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Im0941_zlImperial War Museum photo (1918) of British soldiers blinded by gas.

Iain Duncan Smith’s cross-party plan for a state funeral for the last veteran of World War One has met resistance from the Government.  During a parliamentary debate yesterday Don Touhig MP, the veterans minister, argued that there was an "impossibility" of identifying the last survivor with any certainty.  He also told MPs that certain veterans opposed the idea: "A number of known World War One veterans have indicated that they, and their families, would not welcome any intrusion".  The Guardian reports that the government believes that "a national memorial service would be more appropriate".

Speaking in Westminster Hall, Iain Duncan Smith attempted to address Mr Touhig’s objection and set the context for his appeal:

"Why
make the proposal? It is, of course, not just about an individual but
about the representative of an entire generation. The caveat is that
the individual concerned and their family must agree to the proposal
beforehand. As the Minister knows from our discussions, the fall-back
position is that there should be some form of commemoration if the
family do not wish to have a state funeral. Ultimately, we will be
guided by their sense of what would be right.  I stress, however, that
the priority position for me and many people to whom I have spoken
about the matter is that we have a special occasion, and the most
powerful way to commemorate it, even if it is not the only way, is
through a state funeral. In the past, state funerals invariably have
been granted only to members of the royal family or to those of the
great and good, even if they were commoners, who rose in political or
military terms. This state funeral would be unique: it would be for an
ordinary person who had served their country, a representative of the
peculiar generation that started a peculiar century—the 20th century,
which was the century of the common man…

The suffering and the casualty lists show why such commemoration
is necessary. Perhaps I could remind the House of some of the
staggering figures. The number of British and empire soldiers, sailors
and airmen who were mobilised and who served was just under 9 million,
of which just under 1 million died and 2 million were wounded. I should
remind the House that the bodies of 500,000—half the total who died in
service—were never found.  Other aspects of the first world war that
made it so peculiar were the nature and horror of it. Gassing occurred
for the first time. Some 8,000 British and empire servicemen died
directly and immediately as a result of gas attacks, but it is
estimated—we will never know for sure—that some 200,000 of our
servicemen suffered from wounds and long and lingering illness directly
as a result of gassing, which did not happen in the second world war.
Our servicemen were not alone: all around the world, the casualty lists
were staggering."

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