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British Army

Volume 437: debated on Tuesday 20 May 1947

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Personal Cases


asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is aware that a corporal, released from the R.A.S.C., particulars of whom have been sent him, has been waiting for over 15 months for a supply of shoes as he cannot wear boots for medical reasons; that he had to use his wife's coupons to enable him to purchase a pair in the meantime; when he can expect to receive the shoes; and whether the coupons so used will be refunded.

This soldier is recorded as having received his normal release outfit, including a pair of civilian shoes. He was, however, in addition entitled to keep on release a pair of the shoes which had been issued to him while serving in the Army. It so happened that at the time he left his unit in Berlin to be released he was waiting for a pair of new shoes in replacement of his old ones, which were worn out. These shoes which had to be ordered from London did not reach his unit until after his departure, and I regret that he has never received them. I have, therefore, arranged for a pair of shoes to be sent to him. The issue of clothing coupons is not a matter for my Department.

Will the hon. Gentleman make inquiries to see if such cases can be accelerated to avoid such delays as this of 15 months before a soldier gets his shoes? Can he inform us what steps can be taken to enable the man to reclaim the coupons his wife lost?

As regards the delay, this is a quite exceptional case, in which my Department made a very small administrative error, for which I apologise. As regards the coupons, that has nothing to do with me, but the allotment of coupons which a Serviceman gets on leaving the Service does allow an extra pair of shoes to be obtained.


asked the Secretary of State for War if he is aware that 2601138 Lance-Corporal R. M. Smith, No. r Company, War Office Wireless Section, and 2372768 Signalman E. R. Simmonds, Royal Signals, about whom the hon. Member for Gravesend wrote to him on 11th and 24th April, are being retained under the age and service Group 64, while Lance-Corporal Pollard and Signalman Pope, age and service Group 64, have had their group numbers reduced to 39 and 44, respectively, with immediate release, by reckoning their service on W / T reserve as service; whether there is any change in general policy with respect to reckoning W/T reserve for group assessment; and whether he will make a statement on these particular cases.

; There is no change in the general policy with respect to the reckon-ability of periods on Class W or W/T Reserve, nor is any change contemplated. I will, with permission, circulate the detailed information asked for by my hon. Friend in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that these men were drafted on call-up to the War Office for service with Military Intelligence, and that their service in that capacity was not reckoned for their age and service grouping, but that at least two of their comrades, who were in exactly the same circumstances. did have their service so reckoned?

In my answer I am explaining that matter, and, I hope, to the satisfaction of my hon. Friend.

Following are the details:

I am aware that in view of their age and service group number, Lance-, Corporal Smith and Signalman Simmonds are not yet eligible for release and are being retained until the date of release of their group. I regret that through an oversight, Lance-Corporal Pollard's group was reduced from 64 to 39 as the result of an incorrect re-assessment of his reckonable service under which the period spent on Class W/T Reserve was allowed to reckon. That period should not, in fact, have been reckoned. I presume that the Signalman Pope to whom my hon. Friend refers is 2601062 Signalman H. Pope. If so, he is still serving, being in group 66. His group has not been altered.


asked the Secretary of State for War why 14497347 Fusilier P. Morris, 2nd Battalion Royal Scots Fusiliers, B.A.O.R., is now serving a sentence in Dartmoor Prison when there was not enough evidence to justify a court-martial on the charge for which he was arrested; and if this soldier's sentence will be reviewed forthwith.

It is not the case that Fusilier Morris is serving a sentence for an offence which did not justify a court martial. While he was under suspended sentence for a previous offence his conduct was unsatisfactory. It was, therefore, decided by the competent military authority that his suspended sentence should be put back into execution. The sentence was due for review recently, and I will write to my hon. Friend as soon as the result of the review has been reported to me.

That answer is most unsatisfactory and I must apologise to the House if my supplementary question is rather long. [Interruption.] I appeal to the House to listen, when the future happiness of a young lad is in jeopardy. Is the Minister aware that so far no information has been afforded to me or to the parents as to the original offence the boy committed; that we understood he committed the offence of being absent without leave for three days, for which he got three years; that the parents were asked by the War Office where the son was, and that that information was given; that the parents then wrote and asked for news of their son and were told he was fit and well, and serving with his unit, while he had been in detention for II weeks under close arrest?

I very much regret that my hon. Friend, in a rather long supplementary question, should give what he purports to be facts, but which are not quite accurate. As it would be intolerable if I took up the time of the House in going into a detailed statement— [Interruption.]—

I will endeavour, as briefly as possible, to give an answer to my hon. Friend. If he wants information as to the sentence, conviction and the offence for which Fusilier Morris was originally imprisoned, I will send it to him as fully as possible in a letter. However, I can say this to my hon. Friend: Fusilier Morris is by no means an angel, as my hon. Friend has made out.

Officers' Retirement


asked the Secretary of State for War the present position with regard to Regular officers wishing to leave the Army; and the number of resignations accepted in the last 12 months and on what grounds.

On the first part of the Question, I would refer the hon. and gallant Member to the reply which my right hon. Friend gave to the hon. and gallant Member for Chelsea (Commander Noble) on nth March. As regards the second part, the voluntary retirement of some 360 officers has been approved in the last 12 months. These applications to retire at ages under the existing voluntary retirement ages have been either for urgent compassionate reasons or in order to take up work of national importance as civilians. In addition, 77 officers have retired, having reached the age at which voluntary retirement is permitted.

Overseas Establishments


asked the Secretary of State for War what British troops, military establishments and military offices still remain in Italy, Greece and North Africa respectively.

It would not be in accordance with recent practice to give this information.

Is it to be understood that there is still a state of war in Italy or in Greece, and cannot any information be given as to the British troops which it is thought necessary to keep there?

Requisitioned Premises


asked the Secretary of State for War how many houses and buildings in this country are still under requisition by his Department; what is the necessity for their further retention; and when it is proposed that they shall he released.

My Department still holds under requisition in this country approximately 803 houses and 693 miscellaneous non-industrial buildings. These are still required to meet Army commitments which cannot be housed in War Department property, but the numbers are being progressively reduced according to the derequisitioning plan. Ninety-eight per cent. of the Army's total holdings of non-industrial buildings have already been released.

Can the hon. Gentleman give any further information why these buildings are still required in time of peace? Are not the staffs very much swollen, and should not a great many of these establishments, which were necessary in war, now be dispensed with?

No, Sir. I do not think that view is at all in accordance with the facts.

Will the hon. Gentleman not consider the fact that there are a great many civilians at the present moment being housed in military camps, and would it not be far better that houses should be released for them and that the various offices necessary for the military should go into the camps?

That is a different and very much wider question, of which I should like notice.

Could the hon. Gentleman say what steps he is taking to get houses in London derequisitioned for civilians, and does he not think that the troops would be very much better off in barracks or camps outside the London area, such as Aldershot or some other training area, than in private houses in London?

They would be very much better off, and that is why we have, as indicated in my answer, derequisitioned a very large number of properties, and are proceeding with that derequisitioning.

Battalions In Suspended Animation


asked the Secretary of State for War how many Regular battalions it is proposed shortly to place in suspended animation; how these battalions are selected; for how long a time it is contemplated that they will remain in abeyance; and how it is proposed that their officers shall be disposed of.

According to present plans, 27 Regular battalions will have been placed in suspended animation by 1st July. The principal factors taken into account in selecting these battalions are the distribution of infantry battalions between home and overseas commands, and the necessity of keeping one battalion of each Regiment in being. It is not possible at present to say how long the battalions selected will remain in suspended animation. Their officers will be posted in accordance with the needs of the Service and their own qualifications and status, particular care being taken to post Regular officers suitably.

May I ask whether, in selecting Regular battalions for this fate—and it is a fate—junior battalions of regiments should not have been first selected? Is not the hon. Gentleman aware that many very historic Regular battalions, some dating back to the time of Marlborough's battles, are now being placed in suspended animation? Further, if it is propòsed to place a very large number of these battalions in suspended animation in future, will the hon. Gentleman tell us the names of some of them, and say if he is confident that we shall not be very short of troops in an emergency?

Can the hon. Gentleman say how many cavalry regiments will be in a state of suspended animation?

Transit Camp, Calcutta

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is aware that soldiers are being held for six weeks at a transit camp near Calcutta, pending embarkation for the United Kingdom prior to release; and what steps he is taking to bring this waste of manpower to an end.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that I have had this Question down for a fortnight, and, as this concerns a large number of British troops who are getting thoroughly "browned off," will he take steps to expedite the inquiry?

Royal Educational Corps


asked the Secretary of State for War the present strength of the Army Educational Corps; and the required establishment.

The present strength of the Royal Army Educational Corps, including personnel of other arms employed on educational duties, is 2,309 all ranks. The required establishment for the current financial year is estimated at 4,578 all ranks.


asked the Secretary of State for War what response he has had to the offer of short service commissions in the Army Educational Corps.

268 applications for short service commissions in the Royal Army Educational Corps have been received.

Cadet Force

asked the Secretary of State for War the present strength of the Army Cadet Force; and the maximum number allowed.

According to the latest available returns, the strength of the Army Cadet Force is approximately 8,000 officers and 113,000 cadets. The authorized maximum establishment is 12,500 officers and 195,000 cadets.

Can my hon. Friend say whether there has been any falling off in numbers?

South Coast Beach Clearance


asked the Secretary of State for War what estimate he has of the quantity of iron and steel and barbed wire placed on the South coast beaches during the war and still unremoved; and what steps he is proposing to take to use troops to recover this valuable scrap.

I regret that I am unable to estimate the quantity. Although schemes for the removal by local authorities of the bulk of the steel and wire placed on beaches on the South coast have been approved, I understand that progress has been retarded by shortage of labour. There is also material on privately owned beaches on the South coast. The responsibility for removal from such beaches, where it is in the public interest, rests with the Ministry of Works. Resources of military labour are not sufficient normally to undertake this work.

Is not my hon. Friend aware that we have had a substantial Army of about 400,000 at home for the last two years, a great proportion of whom have been doing nothing at all, and does he not consider that it is about time the Ministry of Works got on with this job?

Is the Minister aware that Par beach is not yet cleared, and that the month of May is fast drawing to its close?

Communications To Mps


asked the Secretary of State for War why the regimental orders of the 12/25 Field Regiment, R.A., B.A.O.R., recently carried a notification to the effect that writing to Members of Parliament was a waste of time.

I have seen a copy of the order referred to by my hon. Friend. It does not say that writing to Members of Parliament is a waste of time. After stating that every soldier is entitled to write to his Member of Parliament, it goes on to say, as my right hon. Friend has before now pointed out in this House, that complaints or requests, particularly if they are concerned with compassionate leave or discharge, can usually be dealt with more quickly if the soldier takes them to his commanding officer in the first instance.

Training Area, Netherlaw


asked the Secretary of State for War if he will make a statement regarding the proposal to acquire permanently the 5,000-acre tank training ground at Netherlaw, near Kirkcudbright.

The proposal to acquire permanently new land in this area is limited to a fraction of the area mentioned in the Question; the remainder of the training area is already owned by my Department. The proposal is at present under examination by the Interdepartmental Committee on Service Land Requirements.

Is the hon Gentleman aware that his information regarding the ownership of the land is incorrect, that about 1,000 acres of it is some of the best agricultural land in Scotland, and that great public indignation has been aroused, in view of the pledge of the Coalition Government to restore it as soon as possible? Will he appreciate the necessity of coming to a decision as soon as possible, and will he hear all interested parties?

My information is that I already own 3,620 of these acres. [HON. MEMBERS: "You?"]

Can my hon. Friend assure the House that, having got this land, he has some decent tanks with which to train the men?

Harvest Help (Pay)


asked the Secretary of State for War whether, in connection with help which is to be given by men serving in the Army to assist agriculture during the 1947 harvest, those men who give up their leisure hours will be allowed to receive and retain any payments they may be able to obtain for services rendered in this connection.

May I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on having said something, for once, that really pleases me?

Vehicles (British Manufacture)


asked the Secretary of State for War to what extent he intends the Army to be equipped with motor transport and armoured fighting vehicles of British manufacture; and when he anticipates that that extent shall be achieved.

It is the intention that eventually the Army shall be entirely equipped with motor transport and armoured fighting vehicles of British manufacture. Designs of a complete new range of British vehicles are well advanced, and these will be introduced as existing stocks are used up. These stocks include vehicles of American origin, which are likely to last for some years, and which we must continue to use as long as they can be economically maintained.

Will the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that our units overseas at the present time are adequately supplied with transport, at any rate for training, if not for operational, purposes?

Could my right hon. Friend give the House an assurance that we are not spending American dollars on any military equipment for this purpose?

My answer indicated that. That is why we are going to produce British vehicles.

Building Material Stores


asked the Secretary of State for War the names of people who asked, and dates when his Department's representatives were asked, for the release of urgently required building materials contained in the dumps in the North-West area; the dates upon which other Government Departments made representations; and the answers given.

Requests from private firms or from individuals for release of building materials are not normally dealt with by my Department. An inquiry was received from the Ministry of Works on 24th April asking whether certain asbestos sheeting and other stores held at Ditton could be made available for a Ministry of Works building programme, which was in danger of being held up. The reply was that, although there were still some surpluses to declare, the majority of the stores were required for Army projects.


Smith asked the Secretary of State for War if he will give a list of the principal building materials held in the dumps at Chester, Woolton, Hale Wood, Ditton and Widnes, and the amounts in each case.

Item.Tonnage to be retained.Tonnage declared or in process of being declared surplus.Total Tonnage.Remarks.
In linked depots at Woolton, Halewood, Ditton and Widnes.
Decauville Track15,00015,000Required for export to U.S.S.R.
Hutting and Hutting components (including asbestos sheets, etc.)3,0003,000These stocks are controlled by the Ministry of Works who are working out distribution Total stocks are below over all requirements of all Departments.
Victaulic piping 6" x 4"5,0005,000
Cast Iron stove pipes1,0001,000
Water tanks4006001,000
At a separate depot in Halewood.
Corrugated galvanized Iron.1,1001,000Demands exceed availability.
Steel section (angles, plate, etc.).1,0001,000Demands exceed availability.
Water piping 3"600600Required for use this year. In process of issue.
Square mesh track250250Airfield track stores. The question of retention is under Consideration.
Road tar200200
In Command Depot at Chester.
General building stores. Mainly 4" stoneware400100500A considerable amount of stores have already been declared surplus and re moved from the Depot. It is in course of being closed down and existing stocks are under review for retention or further disposal.


asked the Secretary of State for War the number of dumps of building materials held throughout the country; the number of dumps of materials in short supply; the amounts of the chief materials at the dump along the main railway line south of Stoke-on-Trent; and why these building materials in short supply have been allowed to deteriorate.

There are in the United Kingdom 73 War Office and command stores depots, almost all of which contain some form of building materials in short supply. I assume that the depot referred to in the third part of the Question is that of Weston and Ingestree; it contains some

As the list contains a number of figures, I will, with permission, circulate it in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Following is the list:

The principal building materials held are as follow:

5,500 tons of steel hutting held on behalf of the Ministry of Works, which is required for the Government programme, and some 2,000 tons of assorted and unbalanced hutting components, whose disposal the Ministry of Works is gradually carrying out. Owing to lack of storage space, much of this material necessarily had to be stored in the open, where some deterioration is inevitable, particularly in stores of inferior quality. Lists of unserviceable stores so far produced, however, show the amounts to be negligible

Is it not a fact that these dumps contain materials which are in short supply in the building industry and which are urgently required, and that housing schemes have been held up for the lack of such materials? If that is so, does it not disclose a first-class national scandal, and cannot my hon. Friend make some investigations into the matter in order to have the materials released as soon as possible?

I cannot accept those facts at all. I am informed that we are not holding in the dumps more of these materials than we actually require for our building projects for the current financial year.

I have a list containing the numbers of every material in these dumps, and in view of the fact that camps were built in 1938, 1939 and 1940, in which we housed the whole of our Armed Forces and the American Forces, surely there is no longer any need to retain these dumps, because the men coming into the Forces could be housed in the camps already there? Will my hon. Friend undertake to have an investigation made into this state of affairs in order that this urgently needed material can be released for house building?

No, Sir. It my hon. Friend has information which is at variance with what I have given him, I will, of course, investigate it. On the facts that T have got, I am quite satisfied.

In view of the fact that the Government are making constant appeals to the people of this country to work harder and to have regard to the national interest, will the War Office also have regard to the national interest in this matter?



asked the Secretary of State for War why he has decided to increase to 48 pages the size of the magazine, "Soldier," issued by his Department; what is the circulation of this publication and the profit or loss made on it; how much paper is used for an issue of the present size; and to what extent this quantity will be increased by the increase in size.

I am sorry that this answer is a little long. The magazine "Soldier" was originally produced fortnightly and distributed in Rhine Army only. A number of other overseas Commands also produced periodicals. During 1946, owing to the release of many technical personnel and the reduction in size of the Army, it became impracticable to continue "Soldier" on a fortnightly basis, and a number of periodicals in other overseas Commands had to cease production altogether. It was, therefore, decided to produce "Soldier" on a monthly basis, and to put it on sale to the forces in all Commands. The size of the pages was reduced though their number was increased in order to carry smaller illustrations and more matter of interest to Commands other than B.A.O.R. The circulation of this publication is at present 104,000, and it is sold at such a price as is estimated will cover costs of production. The quantity of paper now being used is approximately 20 tons per issue, and the additional pages will require a further four tons per issue. The total consumption of paper will, however, still be less than when the original magazine was produced fortnightly.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the publishers of this production are circularising potential advertisers with the statement that there is extra advertising space available in this production, and does he in those circumstances, consider that this substantial allocation of paper is justified?

Yes, Sir, I think so. No doubt other periodical proprietors would not agree.

Staff Instructors (Quarters)


asked the Secretary of State for War, what steps he proposes to take to provide the necessary accommodation for the number of permanent staff instructors that will be needed for training the T.A. and auxiliary Forces; and whether he is aware that the complete lack of married quarters when the services of these non-commissioned officers are required will prevent the necessary staff being posted.

There are, approximately, 1,400 married quarters in existence for permanent staff instructors, but many of these are occupied by other users. Provision was made in Estimates for 100 permanent quarters as a start to a long-term programme for quarters. In the meantime, authority has been given for the conversion of hutting to temporary married quarters, wherever possible. In view of the lack of quarters, single men are being posted to the greatest possible extent. Permanent staff instructors who are married will be posted, as far as can be arranged, close to their homes. Where every other expedient fails, they are being given single accommodation in Regular Army barracks until quarters can be provided for their families. Although the situation is difficult, therefore, I hope that the position suggested in the last part of the Question will not arise.

Could the right hon. Gentleman say whether any negotiations are taking place with the Ministry of Health so as to enable prefabricated buildings to be put up, in view of the urgency of posting non-commissioned officers?



asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is aware of the discontent which arises from the fact that men in this country on leave with only five or six weeks more to serve in the Army are being sent back to Palestine; that in some cases, after a journey which normally takes nine days, the men find themselves with less than four weeks to serve before release date; and what steps he proposes to take to prevent men with such short remaining service from being sent overseas.

No, Sir, I am not aware that this is happening. Soldiers are not normally granted leave to the United Kingdom from Palestine unless they will have at least four months' service to complete after their return from leave.

Is the Minister aware that last week I received a letter from his Department seeking to justify the return of men with five weeks more to serve in Palestine, and indicating that the journey took only nine days, and that they would have at least four weeks more to serve after arrival in Palestine?

If that is so, it must be a rare exception, because it conflicts with the answer I have just given.

If I submit the letter to my right hon. Friend, will he give me the correct information?

Is it not the case that men stationed in Palestine and proceeding on leave must first sign a document that they will return to Palestine at the end of their leave?

I do not know about that, but I should not think that it was unreasonable.

Territorial Army (Cost)


asked the Secretary of State for War what proportion of the total Army grant is allocated to the T.A.

Approximately £6,150,000 net is provided in Army Estimates 1947-48 for expenditure on the Territorial Army, including the pay and maintenance of the permanent military staffs. This is about 1.6 per cent. of the total net money provision in Army Estimates.

Is this a definite decision, or a temporary one until the right hon. Gentleman can see how the matter develops? Could he say whether it is a final figure, or whether there may be an increase?

Like all Army Estimates, they only run from year to year, and are, therefore, I suppose, temporary.

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that if the Territorial Army is to be responsible for the A.A. defence of the country, it ought to have a considerably higher proportion than has been allotted to it?

Director-General, Ta


asked the Secretary of State for War, whether, in view of the importance attached to the role of the T.A., it is proposed to restore to the Director-General, T.A., the seat on the Army Council which he held before the war.