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British Army

Volume 393: debated on Tuesday 9 November 1943

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asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is aware that a firm, of which he has been informed, is cutting up tanks for scrap; what types of tanks these are; and whether any of them have been used in action?

Yes, Sir, I am aware that tanks are being cut up for scrap. They are those which are either worn out or which through the passage of time have become obsolete. To state what types are involved would be of value to the enemy. The answer to the last part of the Question is "Yes, Sir."

Is the right hon. Gentleman prepared to state the name of the firm which is doing this work? Is he aware that I have in my hand a report which states clearly that some of the tanks being cut up are practically new, having been made as recently as last year?

Will my right hon. Friend now give instructions that no manpower, and materials of ordnance and R.E.M.E. shall be wasted in the overhaul of the tanks which are now obsolete?

My hon. Friend has a Question on the Paper about it. It is quite a different point.

Why did the right hon. Gentleman think it necessary to remove the name of the firm from the Question if he does not even know what the name of the firm is? I gave it.


asked the Secretary of State for War whether the recent comparative trials of American Sherman tanks with British A.27 (M) and A.27 (L) tanks has proved the A.27 (M) to be the best?

It is not in the public interest to disclose information relating to comparative trials of armoured fighting vehicles.

Will my right hon. Friend now take to heart the lessons of this trial, and will he see that these very reliable Sherman tanks, which are now available in very large quantities in this country, are allocated to British units?

This Question is the one which my hon. Friend asked last week, and it is the one which I answered last week.

Would it not be a more accurate reply to say it would be extremely embarrassing to the Government if the truth were told about it?


asked the Secretary of State for War whether it is with his knowledge and approval that personnel of R.E.M.E. are engaged on the overhaul of tanks of a type which have never fought, are now not intended to fight and are in process of being consigned to the scrap heap?

All armoured vehicles undergoing overhaul in R.E.M.E. workshops are required by the Army either as fighting tanks or for special roles. It is not in the public interest to describe the special military purposes for which certain types of tanks are still required.

Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that there is not a gross waste of man-power and material in overhauling tanks which soon are to be scrapped?

That is repeating the Question in the same form, and I repeat my answer in the same form.

In view of the considerable anxiety which appears to exist on this tank question in certain quarters of the House, is it not time we had at any rate some information disclosed, possibly in Secret Session, in order that the matter may be cleared up?

The suggestion for a secret Debate is one that should be made to the Leader of the House. Personally, I have no reason to fear a secret Debate.

Italian Operations (List Of Units)


asked the Secretary of State for War whether, in view of the time which has elapsed since the opening of the Italian campaign, he will now as in previous campaigns make public the names of the regiments and other units which have participated in the fighting and suffered casualties?

I would refer my hon. Friend to the reply I gave my hon. and gallant Friends the Members for Peters-field (Sir G. Jeffreys) and Louth (Lieut.-Colonel Heneage) on 8th June. The Commander-in-Chief must decide in each case when names of regiments can safely be released.

Films (Overseas Troops)


asked the Secretary of State for War whether the latest films are shown to the troops overseas; whether there is any difficulty in obtaining them; and what are the financial arrangements for their use?

Films are made available without any difficulty for exhibition to troops overseas as soon as they are ready for exhibition to the general public. The films are hired from renters for a very reasonable sum. No charges are made for admission of Service personnel except at certain static cinemas.

Discharged Personnel (Clothing)


asked the Secretary of State for War the articles of clothing provided to men on discharge from the Services and the sums allowed in lieu thereof?

As the answer is rather long, I will, with my hon. Friend's permission, circulate the details in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the loss and the amount are the same as they were 20 years ago?

Has there been any change since the last war, as it was inadequate then and is certainly inadequate now?

I cannot answer about the last war, but it was certainly the same six months ago.

Following are the details:

A soldier discharged from the Army for reasons other than misconduct is given a suit, a cap, a collar and a tie. If he is discharged in winter for medical reasons he is also given an overcoat. In addition the soldier is allowed to retain some of his Army clothes, namely, one pair of boots, three shirts, underclothing, four pairs of socks and one woollen pullover. If the soldier prefers to have cash instead of the overcoat, suit, cap, collar and tie he is given £2 4s. 0d. for the overcoat and £2 15s. 9d. for the other articles.

Electrical Treatment, North Africa


asked the Secretary of State for War whether facilities for electrical treatment are provided in North Africa for members of the Forces who are in need of such treatment in consequence of wounds or sickness?

If I send the right hon. Gentleman particulars of a case which has been waiting for many months in hospital there, where electrical treatment is stated to be necessary, will he take immediate action about it?

I will certainly investigate it, but I can inform the hon. Member that all demands for electrical equipment have been met. I will certainly look into his individual case to see what the exact explanation is.

Lieutenant A J Shadbolt (Termination Of Commission)


asked the Secretary of State for War whether Lieutenant A. J. Shadbolt, who was called upon to resign his commission in December, 1939, was charged with any crime or misdemeanour between the date on which he was urgently invited to take a commission in September, 1939, and the date his resignation was demanded; whether he was ever allowed to discuss the reasons for his enforced resignation as provided for under Army Regulations; and, if not, why this officer was subjected to such irregular treatment?

As far as I am aware, the answer to the first part of the Question is "No, Sir." Mr. Shadbolt submitted an appeal against ale decision to terminate his commission. All the facts, including a statement from Mr. Shadbolt with his presentation of the case, were carefully considered by the Army Council, but it was decided that his appeal failed.

In view of the fact that this officer was urgently invited by the Army Council to take a commission at the beginning of the war, does not the right hon. Gentleman think that it would be a matter of common justice to have seen the senior officer and discussed this matter with him before this man was called upon to resign?

This case has been investigated in the greatest detail by my hon. and learned Friend the Financial Secretary and by his predecessor. The present Financial Secretary has written at great length on the matter to my hon. Friend and I think has disposed of all his points.

As the Financial Secretary was not able to give me a satisfactory explanation, may I give notice that I will raise this matter on the Adjournment at the earliest opportunity?

Family Allowance


asked the Secretary of State for War whether he has yet made any change in the conditions under which family allowances are paid to soldiers' families where domestic differences arise?

It has been decided that, in future, the issue of family allowance to a soldier's wife shall continue notwithstanding that normal domestic relations may have ceased, provided he continues voluntarily to contribute the normal qualifying allotment from his pay. This decision will not affect the special arrangements where there is a Court Order, an Order under Section 145 (2) (b) of the Army Act, or a Deed, making provision for a payment by the soldier for the maintenance of his family, nor the cases where the soldier is making a claim on public funds in respect of other dependents. The decision covers sailors and airmen as well. I am circulating in the OFFICIAL REPORT a more detailed statement regarding this decision, together with an explanation of its effect on cases where the soldier is not prepared to continue qualifying allotment.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that while that is a certain concession, this question will require more drastic revision, because, under the present arrangements, it is far too easy for a private soldier and still easier for an officer to desert his wife and leave her without resources?

I think the hon. Lady had better read the longer statement, and then possibly she might put that point again. I think it is another question.

Following is the statement:

Hitherto soldiers whose wives are in receipt of family allowance have been required to report the cessation of normal domestic relations and family allowance has been withdrawn, subject to continuance for a limited period, in suitable cases, during which the Army welfare officers endeavour to effect reconciliation. In future there will be no requirement to report the estrangement and family allowance will continue in issue to a separated (but not divorced) wife and her family provided that the soldier continues the normal qualifying allotment from his pay, that he is not under compulsion to provide for his family's maintenance by a court order, an order under Section 145 (2, b)

of the Army Act or a deed of separation, and that he is making no claim to dependant's allowance in addition. In cases where there is such a court order, etc., the payment, including the contribution by the soldier of a sum equal to qualifying allotment, may not exceed the amount of such order.

Where separation exists already, whether pre- or post-enlistment, the issue of family allowance will be governed by a condition that the man has contributed to the maintenance of his family according to his means and will generally in pre-enlistment cases not exceed the amount of such maintenance. It is considered that when the obligation of a husband to maintain his wife has been allowed to lapse entirely the wife, if she so desires, can seek her remedy in the courts, or by appeal under Section 145 (2, b) of the Army Act, without undue hardship.

The Army procedure of attempting to secure reconciliation, which I am satisfied is in the public interest, will, except in obviously unsuitable cases, continue where normal relations cease and the soldier is not disposed voluntarily to contribute the qualifying allotment which enables family allowance to remain in issue. Further consideration is being given to measures to brdge the gap which occurs, where reconciliation fails, between the cessation of family allowance and the date on which the wife can obtain an order from the court or under the Army Act. There are substantial legal and other difficulties to be overcome, and I am not yet able to state a solution of this difficulty. The decision I have just announced will, it is anticipated, reduce the number of cases in which a gap occurs, while the system in force enabling the officer deputed under Section 145 (2, b) of the Army Act to make interim orders against soldiers on prima facie evidence already substantially reduces this gap in many of the cases where it still arises.

Temporary Unpaid Rank (Widows' Pensions)


asked the Secretary of State for War whether he will consider making such alterations in war-time regulations as will ensure that officers, who are granted a temporary unpaid higher rank for a probationary period of 21 days and who are killed during that period, shall be regarded as holding that rank for the purpose of enabling their widows to draw the higher appropriate pension?

I would refer my hon. and gallant Friend to the answer I gave on 21st September to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser).

Will my right hon. Friend not consider the possibility of the War Office giving the benefit of the doubt to these officers and assuming for pension purposes that they justify the confidence that the War Office has placed in them by appointing them, unpaid, to higher ranks?

That is a question on which a considerable number of Supplementary Questions have been put on a previous occasion. It involves not one consideration only but a good many reactions in other directions, and I do not think it would be very satisfactory to try to dispose of it categorically by means of Parliamentary Questions and answers.

In that case, I wish to give notice that I will raise this matter on the Adjournment.

Field Hospital Operations


asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is aware that at a field hospital, of which he has been privately informed, patients awaiting operations do so in a state of consciousness and in full view of surgeons operating on other patients; and whether he will issue instructions whereby the unnecessary mental suffering so caused shall be avoided?

The protection of the susceptibilities of patients is an important part of the preparations made for operations in the Army and elsewhere, and I am sure that the incident referred to by my hon. Friend is an isolated one which probably occurred in improvised accommodation. I am, however, bringing this case to the notice of the military authorities.

Requisitioned Properties (Fire Insurance)


asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is aware that in connection with properties requisitioned by his Department, reimbursement of owners for the cost of ensuring their properties against risk of damage by fire, is by quarterly payment in arrear, whereas other Government Departments reimburse yearly in advance; and, as this practice causes considerable hardship to owners, will he consider altering this ruling to that adopted by other Government Departments?

If the claimant wishes the property to be insured the War Department refunds the premiums but the refund is not made until the premium has in fact been paid. The refund is made in quarterly payments because the property may be relinquished at any time during the year and the recovery of a number of small sums would involve a disproportionate amount of work and delay final settlement. This consideration does not apply to the same extent in the case of other Departments whose requisitioned properties are fewer in number and are normally held for a long period. I am not aware that the Army practice causes hardship.

Is not the Minister aware that compensation for taking over requisitioned premises is payable in arrear and not in advance, and that consequently in the event of any compensation for insurance being due to the Government, they would be able to deduct it from the amount of money payable when the premises are de-requisitioned?

I am sorry. I could not fully follow the point which my hon. Friend made, but I will look into it and see whether it makes any difference to the argument.

Does not my right hon. Friend consider it expedient that Government Departments should be consistent in their policy and that there should be the same policy in the War Office that there is in other Departments?

Compassionate Release (Rifleman's Occupation)


asked the Secretary of State for War whether he has considered the case of the rifleman he has been notified of who requested a compassionate posting on account of his wife's serious illness; was granted 12 months' release, maintaining his wife and family as a musician in a theatre orchestra; and will he take steps to have the rifleman's services used in the Army or, alternatively, have him transferred to war industry?

The rifleman will rejoin his unit this month on expiry of his present period of release.

Does not the right hon. Gentleman feel that our man-power position does not justify this kind of thing, and will he take steps to warn commanding officers of the position?

The only logical conclusion to be drawn from that statement or Question of my hon. Friend is that there should be no compassionate release from the Army at all. It having been decided that a compassionate release was justified, it seems to me that for the man to earn his living by playing in a theatre orchestra is the method which best enables him to attend to his sick wife because of whose illness he was released.

But if compassionate leave of 12 months' duration is granted, is there no better way of employing the soldier than in a cinema orchestra?

Nuffield Forces Club (Women's Land Army)


asked the Secretary of State for War why his Department have issued instructions to the secretary of the Nuffield Forces Club, Wardour Street, London, W.1, that members of the W.L.A. are not to be admitted to the club, as these instructions have been publicly enforced against Land Army girls from Streatham and elsewhere who had previously been welcomed at the club on a number of occasions?

The demand for the facilities of canteens run for the benefit of members of the Services is such that it is in general impossible to extend these facilities to members of other organisations. An exception has been made in favour of the Women's Land Army in the case of canteens near their work where opportunities for buying refreshments elsewhere are limited. This consideration does not apply to the canteen mentioned by the hon. Member and I regret that no exception to the rule can be made in this case.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that these women are working on the outskirts of London where there are no canteen facilities? Is it not reasonable that they should get the same recreational facilities as other women in the Services?

I understand that this is a question of facilities in Wardour Street. I am not aware of any agricultural operations there nor of any absence of restaurant facilities.

Soldiers' Gifts From Egypt (Prices)


asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is aware that British soldiers in Egypt are being charged 15s. a pair for women's stockings of a quality retailed in Britain pre-war at 9d. a pair and with an 8-inch foot against the average British foot of 9½ inches, making them in most cases un-wearable; and will he arrange to warn the troops against purchasing useless gifts at exorbitant prices?

I have every reason to think that the local military authorities will have taken such steps as are possible to warn British troops against being imposed upon in this way, and I have asked the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Middle East, to consider whether any further, action in this direction is possible and desirable.

Will my right hon. Friend consider an extension of the activities of the Desert Purchasing Organisation which was set up for this very purpose?

Territorial Officers (Promotion)


asked the Secretary of State for War how many officers, serving on Territorial commissions, had been appointed to the rank of brigadier between 1st January, 1939, and 3rd September, 1939; how many of these officers are still serving in this rank; and how many of them have since been promoted to higher rank?

The answer to the first part of the Question is 27, to the second part 6, and to the third part 2.

Does the right hon. Gentleman not consider that this very low number is rather discouraging to Territorial officers, and is something of a reflection on their ability?

I do not think so. I know that the view expressed by my hon. and gallant Friend is one which is frequently held, and it is one to which I have given a good deal of attention. I think it is largely a question of age, and the demands of modern warfare on officers of the rank of brigadier are very exacting.

Minefields, South-East England


asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is aware that, earlier in the war, anti-tank mines were laid in ground abutting on to the highway in parts of South-eastern England; that these mines are now frequently exploding; and whether, as they constitute a menace to the users of the highway, he will now have them removed?

The need far maintaining certain minefields is reviewed from time to time, and some are now being removed because they are no longer operationally necessary. All minefields are effectively wired and marked with notices, and I am not aware that they are proving to be a danger to the public. But if my hon. Friend will send me particulars of the places he has in mind, I will have the matter looked into.

Artificial Limbs (Pre-War Discharged Men)


asked the Secretary of State for War whether he will now extend to men discharged before the outbreak of the present war the concessions under which non-attributable amputation cases discharged during the present war are provided with initial and duplicate artificial limbs, with repairs and renewals, all at public cost?

I regret that I cannot see my way to accept my hon. Friend's proposal.