Below is the text of Mr Major’s Commons statement marking the 50th anniversary since the end of World War Two, made on the 25th April 1995.
The Prime Minister (Mr. John Major): I beg to move,
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, as follows: Most Gracious Sovereign,
We, Your Majesty’s most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, recalling the humble Addresses presented to His Majesty King George VI on the 17th May and 21st August 1945, beg leave to express to Your Majesty our joy in commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the end of the Second World War and of the defeat of the forces of evil which it brought, our thanks for the fortitude of the men and women who served with the armed forces or who participated in the war effort in civilian life between 1939 and 1945, our recognition of the sacrifice made on behalf of future generations by those who died or who were disabled in their country’s service, and our desire that the constructive work of peace for which our predecessors in 1945 prayed may continue and grow in the years to come.
It has long been a tradition of the House that we mark significant national events by presenting a humble Address to the sovereign. That was the case in May 1945 when Mr. Winston Churchill moved the motion for such an Address to be presented to His Majesty King George VI. The motion on that occasion expressed the gratitude of the nation for the end of the war in Europe, together with a wish to see a speedy conclusion to the war in the east. That wish was met; just three months later the House was able to present another humble Address to His Majesty after the successful conclusion of the war against Japan.
Throughout the war, the royal family symbolised the unity of the nation and of the Commonwealth, and the willingness to make whatever sacrifices were necessary to ensure victory and the preservation of a free way of life. When Britain stood alone, the courage and determination of the King and Queen offered strength to the British people and to countless millions of people beyond our shores. It is no surprise that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother continues to hold such a special place in the affections of the British people. Many remember, and countless millions who were not alive at the time know, the fortitude and resilience that she and the King displayed throughout the war. The then Princess Elizabeth–a teenager when the war began, now Her Majesty the Queen–played her full part in furthering the war effort, and Her Majesty has continued to set an example of duty and service to the nation and to the Commonwealth throughout the 50 years since then.
The commemoration of the end of the war is not a triumphalist occasion, but an occasion to pay proper tribute to the millions of brave men and women whose lives were cruelly, often tragically, disrupted by the demands of the war that had to be won.
Last year marked the 50th anniversary of the Normandy landings. Everyone who took part in the commemorative events was profoundly moved by them. I, for one, will long remember the march-past of the veterans on the sands of Arromanches. There were thousands upon thousands of them–brave men and women in their 70s and 80s now, often with a chestful of medals and a mind full of memories, some with sticks, some pushed in wheelchairs, some limping, some walking, some marching, but all moving with pride before the Queen, and with their memories of their service to their nation in the last war.
As the House will know, a number of events are planned to commemorate the 50th anniversary of VE day next month and of VJ day in August. It is appropriate that the prelude to those events should be the parliamentary occasion of presenting a humble Address to the Queen.
Here in the Chamber we have a constant reminder of those days 50 years ago. The Churchill Arch, at the entrance from the Members’ Lobby, was rebuilt from the original, damaged in the bombing raids of 1941. It poignantly recalls how even the mother of Parliaments made its sacrifice. As Churchill himself said, all of us present here today, who are uniquely privileged to pass through that Arch, should
“look back from time to time upon their forbears who kept the bridge In the brave days of old.'”–[ Official Report , 25 January 1945; Vol. 407, c. 1006.]
As our Parliament sat through the war it symbolised the dogged determination of democracy; a determination to overcome tyranny and dictatorship that was shared by countless millions throughout the world. For the price of sacrifice was paid here, too. Twenty-two Members of the House–together with 35 Members of the House of Lords and five members of staff of both Houses–were killed during the war. Eighteen present Members of the House also saw active service in the war and some, perhaps all, are present here in the Chamber on this occasion. Many others now sit along the Corridor in the other place. For them, the commemorations will hold special memories; and to them, we–who inherit the parliamentary freedom that they helped protect–owe special thanks.
When His Majesty King George VI replied to the humble Address 50 years ago, he said:
“It is My most fervent hope that we are entering upon an age of peaceful progress, wherein the natural talent and enterprise of My peoples can be devoted to the advancement of the happiness and prosperity of mankind.”– [ Official Report , 21 August 1945; Vol. 413, c. 417.]
Looking back over the past 50 years, we can see that many of the hopes for peace and reconciliation have been rewarded, but we have not banished conflict and terror throughout the globe. We have troops on peacekeeping and humanitarian duties in many countries. In recent days, there has been the tragic bomb attack in Oklahoma. This House has had direct experience of terrorist attacks, and several hon. Members have been the victims of terrorists.
The successful outcome of the second world war showed the importance of a determined and united effort to defeat military aggression. As we look ahead, we must exercise the same determination as was shown then, to counter the threat from terrorism, not only in the United Kingdom but throughout the world.
Madam Speaker, this is an occasion to look both back and forward. The perils of the last war dwarf the petty rancours of everyday politics today. I believe that our country has many reasons to look forward with hope to the future. I believe that, as we do so, it is right that we should look back thankfully to the sacrifices of the past. The whole House, the whole nation, the whole Commonwealth, will wish to remember and give thanks.