One hundred years ago this week, Parliamentarians gathered in the House of Commons and the House of Lords to receive the formal announcement of the acceptance of the terms of the Armistice imposed on Germany by the Allies and the United States of America.
Immediately after Prayers, the Prime Minister, Mr. Lloyd George, rose, and said “Mr Speaker, I beg to move, ‘That this House do now adjourn.’ The Armistice, as has already been announced in the Press, was signed this morning at five o’clock, after a discussion which was prolonged all night. Thus at eleven o’clock this morning came to an end the cruellest and most terrible War that has ever scourged mankind. I hope we may say that thus, this fateful morning, came to an end all wars. This is no time for words. Our hearts are too full of a gratitude to which no tongue can give adequate expression. I will, therefore, move “That this House do immediately adjourn, until this time To-morrow, and that we proceed, as a House of Commons, to St. Margaret’s, to give humble and reverent thanks for the deliverance of the world from its great peril.”
This week Parliament commemorated this pivotal moment in the history of this nation, and of Europe and the wider world, by doing what our predecessors did one hundred years previously. We adjourned our sitting and crossed the road to our Parliamentary church, St. Margaret’s, to remember those who served during four years of unforgiving and traumatic warfare.
In so doing, we remembered the sacrifices of those parliamentarians and parliamentary officers and staff who gave their lives during the First World War, or who were injured. No one in the United Kingdom was immune to the horrors of the First World War, whether they were at the front, in a reserved occupation, or an anxious relative beset with worry on behalf of loved ones. Parliament—its Members and staff— were no different. 264 MPs served in the First World War, with 22 of these making the ultimate sacrifice. Of the 323 members of the Lords who served, 24 were killed and the Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith (later Earl of Oxford and Asquith), lost his son Raymond at the Battle of the Somme. Many more Members’ sons and House staff were also killed, now remembered on the war memorial in Westminster Hall.
As the war progressed, MPs travelled back and forth from the front line to debate and vote on key legislation in Parliament. The laws passed significantly influenced the strategy of the war and wider social changes. The experience of the First World War accelerated the beginnings of suffrage for women, and opened the possibility of women standing as candidates for election to Parliament. It saw the abolition of property and other restrictions on the franchise for men; and the opening up of employment opportunities in a wide range of workplaces, previously open to men alone, including posts on the parliamentary estate.
The centenary of the end of the First World War was a moment for me to reflect on how democracy operated in a time of crisis and how the balance between security and liberties was managed. It is something Parliament still grapples with, albeit on a vastly different scale.
This Sunday, I will be attending remembrance services and events in Little Common, Heathfield and Battle. I will be remembering and honouring the constituents, and their families, who put their lives on the line in past and present conflicts. Their bravery, sacrifice, and cause, must always be remembered.