by Kathryn Hadley
Ernest Millington, the last surviving member of the wartime House of Commons died in France last Saturday May 9th, aged 93. Following the death of John Profumo on March 10th 2006, Millington was the only living MP elected prior to the 1945 general election. He was also the last surviving person to have served as a Common Wealth Party MP.
In December 1944, the Tory MP for Chelmsford, John MacNamara, was killed when his aircraft was shot down in Italy. A by-election was then called and Millington was asked if he would stand for the Common Wealth Party. In accordance with the truce for by-elections signed by the wartime coalition government, the Liberal, Labour and Conservative parties agreed that all casual vacancies should be filled unopposed. However, the truce did not prevent minor parties from participating. In April 1945, Millington won the Chelmsford by-election with a majority of 6,431. He entered the Houses of Parliament on April 26th and was in the House of Commons for Churchill’s VE Day speech. He was re-elected in the general election on July 5th, three months later.
Millington was an RAF pilot during the war. He was successively promoted and eventually became Wing Commander and commanded a heavy bomber squadron. He was later awarded with the Distinguished Flying Cross. He joined the Common Wealth Party in 1944. Elected at the age of 29, Millington was the Commons’ youngest MP. He was also one of the first public figures to question the aerial bombardment of Germany, when he told the House of Commons, in March 1946:
‘We want - that is, the people who served in Bomber Command of the Royal Air
Force and their next of kin - a categorical assurance that the work we did was
militarily and strategically justified.’
Although he was initially elected as a member of the Common Wealth Party, in April 1946, Millington joined the Labour party instead. He lost his seat in parliament to the conservative Hubert Ashton in 1950. He briefly rejoined the RAF in 1954, but thereafter went on to pursue a career as a teacher. Millington retired to the Dordogne in the early 1980s. His autobiography entitled Was That Really Me? was published in 2006.
The Common Wealth Party was founded in 1942 by Sir Richard Acland, putting forward candidates who rejected the wartime electoral truce. It constituted the only opposition to government during the wartime parliament. The Common Wealth Party archives, which record the party’s activities and ideology through contemporaneous publications and later recollections by its leading figures, are held by Sussex University.
Millington was interviewed by the BBC just a month ago. He recalled the day of his electoral victory:
‘I had almost completed a tour of operational flying and thought that it would
make a pleasant change from 'flying a desk' or going back to instructing, to
being a candidate for Parliament, especially as CommonWealth had a splendid
record of not being elected. I had no desire to become an MP’.
In the same interview he also described the atmosphere in the Houses of Parliament towards the end of the war:
‘There was a deep desire, particularly among Labour MPs and voters, for change.’
For further information on the political mood in Britain during the Second World War, read our article The Mood of Britain
For general information on the Second World War, visit our Second World War focus page.