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British Army (Overseas Service)

Volume 409: debated on Thursday 29 March 1945

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asked the Secretary of State for War if he will consider the introduction of an age limit for men serving in the Army being sent to the Far East; and if men of 40 years of age and upwards will receive preferential posting to the European theatres of war and home service.

I would refer my hon. Friend to the replies given by my right hon. Friend to my hon. Friends the Members for Whitechapel (Mr. Walter Edwards) and Spen Valley (Major Woolley) on 27th February and 13th March. The shortage of man-power does not, I regret, enable us to go further than this towards the object my hon. Friend has in mind.

Has not my hon. and learned Friend had before him very harsh and difficult cases of this kind? Will he review the situation sympathetically?

My hon. Friend will know that every case of hardship that is alleged is dealt with on that basis, but the fact that a soldier is 40 years of age is not regarded, in itself, as being a hardship.

Is not my hon. and learned Friend aware of the widespread feeling on this matter?

Will my hon. and learned Friend see that men of 40 years of age and over are given a special medical examination before they are drafted for service in the Far East?

I hope every medical examination is a thorough one, and I am not prepared to say that there should be a special examination.

Does my hon. and learned Friend realise that some of these men of 40 years and over have been engaged in heavy manual labour for many years, and will he consider the desirability of consulting his medical advisers as to whether these men should have a special medical examination before they go to the Far East?

Certainly, but in view of the fact that the age of the soldier who is being examined is within the knowledge of the examining doctor, the doctor would have regard to the physical attributes of the soldier in relation to his age.

Is my hon. and learned Friend aware that there is a great deal of feeling on this subject, and that men of over 40 years of age are sometimes brought home from the Middle East and then sent to the Continent, while men who are 15 years younger are not sent? Is he aware that there is a feeling among the men that there is some sort of unfaifness in this treatment, and will he explore the general position to see whether anything can be done about it?

I will look into the suggestion of my hon. Friend. My hon. Friend will remember, of course, that there may be two men, one 40 years of age and the other a younger one who has not served abroad; but if the younger soldier is not a tradesman and the older one is a tradesman in a trade that is required in Europe, the older one must go in preference to the younger one.