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Don't be horrible to the Germans! First World War commemorations begin next year... but ministers are afraid of saying who started it
- Culture Secretary Maria Miller said commemorations would 'set out facts'
- Communities Secretary Eric Pickles also warned against events turning into 'anti-German festival'
- Two children from every state secondary school will be sent to the former battlefields of the Western Front as part of a four-year programme
PUBLISHED: 18:38 EST, 10 June 2013 | UPDATED: 18:39 EST, 10 June 2013
Britain should mark the centenary of the First World War without being too patriotic – or causing offence to the Germans, ministers declared yesterday.
Commemorations would simply ‘set out the facts’ rather than making a judgment on who was to blame for the conflict, Culture Secretary Maria Miller said.
And Communities Secretary Eric Pickles also warned against memorial events turning into ‘an anti-German festival’.
Faces of war: Two British soldiers on the Western Front during the First World War
The announcement came as Mrs Miller revealed that two children from every state secondary school will be sent to the former battlefields of the Western Front as part of a four-year, £50million programme to mark 100 years since the outbreak of hostilities.
She said a range of national events would highlight the sacrifice and lessons of the Great War of 1914-18, which left more than 900,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers dead and affected ‘every family, every village, every town’.
The programme will include a candlelit vigil at Westminster Abbey on August 4 next year – a century after Britain declared war on Germany – and a remembrance service near Mons, Belgium, where the first and last British soldiers to be killed in the war are buried.
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Major battles, including the Somme, will also be commemorated.
But there was criticism that ministers are reluctant to recognise the importance of the UK’s victory over the Kaiser’s armies for fear of offending the Germans.
Military historian Professor Sir Hew Strachan, a member of the advisory board for the commemorations, said the events should symbolise the reasons Britain went to war – to fight for freedom.
‘At one level it is completely accepted in Germany that Germany was responsible for causing the war, though I think it’s actually debatable,’ he said.
‘But with a possible British referendum on the EU, they are worried about the centenary being used for Germany-bashing by the British Press. For understandable reasons, given Germany’s history, just using the word ‘krieg’ [war] is very difficult.’
Mr Pickles said it would be a ‘tremendous tragedy’ if the occasion was used to bash Germany and its Great War ally Turkey.
‘Equally, it would be a tragedy if we forgot what happened, if we forgot why we fought, if we forgot we won,’ he added. Some £5.3million will be spent sending two ‘student ambassadors’ and a teacher from every state secondary school to sites of battles including the Somme, Verdun and Fromelles from spring next year.
Around £10million of Lottery money will help fund a series of cultural events, while £1million will go towards securing the future in Belfast of HMS Caroline, the Great War’s last surviving warship.
Mrs Miller said: ‘Every day of the conflict saw extraordinary acts of courage, ingenuity and valour both on the battlefield and on the Home Front.
‘It is right we remember and mark the centenary, bringing its importance alive for younger generations and remembering the price that was paid by all involved.’
Andrew Murrison, the minister asked by Downing Street to coordinate commemorations, said he had consulted officials in Germany, Austria and Turkey about the anniversary.
He added: ‘They are fully apprised of the need to engage, and the discussions I’ve had with the countries leads me to suppose they wish to commemorate this.’