MPs fight back against WW1 commemoration

A handful of MPs are calling for First World War commemorations to be completely ignored until the centenary of Armistice Day in 2018.

Plaid Cymru's Jonathan Edwards told he thought plans to mark 100 years since the start of the Great War in 2014 were "completely insensitive", after tabling a Commons motion on the topic at the start of the week.

Earlier this month the prime minister announced £50 million would be spent on marking the centenary of the conflict. The money will be spent marking major events like the Battle of the Somme, as well as the start and finish of the war.

"I think celebrating the start sends the wrong messages," Edwards said.

"From a principled point of view it would be far better to celebrate the end of conflicts rather than their beginning. I don't think we need to be giving a huge, coordinated commemoration. That should come at the end."

An estimated ten million soldiers died during the First World War, in addition to one million direct civilian deaths and a further six million deaths from famine and disease, the motion notes.

It also blames the "imperialistic foreign policies of the powers of the day" for the outbreak of the conflict. Edwards suggested Cameron's decision to support the war commemorations reflects a misunderstanding of the war by the prime minister.

"It shows the prime minister comes from a ruling class background who doesn't understand the sacrifices that working class people had to make," he claimed.

The prime minister said he viewed the commemoration as a personal priority in a speech at the Imperial War Museum on October 11th.

He cited the "sheer scale of the sacrifice", the impact of the war on the development of Britain and the fact that "this matters, not just in our heads, but in our hearts" as reasons for marking the centenary.

"To us today, it seems so inexplicable that countries which had many things binding them together would indulge in such a never-ending slaughter," Cameron said. "But they did."

He confirmed the Imperial War Museum would receive a major upgrade and that school trips to World War One's battlefields would be funded from the £50 million set aside.

"It is absolutely right that these commemorations should be given such priority," Cameron concluded.

"As a 20-year-old soldier wrote just a week before he died: 'But for this war I and all the others would have passed into oblivion like the countless myriads before us, but we shall live for ever in the results of our efforts.'

"Our duty with these commemorations is clear. To honour those who served. To remember those who died. And to ensure that the lessons learnt live with us for ever. And that is exactly what we will do."

Not all were as passionate about the conflict at the time as the soldier quoted by the prime minister, however.

Edwards said Plaid Cymru's former leader Saunders Lewis, who had fought at Passchendaele, was appalled by the suffering he experienced.

"He came out of that conflict convinced that Wales had to be an independent country so Welsh people wouldn't be sent to fight on the basis of British imperialism," Edwards, who has a Masters in International History, said.

"What worries me, with the comments we hear from the prime minister, is the same propaganda lines as those in 1914 are being used to justify the war – that this is a war about saving the small nations of Europe, when it was in fact a war based on the imperialistic policies of the great powers of the day."

Edwards' motion has not attracted much support after two days in the Commons. Only one other Plaid MP, Hywel Williams, and Labour's Jim Cunningham had also offered their support by adding their signatures to the motion.