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Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire. Photo courtesy Houses of Parliament.

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House of Lords WW1 Centenary Discussion
Lord Wallace offered a thoughtful statement on American involvement in WW1 during a House of Lords Discussion on the Armistice centenary
Published on November 6, 2018

Lord Wallace of Saltaire called for "a more inclusive approach" to World War 1 commemorations in the UK November 5, as he addressed the House of Lords during a motion discussing the upcoming centenary of the Armistice.

In a thoughtful statement on the matter, Lord Wallace suggested that there had been missed opportunities to mark the centenary of the entry of the United States into the First World War, whilst also noting missed opportunities to commemorate the contributions of other nations that Britain fought alongside during both World War One and World War Two. Pointing out the importance of preserving history, Lord Wallace remembered a scenario he encountered in a Yorkshire book store:

Lord Wallace speaking in the House of Lords, November 5, 2018. Video courtesy Houses of Parliament / Parliamentlive.tv

"I recall entering a book shop in the Yorkshire Dales two or three years ago — as well stocked with volumes on the two world wars as on steam trains and Yorkshire traditions — to find the owner arguing with a visitor about Brexit. He was saying: "After all, we beat the Germans in two world wars and now they are telling us what to do". That echoes one of the widely held myths of British history, propounded by Margaret Thatcher among others, that Britain stood alone in two world wars to defend freedom against tyranny when others had given up the fight. I tentatively suggested that we had had a lot of help from others in both wars, most of all from the Americans. I was told that, so far as he knew, the Americans had not taken part in World War 1."

He added: "It is not that surprising that few Britons appreciate the importance of the American contribution. In spite of proposals that we should make a major event of the US entry into the war, the only significant commemorative event took place on the Scottish island of Islay earlier this year, beyond the reach of major news programmes. It marked the wreck of two US transports as they approached the Clyde: important, but not helping our younger generation to understand just how vital the USA was to the achievement of victory after four exhausting years of a war of attrition."

Lord Wallace concluded his statement by saying: "As we reflect on the efforts we have made to educate our younger generations on the national experience of World War I, I hope that we will learn lessons for a more inclusive approach in the future: a recognition that Britain’s security has been maintained with the support of others, and will be maintained in the future only if we continue to co-operate with others within an institutionalised European and international order."

Lord Wallace's speech can be watched in full through the embedded video above.

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