VIDEO and GALLERY: Wisbech MP Captain Primrose who was killed in First World War remembered at Houses of Parliament ceremony
- Credit: Archant
A former Wisbech MP was among those honoured at a special act of remembrance held in the Houses of Parliament on Wednesday.
Captain Neil Primrose, a Liberal, was MP for the Wisbech division of Cambridgeshire from 1910 through to his death from wounds received in action at Gezer during the Sinai and Palestine Campaign in November 1917.
His name is among 22 MPs killed during the Great War and remembered on a memorial in the Great Hall at Westminster.
The ceremony was organised by MP Steve Barclay, who thought it fitting in the 100th anniversary year of the start of World War One to hold an act of remembrance not just for his predecessor but for all those MPs who lost their lives fighting for their country.
The event was attended by representatives from Littleport, Whittlesey and Chatteris Royal British Legions, House of Commons Speaker John Bercow, two defence ministers: Mark Francois Minister for Armed Forces and Anna Soubry Minister for Defence Personnel Welfare and Veterans together with Vice Admiral Peter Wilkinson President of the Royal British Legion.
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Those also attending included a relative of one of the MPs killed, Mark Baring whose great great uncle Guy Baring was MP for Winchester and is also on the memorial.
Wreaths were laid by Speaker Bercow and Mr Francois. The Speaker’s Chaplain the Rev Rose Hudson-Wilkin led the act of remembrance and read out all 22 names of the fallen MPs.
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Mr Barclay, MP for North East Cambs which includes Wisbech, said: “I heard that an MP from Wisbech, who also happened to be the son of former Prime Minister the Earl of Rosebery, was among those killed fighting in the First World War and I decided to research to find out more.
“It turns out Neil Primrose was the youngest son of the Earl of Rosebery and he was a bit of a Parliamentary rebel at times and was often critical of the government, even though it was his party was in power.
“He joined the Yeomanry at the outbreak of war, which was the mounted arm of the Territorial Force, and was straight away made a lieutenant. He was promoted to captain in 1915 and was awarded the Military Cross in 1916.
“When I was elected I was not aware that my predecessor was killed in the First World War. Having researched his story I was very keen to mark his sacrifice and that of other Members of Parliament who lost their lives fighting for our country, as part of our important national act of remembrance this weekend.”
BIOGRAPHY OF NEIL PRIMOSE MP
The Rt Hon Neil James Archibald Primrose MP was the youngest son of Archibald Philip Primrose, 5th Earl of Rosebery, who was Prime Minister between March 1894 and June 1895 and Hannah Rothschild.
Educated at Eton and New College, Oxford he played No.1 for the Oxford Polo team in 1904 and 1905. While at Oxford he was also a keen steeple-chase rider.
He entered public life early as an Alderman of the London County Council and he first entered Parliament at the General Election of January 1910, standing as the Liberal candidate for the Wisbech division of Cambridgeshire. Primrose defeated his Conservative opponent, T.C. Garfit with a majority of just 200 at a turnout of 88.4%, a figure modern politicians can only dream of!
The election produced a hung parliament, with the Conservative Party led by Arthur Balfour and their Liberal Unionist allies receiving the largest number of votes, but the Liberals led by Herbert Asquith winning the largest number of seats, returning two more MPs than the Conservatives. Asquith went on to form a government with the support of the Irish Parliamentary Party, led by John Redmond.
It is understood that his election gave particular joy to his father who declared at a dinner given in Wisbech in honour of Mr. Primrose’s return that, ‘having known him and loved him ever since seeing him in the arms of his mother, he has never failed me in word or deed, and I am confident he will never fail you.’
Primrose’s maiden speech was on the resolutions of Herbert Asquith’s Government on the relations between the two Houses of Parliament. This was a major issue at the time and the country was in the midst of a constitutional crisis caused by the rejection of the People’s Budget by the House of Lords. Later in the session, he rebelled when Asquith introduced a Bill to alter the form of the declaration required to be made by the Sovereign on Accession and Primrose protested against it at a number of public meetings, including in Edinburgh.
A second general election was called in 1910 by Asquith to try and form a workable majority. The election was held from 3 to 19 December. It was the last British election to be held over several days and the last to be held prior to the First World War (1914–18).
The Conservatives, again led by Arthur Balfour with their Liberal Unionist allies, and the Liberals led by Asquith, could not break the deadlock produced in the January general election, with the Conservatives again winning the largest number of votes but the Liberals the most seats. The Liberal Party under Asquith formed a government with the support of the Irish Nationalists. This was the last election in which the Liberals won the highest number of seats in the House of Commons. It was also the last United Kingdom national election in which a party other than Labour or the Conservatives won the most seats, until the 2014 European Parliament elections when the UK Independence Party polled first.
Neil Primrose was opposed by Lord Robert Cecil, another son of a former Prime Minister which gave the election in December 1910 in Wisbech heightened interest. Reports from the time point to more than 31 meetings in Wisbech and the surrounding villages with one in Manea, referred to as ‘one of the Radical strongholds of the division’, attracting a majority of Primrose supporters who made life particularly difficult for Lord Cecil!
After a number of closely fought hustings, Primrose retained his seat with an increased majority of 544. Lord Cecil himself was later returned for the Hitchin Division and was actually selected to succeed Primrose as Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs in 1915.
Primrose soon became close to the leadership of the Liberal party and in 1913 he became a member of the Anglo-American Peace Centenary Committee. During the middle of 1914 when the Irish controversy was reaching its height he again rebelled however and led a so-called ‘Law and Order’ group of Liberals. He strongly criticised the government for not taking tough enough action against those who were actively associated with the landing of arms in Ulster.
Britain declared war on Germany at 7pm on August 4 1914, following an ‘unsatisfactory reply’ to the British ultimatum that Belgium must be kept neutral. Neil Primrose joined the Yeomanry, which was the mounted arm of the Territorial Force; a part-time version of the cavalry established in 1908, straight away and held the rank of lieutenant.
Primrose remained in military service until February 1915 when was appointed Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in Asquith’s administration. This was described by The Times as, ‘one of the most interesting political events of recent years.’ Sir Edward Grey had been Lord Roseberry’s Under-Secretary during his last term as Foreign Secretary from 1892 to 1894 and now Lord Roseberry’s son was Sir Edward Grey’s chief lieutenant in the very same office.
He returned to active duty in June 1915 until David Lloyd George became prime minister in December 1916 and Primrose returned to the government as joint-Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury (government chief whip) alongside Conservative Lord Edmund Talbot, a post he only held until March of the following year. In June 1917 he was sworn of the Privy Council.
During the war, Primrose married Lady Victoria Stanley, daughter of Edward Stanley, 17th Earl of Derby, on 7 April 1915. They had one daughter: Ruth Alice Hannah Mary Primrose (18 April 1916 – 1989), who married Charles Wood, 2nd Earl of Halifax, on 25 April 1936. Lady Victoria died in a hunting accident in November 1927, aged 35.
Primrose was promoted to Captain in 1915 and was awarded the Military Cross in 1916. He died on 15 November 1917 from wounds received in action at Gezer during the Sinai and Palestine Campaign while leading his squadron against Turkish positions on the Abu Shusheh ridge during the Third Battle of Gaza. He is buried in the Ramleh Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery at Ramla, in Israel. Speaking in the House of Commons on 19 November 1917, the Prime Minister, Lloyd George said, “He chose deliberately the path of danger. He fell charging at the head of his troops, at the very moment of victory.”
On his death, the Prime Minister sent the following message of condolence to his widow, Lady Victoria Stanley, “Heartfelt and deepest sympathy with you in your great sorrow. Your husband’s many friends, of whom I am proud to be one, will weep with you over his fall. But is a noble sacrifice in a great cause.” Speaking in the House, Lloyd George said, “the House knew his bright and radiant spirit well. To his intimates he was one of the most lovable men we ever met. He had ability far above the average, and…his future was full of hope.”
In total 25 Members of Parliament lost their lives on wartime active service during the course of the First World War and a further 25 MPs died during active service in World War Two.