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British Army

Volume 361: debated on Tuesday 4 June 1940

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Explosives (Instructions)


asked the Secretray of State for War whether he will consider and inquire whether there are any people in this country whose experience of fighting in Spain would qualify them to instruct miners in the means by which the explosives kept in conjunction with coal-mining operations could be most effectively used in warfare if occasion should arise?

I can assure my hon. Friend that the methods employed and the experience gained in the use of explosives in Spain, Finland and other theatres of war have been studied and embodied in the instructions issued to the troops.

Are miners being given advice, as they may have to take part in operations?

Parachutists And Gliders


asked the Secretary of State for War whether he intends to organise a corps of parachutists and gliders?

Recent operations are being carefully studied by my Department in order to decide what, if any, changes in the organisation of the Army are required. It would not be in the national interest to make any further announcement at this stage.

Is the right hon. Gentleman not aware that operations of this kind have been in process of experiment in other countries for many years; and is this the first time that they have come under the study of the British War Office?

I never said that. The hon. Gentleman is reading into my words what I have not stated.

I am asking the right hon. Gentleman whether this form of warfare, which has been experimented on by foreign armies over the last three years, has been equally studied by the British War Office?

The reply which I made, referred to recent operations and it is those recent operations, which are a new development of a method practised before, which are now being studied.

On a point of Order. Is it in order for a Member of this House when another Member is asking a Supplementary Question, to refer to him as "Fifth column"?

May I draw your attention, Sir, to the fact that two voices at the other end of the Chamber uttered those words?



asked the Secretary of State for War whether he intends to make use of the services of those who served in the former cyclist battalions of the Territorial force by forming cyclist companies in each area of the defence force?

It is hoped that all ex-service men who have served in cyclist battalions and are not at present enrolled or enlisted in the armed Forces of the Crown, and who can offer their services without interfering with other vital duties, will come forward and enrol in the Local Defence Volunteers. Despatch riders, both pedal cyclists and motor-cyclists, will be of the utmost value.

Internees And Prisoners Of War


asked the Secretary of State for War whether, in connection with the internment of aliens, arrangements are being made to keep separate genuine refugees from known Nazis?

The persons interned fall into two broad classes, namely, those interned as the result of an individual examination of their cases, and those interned in pursuance of general directions. The former class is kept separately in different camps from the latter class.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he will consider the desirability of transporting internees and prisoners of war to places remote from the British Isles in order to prevent co-operation with enemy aircraft and parachutists?


asked the Under-Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs whether he will suggest to the Government of Canada that arrangements be made so that all German prisoners be shipped to Canada and kept there till the end of the war?

I would refer the hon. Member to the reply given on 28th May by my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the War Office to a Question by the hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Parker) to which I am unable to add anything.

Will the Minister bear in mind the danger which may result from the landing of parachutists from German planes who may fall inside German camps in this country?

The protection of German prisoners is primarily a matter for the Secretary of State for War and no doubt he and the Army Council have that point very much in mind.

Sick Leave (Travelling Facilities)


asked the Secretary of State for War whether he will consider the granting of free travelling facilities from their station, camp or base, to their homes and back, to serving soldiers who are coming home on sick leave?

As a general rule free travelling facilities are given to soldiers who are ordered to go on sick leave by the medical officer.



asked the Secretary of State for War whether he will consider making, for public information and encouragement, a statement as to the military training now being imparted to the numbers of young men who have been called up?

The men who have been called up receive the normal military train- ing given to recruits, and I should add that their keenness enables them to make rapid progress. It is not in the public interest to give any further details of this training.

River Usk (Bridges)


asked the Secretary of State for War what steps he is taking to safeguard from enemy action and sabotage the road and rail bridges crossing the River Usk in Newport, Monmouthshire; and whether he is aware that these bridges are the vital traffic link between England and South Wales?

I do not think it would be desirable to give details, but my hon. Friend may rest assured that all such important places have been reviewed, and that such protection is being provided as is considered necessary.

Does the right hon. Gentleman think it desirable that a Question of this kind should appear on the Order Paper?

Dependants' Allowances


asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is aware that members of His Majesty's Forces who receive promotion or proficiency pay and thereupon increase their allotment to their dependants, have the Army allowance paid to those dependants reduced as a consequence; and whether he will have this matter reconsidered?

I would refer my hon. Friend to the answer I gave to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Cambridge (Lieut.-Commander Tufnell) on Tuesday last of which I am sending him a copy.

Does the Minister think it is in accordance with general feeling that widows and widowed mothers should have their Army allowances cut down from 5s. to 1s. 6d., because this proficiency pay has been granted?

It is a very complicated question and I do not think it is quite as the hon. Member has described it. Perhaps he will kindly study the long answer which sets out the details.

Is the Minister aware that I have here a paper from the Army authorities announcing that the 5s. will be reduced to 1s. 6d., because the proficiency pay has been increased by 10s.?

I gave a detailed answer last week, and I am rather loath to make extractions from it now.

Is the Minister aware that letters have been sent, not from him, but from his deputy, stating that this 3s. 6d. is to be taken into account and the amount is to be reduced? Will he take steps to have the matter corrected?

Bombing Attacks On Red Cross


asked the Secretary of State for War whether, in view of the policy of the German High Command to make hospitals, hospital trains and hospital ships an important objective of their bombing, he will take immediate steps to remove the red cross or other distinctive markings from all hospital accommodation in this country?

During recent operations, the enemy have deliberately bombed hospital carriers in circumstances which admitted no mistake about their identity and incomplete disregard of the immunity given them by international agreement to which the German Government are a party. As regards hospitals and ambulance trains and convoys, I am not yet in possession of official information. I am not at present prepared to make any recommendation on the lines suggested in my hon. Friend's Question.

Is the Minister aware that the Germans do this because they believe it has a very demoralising effect on troops in action? Therefore, is it not in the interest of our defence soldiers here that hospitals should have no special marking upon them? Will he consider this matter further?

I am sure the hon. Member will understand that there are a great many far-reaching considerations in this connection and that is why I do not want to go beyond this answer at present.

Impressed Motor-Vehicles

19 and 20.

asked the Secretary of State for War (1) whether he will indicate the approximate number of motor-vehicles of all descriptions that have been hired by his Department in this country in connection with present hostilities to date;

(2) whether he will state, in connection with both the impressment and hiring of motor-vehicles by his Department for the present hostilities to date, the total number of claims of all classes not yet finally disposed of in all areas and commands?

Some 35,000 motor-vehicles have been impressed for the War Department since the outbreak of war, and, in regard to these, only six claims are outstanding. These are in course of settlement. I regret that corresponding figures for hirings are not available.

Does not the Minister consider the present administrative machinery, whereby these claims are disposed of, is a very cumbersome one, and will he reconsider the whole position?

My attention has not been drawn to that; but my hon. and learned Friend will appreciate that I have had other anxieties during the last few days.

Calling-Up Acceleration


asked the Secretary of State for War whether, in view of the fact that France is mobilising everybody, even up to its older men, he is aware of the number of young men in this country who are not engaged in any work of national importance, and who, although registered, have not been called up for military training; and what steps he is taking to expedite the calling up of these men and to inform our Allies of what we are doing?

The calling up of men is being accelerated, and the maximum number that can be trained will be called up during this month, giving an intake of about double the normal rate. In addition, there is an opening for volunteers between the ages of 18 and 19½ in the extra companies which are being raised in certain Home Defence battalions.

Will the Minister consider calling up some of the older men?

Local Defence Volunteers


asked the Secretary of State for War what types of ammunition may be used by Local Defence Volunteers who may be armed with shot-guns or sporting rifles?

Local Defence Volunteers providing their own shot-guns or sporting rifles may use ordinary shot-gun cartridges or buckshot with the former, and bullets other than soft-nosed or expanding with the latter.

Will there be any restriction on the purchase of this ammunition by volunteers?

I do not think so. Perhaps my hon. and gallant Friend would have a word with me about it later.


asked the Secretary of State for War whether Army officers on the retired list who are authorised to wear uniform on appropriate occasions and who are authorised to retain their rank may, if duly enrolled in the new anti-parachute corps, wear their old uniforms on duty until such time as new ones are available and issued; and, if so, whether they must remove their badges of rank?

Retired Army officers who enrol in the Local Defence Volunteer Force should conform in all respects to what is prescribed for the Force when they are on duty as members of it.


asked the Secretary of State for War whether he will allow home defence forces in include elements which know the district where they are operating; and whether, in this connection, he will allow back from overseas gamekeepers and others acquainted with the use of firearms for service in their own districts against parachutists?

As has been stated in answer to previous Questions, personnel are allotted to Home Defence battalions, so far as is practicable, which are stationed near their homes, and Local Defence Volunteers are definitely to be employed near their homes. My hon. and gallant Friend will understand that the transfer of men from Field Force units cannot in present circumstances be considered.


asked the Secretary of State for War whether adequate numbers of volunteers have been enlisted for the defence of London; and whether those volunteers are armed with defensive firearms issued by the War Office or with weapons provided by themselves?

Is it in the national interest that a Question of this nature should be on the Order Paper in the House of Commons? Can nothing be done in the matter?

Sufficient volunteers are available for the defence of London. Those detailed for the defence of vital factories and certain public utility services are armed with weapons issued by the War Office; the remainder are detailed for specified duties, and, where necessary, are armed either by the War Office or with weapons provided by themselves.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that very large numbers of volunteers in inner London are resigning because they are not allowed either to use their own arms or to be provided with arms?

Does not that Supplementary Question show the desirability of either you, Mr. Speaker, or some committee, vetting these Questions before they are placed on the Order Paper, considering that the country is fighting for its life against a foe who studies these Questions meticulously?


asked the Prime Minister whether he will take steps to put all air-raid precautions organisations throughout the country under military control and discipline?


asked the Prime Minister whether his attention has been drawn to the fact that an essential part of German military technique in tank air attack is the herding of all civilians on to main roads between important centres of communication; that in Northern France and Belgium the mobility of allied military forces was greatly handicapped as the result of the movement of the civilian population in this way, as roads vital for counter measures to invasion became a shambles of civilian casualties and broken wagons and motor cars; and will he take immediate steps to ensure that in any part of Great Britain which may be subjected to intensive bombardment from the air, the civilian population comes automatically under the control of the competent military authority?


asked the Prime Minister whether any steps are contemplated for bringing under a single command the Local Defence Volunteers, the air-raid precautions service and special constables?

If at any time and in any area military necessities so require, the military authorities will assume complete control of all defence organisations and civil authorities. In the meantime radical changes in the composition and organisation of the Civil Defence Services would be undesirable. The military authorities already work in close touch with the Regional Commissioners, who can be invested by the Minister of Home Security with all necessary powers.

Does not my right hon. Friend realise the difficulty of effecting this transition when the emergency does arise? Is it not better to do it before the emergency has arisen?

If the hon. Member will read the answer he will see that all provision has been made for action in an emergency.

Is not the Minister of the opinion that the efficiency of the three Services would be very greatly increased if they were all under a single command to-day?


asked the Minister of Information whether he will prepare an instructional film showing the general public what action to take in encounters with parachute troopers; and also a more technical film for the instruction of Local Defence Volunteers?

:The preparation of both the types of film suggested was considered several weeks ago, but, after careful examination, it was decided that the necessary instructions would be better conveyed by other means.

It is at present contemplated to do it by means of pamphlets which will be circulated to every household, and they will provide full instructions.

German Troop-Carrying Aircraft


asked the Secretary of State for War whether he can state precisely the nature and calibre of the armament, other than small arms, carried by German troop-carriers and similar aircraft which have been employed in the operations on the Continent?

I have been asked to reply. The German aircraft engaged on troop-carrying operations are generally of the unarmed transport class. In addition to the usual small arms, the troops carried are known to have been equipped with heavy machine-guns of 13 and 20 m/m calibre; with 5 c/m and 8.1 c/m mortars; with 7·5 c/m infantry guns and possibly 10.5 c/m light howitzers.