and militarism in Germany.

Noble Lords have asked me how the matter will work in practice. I had not heard before, but I was much impressed by the description given regarding Brunswick Cathedral by the right reverend Prelate a few moments ago. That, as I apprehend, is the spirit in which in the British zone this directive will be carried into effect. Indeed, I doubt whether much new action will be needed in the British zone to carry it out. Already Nazi emblems have been removed from most monuments and buildings in Germany, and I am told it is rare to see a Nazi emblem there to-day. Let me give examples of objects to be removed, if they have not been removed already. My noble friend Lord Lindsay has referred to the memorial at Tannenberg. There are in the British zone statues of William II, Ludendorf, Hitler and other Nazi leaders; there are swastikas and eagles on barracks, works and harbour installations; there are street names such as Adolf Hitlerplatz, and there are offensive objects in museums. All those will in our view come within the directive.

War memorials are not condemned as such by the directive, and there is certainly no intention, so far as the British zone is concerned, of regarding the memorials to those who died in war as ipso facto glorifying militarism and therefore liable to destruction. Indeed, as I said last week, the ordinary village green memorial will remain wholly unaffected, and I think I may add that harmless memorials to the fallen and those of a religious character will be respected. Let me say frankly that His Majesty's Government are in entire agreement with the sentiments which actuate the mover of this Motion, and that to remove or destroy what are simply memorials to the dead would do harm to our reputation and would, as the noble and gallant Earl, Lord Cavan, has said, be shabby. It would also do violence to the strongly held instinct, peculiar to no single people, of respect for the dead.

All that is intended is to erase from war memorials Nazi emblems or offensive wording which glorifies the ideals of the Nazi leaders or war as such. Apart from those there is no question of removing or destroying monuments to the memory of formations or individuals who fell in a battle. The same refers to tombstones or plaques in churches that serve a similar intention. There is no intention to interpret the directive in a way which would be repugnant to decent feeling, and our officers in charge in Germany have been so instructed.

I have pointed out to your Lordships already, and I now repeat, that this is not a matter for His Majesty's Government alone. It is a quadripartite decision which the British authorities are bound to carry out in their zone until such time as the other three occupying Powers agree to modify the existing ruling. If the directive is to be changed, it cannot be changed by unilateral action on the part of His Majesty's Government alone; it must be changed by a fresh quadripartite decision. Let me say to the noble Lord who opened this discussion, to the Leaders of the Opposition and of the Liberal Party and to all others who have spoken that I have taken note of the opinions expressed in the course of the debate and that I shall bring to notice the strong views which are held in this House on this subject. The Government will then, I do not doubt, consider whether it is their duty to instruct their representatives on the Allied Control Council in Berlin to take this matter up again on the Council with a view to securing a clearer definition of the scope of the memorials covered.


Or making our reservations.


Or making our reservations. Let me say in conclusion that where it touches on the difficult and delicate problem of memorials to the fallen, this directive will be applied in the British zone in a reasonable way, confined to eliminating Nazi and militarist emblems where those survive, designed to avoid unnecessarily hurting German feelings, and, above all, designed to avoid prejudicing the good name of the British authorities or the British people whom those authorities represent.

7.32 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord for the very conciliatory nature of his reply. In particular, I should like to thank him for the emphasis he placed on the fact that the British representative—he said it both today and on the previous occasion—struggled hard to get spared at least the 1914–18 memorials and only gave way on pressure from the others. That shows that the British representative knew perfectly well that this policy was absolutely wrong and that he only agreed to do as little evil as he possibly could. That His Majesty's Government should have had to say that reinforces what I have said.

There is one point on which I am still deeply anxious, and that is that the Army should not be called upon, under orders, to do a thing which it morally reprehends. I will not mention the particular person, but I know of a statue of a German general who fought against us with signal ability and, for a time, with considerable success. One of the memorials which is eyed for removal is that statue. Every officer, non-commissioned officer and man, down to the lowest drummer boy, if we still have drummer boys, in that area is resolved that the last thing in the world he wants to do is to disturb that statue. It is natural to us, and why we should be asked to act out of our nature I cannot conceive. I do not know if the noble Lord can give me an assurance on that now. I am satisfied by his attitude to what I have said that he himself has that point at heart.

The second point on which I am anxious is that it is very important not to give the subversive Boche element the chance of putting on to us sins we have not committed. I think that is a frightful danger, unless we mean to be eternally in occupation of Germany. Having regard to the unanimous expression of your Lordships' opinion—an opinion which is, I know, shared by as Majesty's Government—I do not propose to press my Motion and, therefore, with your Lordships' permission, I will be satisfied for the moment with the assurances I have received from His Majesty's Government.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn