The Government will not be “celebrating” the 100th anniversary of World War One, the minister in charge of marking its centenary has said.
Helen Grant, a Conservative, said that while Britain and its allies had won an “absolutely vital victory”, there should be no “sounding of triumphant fanfares” given the loss of millions of lives.
Her comments, in an article published by The Lady magazine, come after Education Secretary Michael Gove attacked “left-wing academics” – and television programmes such as comedy Blackadder – for “denigrating virtues such as patriotism, honour and courage”.
David Cameron suggested last year that he wanted a “commemoration that, like the Diamond Jubilee celebrations, says something about who we are as a people”, prompting criticism from Jeremy Paxman, who is presenting a BBC series about the conflict.
Mrs Grant said that the Government would not be “shying away from the fact that, in the end, it was an absolutely vital victory for us that changed the course of world history in countless ways”.
“But we won’t be celebrating that fact or sounding triumphant fanfares,” she added.
“Don’t forget that, as well as changing history, the conflict claimed the lives of around 16 million people across the world, and injured a further 20 million.
“The tone has to be right, not four years of gloom and misery, but no dancing in the street either.”
Responding to her remarks, Professor Gary Sheffield, who teaches war studies at Wolverhampton University, told The Times that “avoiding triumphalism is absolutely correct”.
“Nobody wants a triumphalist approach. But we’ve got to be aware that celebrating can mean different things,” he said. “Celebrating in the sense of acknowledging the national effort made during the war is entirely appropriate.
“We must not lose sight of the fact that the war was fought by Britain to counter largely German aggression and involved a huge national effort on the battle front and home front.”
Professor Sheffield said the military victories of the war did not seem to be included in the main events to mark the centenary.
“What I think they’ve got wrong, and it’s caused some concern among military historians for example, is that among the great set-piece commemorations they are not including the great victories of 1918 which actually ended the war,” he said.
“That shows a lack of understanding of the basic facets of the history of the First World War.”