HL Deb 24 May 1994 vol 555 cc601-3

Lord Moran asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will take the opportunity of the forthcoming anniversary of the Normandy landings to express to Commonwealth countries the thanks of the House and of the nation for their help on D-Day and throughout the Second World War.

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Wakeham)

My Lords, the whole House will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Moran, for affording it the opportunity to pay tribute to the magnificent assistance which Commonwealth countries gave during the last war.

Noble Lords

Hear, hear.

Lord Wakeham

Commemorative events planned for the anniversary of the end of the Second World War next year will provide a fitting occasion to give full recognition to the contributions of Commonwealth countries and, indeed, of our other allies.

Lord Moran

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord the Leader of the House for that reply which will be widely welcomed. Does he accept that those of us who, 50 years ago, were in the Channel or in the skies over it or preparing to land on the Normandy beaches were in no doubt about the enormous debt of gratitude owed to our friends from distant parts of the Commonwealth who came to fight with us, not only in Europe, like the 3rd Canadian Division, which was to land on D-Day, but in other theatres as well? For example, is the noble Lord aware that between 1943 and 1945 the proportion of pilots in Bomber Command from Canada, Australia and New Zealand rose from 37 per cent. to 46 per cent.—nearly half—and that in 1944, when we were critically short of junior officers, the Canadians lent us, as volunteers under the Canloan scheme, 673 junior officers, who fought with British regiments from D-Day to the end of the war, suffering 75 per cent. casualties and receiving an outstanding number of awards for gallantry?

Lord Wakeham

My Lords, I echo entirely the sentiments of the noble Lord in expressing our debt of gratitude to those from Commonwealth countries who served with distinction with British regiments from D-Day through to the end of the war. The heads of state of Australia, Canada and New Zealand, together with representatives of their veterans, have been invited to the 50th anniversary D-Day commemorations which will recognise the contributions of all those allies who provided formed military units in and around Normandy on 6th June 1944.

The Earl of Lauderdale

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the Government of New Zealand— New Zealand is the point furthest from the Polish corridor, the source of World War II—met on 1st September 1939 and decided that as from the day on which Britain was at war they would be also?

Lord Wakeham

My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right. I know that the High Commissioner for New Zealand is aware of this occasion in your Lordships' House today and is very pleased that we are taking the opportunity to pay tribute to his country.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, I had the privilege of being a reconnaissance corps officer serving in Normandy from 6th June 1944. I had the privilege also of being a Commonwealth observer in South Africa on 10th April 1994. Therefore, the Minister will not be surprised to learn that I share totally the views expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Moran. Would not the best way of demonstrating our support for what Commonwealth countries have done in the past be to give maximum support to what the developed countries of the Commonwealth are doing today through the many practical projects which help developing countries of the Commonwealth—projects which are valued and needed by those developing countries?

Lord Wakeham

My Lords, I am sure, that the noble Lord is absolutely right. We shall continue to strive to develop relationships with the Commonwealth in the way the noble Lord suggests and in other ways. However, this Question is about one very great event in our history.

Lord Shaughnessy

My Lords, I am sure that the response of the noble Lord the Leader of the House to the Question in the name of my noble friend Lord Moran will be greeted with great pleasure by the Commonwealth forces who took part in the D-Day landings and later in Operation Overlord. I cannot speak for those of the Canadian forces who took part in the D-Day landings because I did not land on Juno beach until D-plus 23 but I should like to support the splendid celebration of 6th June to commemorate that terrific military operation, and I associate the Canadians who took part in paying tribute to the wonderful co-ordination and reciprocation of the combined efforts on the part of our British and American comrades who made such a tremendous contribution to that great operation.

Lord Wakeham

My Lords, I am sure the whole House is grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Shaughnessy, for recounting his particular experiences and for saying what he said.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, may I associate these Benches with the thoughts expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Moran, and indeed the thoughts expressed by the noble Lord the Leader of the House? I would say to the noble Lord the Leader of the House that I am particularly glad that the noble Lord, Lord Shaughnessy, mentioned the Canadian contribution, which was very important. Will the noble Lord the Leader of the House tell us what arrangements might under certain circumstances be made to commemorate in the same way those soldiers of former Commonwealth countries which are no longer in the Commonwealth but which we believe and hope will come back into the Commonwealth?

Lord Wakeham

My Lords, the position is that the nations invited to the D-Day celebrations are those which formed military units on 6th June. They include nations both within the Commonwealth and outside it, for example, Greece, Norway, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland and Slovakia, as well as the major Commonwealth countries and the United States. There will be an opportunity of course in the VE celebrations and the VJ celebrations to widen the invitation to others and consideration will be given to exactly who the list will contain. However, I am hopeful that most of the nations your Lordships would wish to see invited will be invited.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, in associating my noble friends and myself very closely with the tributes which have been paid, might not the tributes paid this afternoon be drawn to the attention, on an individual basis, of those Commonwealth units which took part in the fighting in Normandy?

Lord Wakeham

My Lords, that is a helpful suggestion. I believe the High Commissioners of the countries concerned know of this Question in your Lordships' House and are pleased that it is being asked. However, I shall ensure that everyone who should be told of it is told. I think we should move on fairly soon to the next Question.

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