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British Army

Volume 465: debated on Tuesday 24 May 1949

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Tank Exercises, Merioneth (Damage)


asked the Secretary of State for War why three heavy tanks from Trawsfynydd Camp, Merioneth, were recently driven over neighbouring roads and bridges which were too narrow for them, causing serious damage to roads, bridges, walls and ditches; why the tanks were driven through a boundary wall on to private agricultural land; and why tank exercises were then carried out on this land without any permission having been obtained or any explanation being given.

Three tanks were moved by transporters from Chester to Trawsfynydd to ascertain whether the area was suitable for tank training. A transporter on the route, which had been previously reconnoitred, had difficulty in negotiating two very sharp bends and blocked the road. While endeavouring to clear it damage was caused to the wall of a bridge. Because of this, the other two transporters were re-routed but these unfortunately also got into difficulties and caused damage to the road and a wall. Owing to a misunderstanding, one tank did go a short distance outside the boundary of War Department land but returned almost immediately and caused no damage to wall or fences. Apart from this no tank exercises were carried out on private agricultural land.

Does not the Minister agree that the experience of these three tanks with their transporters, which local people believe weighed over 100 tons apiece, shows that this area is totally unfitted for the type of training which the War Office proposes should take place there?

Land Requirements, Scotland


asked the Secretary of State for War to what extent it is his practice to consult the Secretary of State for Scotland before he acquires for the use of his Department land needed for food production.

In accordance with the White Paper on needs of the Armed Forces for land for training and other purposes it is the policy of my Department to consult with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland before land is acquired.

May I ask the Minister if, when he consulted the Secretary of State for Scotland about the acquirement of the lease of the land near Lanark, he was informed that 24,000 gallons of milk and 100,000 rations of meat a year would be lost as a result of this action?

I am not aware of that, but no doubt I acquired all the relevant information.

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman if the Secretary of State for Scotland is satisfied about the proposed acquisition of farming land in Morayshire?

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is an alternative to the large area of productive land recently acquired in Morayshire; a large area of moorland, which could be equally well used for the same purpose?

I should like to ask the Minister if the Secretary of State for Scotland is free to refuse him the right to come into Scotland and occupy land for this purpose, or whether the Minister is able to force his will upon the Secretary of State for Scotland?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that if there were a Secretary of State for Wales, he would tell him how to avoid getting his tanks into difficulties?


asked the Secretary of State for War how many acres of land he is acquiring in Morayshire; how many families are to be removed from their farms; and if he has consulted the Departments concerned as to the effect such action is likely to have on food production.

We propose to use for training some 330 acres in Morayshire, which is not expected to lead to any families moving from their farms. The Departments of Health and Agriculture for Scotland have agreed to these proposals. There is a further military requirement for about 2,500 acres of land in the county for use as a week-end training centre. My Department have made a reconnaissance with the Departments of Health and Agriculture for Scotland, with a view to finding a suitable training area. No firm proposals have yet been made.

In view of the fact that this matter affects my constituents very deeply, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he will consider representations, if made to him, about using other land in the vicinity which would be less disturbing to food production and to the people living and working there?

Huts, Stanmore


asked the Secretary of State for War how many unauthorised families are still occupying huts belonging to his Department on land at Kestrel Grove, Stanmore; for what purpose his Department intend to use the site; and when it is intended to begin work on it.

Six unauthorised families are occupying huts belonging to my Department at Kestrel Grove, Stanmore. The site will be used to provide a permanent part of a large headquarters, replacing a property now held on requisition. I am not yet able to say when work will begin.

Personal Case


asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is aware that the wife of Staff Sergeant Mills of 32 (EA) MP and DB, P.O. Box 3017, Mombasa, Kenya, has been refused a public passage from Durban, where she now is, to Mombasa, unless she returns to the United Kingdom first, although this will involve extra cost both to Staff Sergeant Mills, and to his Department; and what steps he proposes to take to rectify this situation.

Staff Sergeant Mills' application for a public passage for his family from Durban to Mombasa has been under consideration in the War Office and no reply has yet been sent. He may, however, have been told by the local military authorities in East Africa that he is ineligible for such a passage as, in fact, he is. The grant of family passages is for the purpose of enabling families to be united for as long a period as is reasonably possible. It follows that entitlement to a passage at public expense is only recognised between the stations to which a soldier may be posted. If a family goes by private arrangement to some other place overseas it must find its way at private expense direct to the husband's duty station or to the United Kingdom or alternatively to some point on the normal passage route to the husband's duty station either from the United Kingdom or from his previous station, at which the ship can pick up the family.

Would not the Minister agree that it is quite absurd to bring the wife of Staff Sergeant Mills home to this country in order to send her to Mombasa?

We are not responsible for bringing her home to this country. If she wishes to return to this country that is a matter that suits her own convenience.

Trooping Voyages (Landing Facilities)

22 and 23.

asked the Secretary of State for War (1) at what Empire posts between Great Britain and Hong Kong formed bodies of troops are permitted to land for the purpose of exercise; in which cases landing charges are made; and from what source these are met;

(2) if, in the interests of health and efficiency, he will amend the regulations which forbid the landing of formed bodies of troops at Aden for exercise during trooping voyages to the Far East.

The only point on Commonwealth territory at which formed bodies of troops are allowed to land for the purpose of exercise on the voyage from the United Kingdom to Hong Kong is Colombo. Landings are, however, also allowed for this purpose at Port Said. At both these places landing charges are made, but these charges are met from public funds. Voyage regulations generally are under review at present.

Would the right hon. Gentleman say why Aden, which presumably is still to be considered under British jurisdiction, does not give these facilities, as that is a very suitable point in a long voyage, whereas actually when such arrangements are made by commanding officers on their own initiative they have, I understand, to pay the cost from regimental funds?

The question of whether Aden should be used for this purpose will come under review in the general examination.

Forces, Hong Kong


asked the Secretary of State for War whether he will take steps to avoid sending commissioned officers and men again to Hong Kong who suffered at the hands of the Japanese in prison camps following capture in Hong Kong by the Japanese during the recent war, since some of these men are still suffering from the effects of their long internment; and if he will have any such cases already brought to his notice looked into.

From the end of the war until August, 1947, no officers or men who had been prisoners of war in Japanese hands were sent to the Far East. Since that date there has been no such general restriction, nor do I think it is necessary to impose such a restriction as soldiers put under orders for the Far East are, of course, medically examined to ensure that they are fit for service there.

Does my right hon. Friend realise that long exposure to the brutalities of the Japanese during the war has well nigh permanently affected some of these men by the terms they served in prison camps and under forced labour schemes? Does he not think it inadvisable to add to their sufferings by sending them out again to renew their acquaintance with the scenes of their previous tortures?

If they have been adversely affected by their experience, I think that would be ascertained in their medical examinations.

Transport Vehicles, Tripoli


asked the Secretary of State for War what action he has been able to take following on the information recently put before this House as to the condition of equipment and transport vehicles in possession of the British troops in Tripoli; and whether he can give an assurance that these are now in all respects in a serviceable state.

I am not aware of the information to which the hon. and gallant Member refers. In common with the rest of the Army, units in the Middle East have been maintained on wartime stocks of vehicles so as to reduce demands on the civil production programme. These units will be supplied with a large proportion of the vehicles which are expected to be delivered from the large scale programme for the rebuilding of vehicles now in progress.

Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that not only are our equipment and vehicles in bad order at this station, due to fair wear and tear, but that also there are deficiencies in equipment and even of paint necessary to put them into some sort of decent order? Will he accelerate the provision of spare parts and paint?

The hon. and gallant Member seems to be in possession of information not available to me. In those exceptional circumstances, perhaps he will be good enough to let me have the information.

In view of the disturbed state of affairs there has been in Tripolitania recently, will the right hon. Gentleman take steps to make sure that all available equipment is of the best?

We always try to provide what is the best, and as far as I know, that is precisely what is done.



asked the Secretary of State for War the amount of the daily ration of food granted to every soldier at home and abroad, respectively.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the ration, both at home and abroad, prior to the war was ¾ 1b. of meat and 1 1b. of bread per day, per man? Is not the present ration very much less than that and definitely insufficient to keep young men in the high physical condition necessary?

According to our information the physical condition of the men is excellent.

Middle East Forces (Home Leave)


asked the Secretary of State for War whether he will consider the reintroduction of home leave for men serving three years in the Middle East Land Forces and if air transport will be used for this purpose where adequate shipping is not available.

There is no intention of re-introducing a period of home leave during a normal tour of service in the Middle East Land Forces which is at present three to three and a half years.

Is the Secretary of State aware that there is considerable discontent at this decision in view of the home leave given to Forces sent abroad but to places nearer to this country?

Naturally there is a distinction, due to transport difficulties and other circumstances, between the troops in North-West Europe and those in the Middle East.

Fever Cases, East Africa


asked the Secretary of State for War if he will make a statement on the deaths by suspected typhoid fever of two British soldiers at Mackinnon Road Depot, East Africa; and on what date these men were last inoculated against typhoid.

Thirteen cases of fever which clinically resembles enteric have been reported. I regret to say that two of the cases were fatal and I should like to take this opportunity of expressing my sympathy with the relatives. The local military authorities are taking all proper steps to control the outbreak. I have called for a full report and will communicate to the hon. Member as soon as possible the information requested in the last part of the Question.

Would it be advisable for the right hon. Gentleman not merely to communicate with me, but to make a public statement on this subject, in view of the fact that otherwise people may be extremely worried about the conditions in this camp and begin to doubt the efficacy of inoculation against enteric?

The courtesy I desire to extend to the hon. Member, can be extended to all hon. Members.

Can the right hon. Gentleman say what doctors are available at Mackinnon Road Depot?