Downing Street has intervened in an attempt to quell the the latest row to erupt over the First World War centenary amid claims the role of Australian and New Zealand troops is being ignored.
Prime Minister David Cameron’s official spokesman said it was “completely wrong” to suggest the contribution of the “Anzacs” was being overlooked in the anniversary events.
No 10 was forced to step in after allies of Education Secretary Michael Gove were quoted as expressing concern that there would be no special mention of Australians and New Zealanders in the tributes organised by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).
It followed a briefing to Australian journalists by Whitehall officials which led to reports that the Anzacs were being “whitewashed” out of the commemorations in favour of black and Asian servicemen from India, the Caribbean and West Africa.
It was claimed that the emphasis on troops from the “New Commonwealth” was intended to promote “community cohesion” in the UK – leading to accusations in Australia of “blatant politicisation”.
The Daily Mail quoted a “senior Whitehall source” as saying: “This is awful. The idiot Maria Miller is doing nothing to involve the rest of the Empire, who sent vast numbers of people to help us.”
A Whitehall source quoted in the The Sun said: “The DCMS’s plans to airbrush out all the countries that helped us during World War I are totally disgraceful. Maria Miller is way out of her depth.”
Mr Cameron’s spokesman however insisted the role of the Anzacs would be fully honoured in the commemorations next year to mark the centenary of the Gallipoli landings when the Australian and New Zealand forces suffered very heavy casualties.
“The Government is working very closely with the Australian and New Zealand governments on that event,” he said. “I think the focus should be entirely around these very important commemorations rather than anything else.”
In all, 62,000 Australians and 18,000 New Zealanders died fighting during the First World War.
Mr Gove has already been at the centre of one controversy over the commemorations after he attacked the way the conflict has been portrayed by left wing academics and shows like Blackadder as a “misbegotten shambles”, arguing that it was a “just war” against an expansionist Germany.
His comments, in an article for the Daily Mail, were seen as a coded criticism of the DCMS’s plans