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British Army

Volume 496: debated on Tuesday 26 February 1952

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Corporals' Messes


asked the Secretary of State for War which units in London District make arrangements for junior non-commissioned officers to feed apart from private soldiers.

All regular units in London District do so.

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether this is a recent arrangement or whether it has always been so?

There is no major change of policy in this matter. In the Brigade of Guards a corporal is the same as a sergeant, and this merely includes the lance-corporals.

Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us why in that case he has not amended Queen's Regulations to provide for the establishment of corporals' messes in the Brigade of Guards?

This is not a matter for Queen's Regulations, but a domestic matter in the Brigade of Guards. I see nothing either in the performance of their duties or in the recruiting figures to suggest that there is anything wrong in it.

Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that in nearly every good regiment that habit pertains and that the corporals mess by themselves?

That habit even pertains with the Opposition in the House of Commons Dining Room.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this is not the appropriate occasion for discussing the segregation of classes in the Members' Dining Room, and that it ought to be discussed on some other occasion? May I ask the Minister to advance a reason for this change? Was this a request on the part of the junior non-commissioned officers or the private soldiers, or has this been imposed at the dictation of the commanding officer, and who at the War Office is responsible for this decision?

As I said before, this is a domestic matter and the reason behind it is that every unit has got to do everything it can to increase the authority of N.C.O.s. Nowadays N.C.O.s are very young, and it makes it a great deal easier for them to maintain authority if they are given a certain status.

In view of the importance of this matter and of the fact that there is the clearest evidence of an attempt on the part of the Secretary of State for War to introduce class distinction into the Army, I beg to give notice that I shall raise this matter on the Adjournment.

Wd Land (Cultivation)


asked the Secretary of State for War the reasons for the recent changes in policy in respect of land held by, and farmed on behalf of, his Department.

My hon. Friend is no doubt referring to the decision to wind up the Army Agricultural Scheme. This scheme was introduced during the last war when large areas of cultivable land were occupied by the Army. This is no longer the case and it is, therefore, thought best that such land as remains should be leased to farmers.

Can the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that this will not lead to any diminution in agricultural production in these areas?

2Nd Battalion, Dli


asked the Secretary of State for War for an assurance that the 2nd Battalion the Durham Light Infantry, which is to be raised this year, will be formed at a station within the County of Durham.

Will the right hon. Gentleman see if possible that the corporals at this station are able to mess separately?

Personal Cases


asked the Secretary of State for War why 22480142 Signalman N. Willis was, after qualifying as tradesman, operator keyboard, transferred to an infantry unit.

This man was doing his initial training as a keyboard operator and was transferred to the infantry because he was found unsuitable to remain in a technical corps.

In view of the facts I have now received, will the right hon. Gentleman allow me to meet him privately to discuss this matter?


asked the Secretary of State for War if he is now in a position to reply to the representations made to him about the death at Oswestry of Gunner Douglas Owen, Holyhead, by the hon. Member for Anglesey on 3rd and 28th January; and, in particular, if he has considered the findings of the coroner's inquest and question of compensation to the late Gunner Owen's widowed mother.

I have not yet received the Minister's reply. Although it was conveyed to me by telephone this morning, I am not satisfied with what I have heard.

Is the Minister aware that the gunner I referred to in my Question collapsed at five minutes past 12 and there was no medical attention available to him until 12.45? Will the Minister inform the House how many medical orderlies are in this camp and why none of them were available to attend this man?

This man collapsed while doing physical training and was immediately taken off to the hospital, which was some distance away; but a medical orderly is not an expert in medical attention. However, we have taken note of certain recommendations regarding supervision of physical training exercises, and these will be borne in mind.

Will the Minister remember that it has taken him two months to reply to my hon. Friend, who apparently has still not received the letter? Can the Minister tell the House why this man was left lying dead in the gymnasium whilst the class went on with the training and why medical attention was not made available for so long?

The time involved was three-quarters of an hour. By and large, one is fortunate in a unit if it takes only 10 minutes in sending a man to find the doctor and getting him to the necessary place; it may take longer. In this case, I do not think there was any actual fault, in view of the location of the hospital and the gymnasium. It took three-quarters of an hour: a quarter of an hour would have been better, but, short of having a medical superintendent at every P.T. class, one cannot obviate that possibility.

Is it not desirable that there should be someone in charge of P.T. who understands first aid and can take appropriate steps, and is it not the case that in this instance medical attention was not sent for, but the commanding officer happened to be going on his rounds and saw this man lying at the side of the gymnasium?

I have no information which corroborates the latter part of the hon. Gentleman's statement. As to the former part, the recommendation as to first aid, the supervising of P.T. classes will be borne in mind.

In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the Minister's reply, I beg to give notice that I will raise this matter on the Adjournment.


asked the Secretary of State for War if he has now completed his investigations into the death of Trooper Burgess; to what extent he accepts liability for this accident; and what action he contemplates.

I have seen the proceedings of the court of inquiry into this case but have decided that, before I give the hon. Lady a definite answer, I must refer certain points back to Malaya. A further letter will be sent to her as soon as these points have been clarified.

If it is the case that Trooper Burgess died on 1st September, and that this matter has been under active consideration since 1st September, would the right hon. Gentleman kindly tell me when he will attend to it?

I can assure the hon. Lady that I am attending to it. She will appreciate that this man was killed by an explosion, and I do not want to write to the hon. Lady apportioning blame where it is not due. I am not absolutely satisfied by the court of inquiry as to the reasons of the accident.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the cause is said to be a faulty grenade; and if the grenades are faulty, does that not indicate immediate action on behalf of all the other lads in Malaya who might be handling faulty grenades?

I can assure the hon. Lady that safety precautions have been taken, but there is an additional question about the procedure on grenade practice which I should prefer to clear up before I write to the hon. Lady.

Marriage Regulations (Postings)


asked the Secretary of State for War whether, in view of the unsatisfactory working of the regulations under which British troops marrying without permission are posted to different theatres, he will consider establishing some sort of tribunals, so that soldiers infringing these regulations may have an opportunity of making statements before any action is taken.

No further postings under this rule will take place. A new regulation, which will not involve posting, will shortly be introduced.

Does the right hon. Gentleman's statement today represent a satisfactory solution of the problem which we debated just before Christmas in relation to the case of Guardsman Smith?

I think the new regulation, which is now in draft and will very shortly be approved, will solve the problem without involving posting a man away.

Does not the Minister realise that this interference by the Army authorities in the right of any man to marry the girl he chooses is causing great affront to decent people in this country, and does he not really believe that one of the fundamental freedoms of any man is the right to marry the girl he chooses without any reference to anybody in authority?

I think the Army has a responsibility in this respect—with the very large number of young men in Germany—to see that they do not rashly get married to undesirable girls. On the other hand, I think the new regulation will fulfil that function without the necessity for posting.

On a point of order. I did ask the Question but I have not had an opportunity of putting a supplementary question.

Will the right hon. Gentleman make it very widely known that these new regulations are coming into effect? Nothing could be worse if men posted to other theatres are given the impression that the reason for their posting is that they married German girls.

No man has been posted for this reason during the last two months. Directly the orders are approved they will be circulated to the whole of the Rhine Army.

Bullet-Proof Waistcoats


asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is yet in a position to make any report about the effectiveness of the light-weight bulletproof nylon waistcoats worn by allied infantrymen in Korea.

No, Sir. We are, however, keeping in close touch with the United States Army authorities on the development and trial of this clothing.

Has the Minister any idea when he is likely to be able to give some definite information?

Can the right hon. Gentleman arrange that hon. Members of the Government Front Bench have one of these, particularly after the Budget?

Reservists (Release Arrangements)


asked the Secretary of State for War if he is aware that on 21st December last reservists from Korea disembarked at Southampton from the "Empire Fowey" and were instructed to proceed to Newton Abbot for release, and after an all-day journey found on arrival they were not expected and most of the staff had gone on Christmas leave; and what steps he is taking to prevent a recurrence of such unfortunate proceedings.

I very much regret that the arrangements for the reception of these men went astray. Three days after this ship reached Southampton a further troopship was due there, from which it was decided to send all the men who disembarked immediately on leave in order that they might spend Christmas at home. Unfortunately, owing to an error in a teleprinter message, the unit at Newton Abbot was led to believe that the men from the "Empire Fowey" would similarly be sent straight to their homes. Arrangements were improvised to meet the unexpected arrival of these men and they were paid and sent off to their homes without delay.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that these soldiers were told at Newton Abbot that they should have been discharged at Southampton and that they spent the night arguing, and the following morning they were given £2 10s. and a railway pass? That was for Christmas leave, and many of these men were family men. [HON. MEMBERS: "Speech."] This is still a question. After Christmas these soldiers had to return—many of them from Yorkshire—to Newton Abbot for their discharge, wasting the time of the men getting a job and wasting public money. May I ask the Minister—

On a point of order, is an hon. Gentleman entitled to ask a very long supplementary of this sort, which is inappropriate as a supplementary question?

I did feel that the hon. Member's question was rather lengthy and was giving information rather than asking for it. It would help if hon. Members kept their supplementary questions short.

Will the right hon. Gentleman have an inquiry into this matter, as broad-based as the Prime Minister's political affiliations, and may I ask—[Interruption.]

Brigade Of Guards


asked the Secretary of State for War what authority governs the publication of the Regulations for the Brigade of Guards.

These Regulations, which relate to the dress, ceremonial duties, etc. of the Brigade of Guards, are issued on behalf of the Sovereign by the Senior Colonel of the Brigade of Guards. They were first published in 1853 by command of Queen Victoria and are brought up to date from time to time.

There will not be a new publication of these Regulations until major amendments are made justifying a new issue.


asked the Secretary of State for War in what respects the methods of obtaining a regular commission in the Brigade of Guards differ from those prevailing in other regiments and corps.

There are no major differences between the Brigade of Guards and other regiments and corps in this matter.

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether it is necessary for an officer, in order to get a regular commission in the Brigade of Guards, to have the approval of the commanding officer of one of the regiments in that Brigade?

In all regiments of the British Army, before a commission is granted to a regiment the approval of the colonel has to be obtained.

Is the right hon. Gentleman saying then that there is no distinction whatever in that respect between the Brigade of Guards and other regiments?

The distinction is only that in the Brigade of Guards the regimental lieutenant-colonel who is in fact a colonel, is a serving officer, whereas in most other regiments he is a past officer who has retired. The only other difference in the whole matter is that officers for commissioning in the Brigade of Guards go to Caterham and other officers do not. Otherwise the procedure is absolutely identical.

Troops, Jamaica (Christmas Parcels)


asked the Secretary of State for War why the 1st Battalion, Royal Welch Fusiliers, now at Kingston, Jamaica, have not received Christmas parcels which were forwarded to Grenada when they were serving there, but not subsequently sent back to Jamaica.

I have called for an immediate report and will write to the hon. Member when I receive it.

Officers (Expenses)


asked the Secretary of State for War for an estimate of the annual expenditure on uniform, messing and social life which is a consequence of the grant of commissioned rank; and what steps he is taking to keep such expenditure within reasonable limits.

The estimated annual expenditure on uniform maintenance is £50 and this amount ranks for Income Tax rebate. The maximum daily messing charge permitted is 2s. 6d., or some £45 a year. The rate within this limit is determined within each mess and the average is probably about £30 a year.

Would the right hon. Gentleman say, in particular, whether National Service officers are required to wear No. 1 Dress; and, if so, whether he thinks this is necessary?

Would the right hon. Gentleman tell us what messing allowance applies to junior N.C.O.s in the Brigade of Guards?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there are certain regiments in which it is impossible for a man to accept a commission unless he has a private income, and that he is told so by the commanding officers of those regiments?

I should like to take this opportunity of categorically denying that statement. The Brigade of Guards have stated emphatically that there is absolutely nothing to prevent an officer joining the Brigade of Guards who has no private income whatever.

Recruiting (Annual Report)


asked the Secretary of State for War whether he will publish an annual report on Army recruiting similar to that issued annually before the war.

The annual report referred to was very long and detailed. The effort and expense of its publication are not justified at the present time: but, if the hon. Member has any particular information in mind, I will consider making it available to the House.

But is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in these reports one can obtain very interesting information about the numbers of men applying to get into the Army in the years before the war, which some of the right hon. Gentlemen's hon. Friends were saying they could not find in a debate recently; and that a comparison of those figures with figures for unemployment in the same years is of very great interest?

I willingly acknowledge that, and I should like to take this opportunity of saying to the hon. Gentleman that in the debate on that subject I was wrong.

Overseas Stations (Army Council Visits)


asked the Secretary of State for War what visits have been paid to overseas stations by members of the Army Council in recent months.

In the past year the Chief of the Imperial General Staff visited Berlin and Austria and attended the manoeuvres of the British Army of the Rhine. The Quartermaster-General paid two visits to the Middle East Land Forces and one to Germany. The Adjutant-General visited Germany.

In view of the absence of any visit by a member of the Army Council to the Far East Land Forces, could the right hon. Gentleman say whether it is his intention that he personally or some senior member of the Army Council should visit that area, particularly as it now seems from the Prime Minister's edict yesterday that no hon. Members of this House are allowed to visit that area?

I have many intentions, all of which are subject to approval from other authorities. I should not like to go further than that.

Then may we take it from that answer that the right hon. Gentleman is free himself to visit troops in the Far East if he wants to go, in spite of what the Prime Minister said?

Yes, Sir, but the right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that in all these matters there are questions such as Parliamentary Sessions, and I have to obtain the approval of my superiors. I can assure him that I have the point very much in mind.

Surely the right hon. Gentleman is not saying that he is free to go to the Far East, or anywhere else overseas, without consulting the Prime Minister?

No, Sir, and that is exactly what I intended to say. I think it is what I did say.

May we also take it that the right hon. Gentleman proposes to ask permission for a delegation of hon. Members of both sides of the House to go to Korea?

Terminal Grants


asked the Secretary of State for War whether, in the event of an officer continuing his service after becoming eligible for a terminal grant and dying before this service ends, the grant for which he has become eligible is paid to his estate.

No, Sir. A terminal grant is part of the award to an officer on his retirement, and is not an award for which he qualifies after a certain period of service.

Is not the fact that if a man has died it automatically means the termination of his service; and in those circumstances surely his estate should receive the award he has earned as a result of his service in the Army?

No, Sir. The object of this payment is to enable an officer who has finished his service to have some capital sum with which to start up a new job, to buy a house, or start a business. The question of his death is another matter, covered by a different form of award.

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that if an officer is killed in these circumstances this terminal grant is needed to help his next of kin?

The question of dependants and wives of officers killed is a different subject.

Does the right hon. Gentleman not realise that it is in the highest degree inequitable that the Government should make a profit out of a man's premature death; and that the question being put to him is that, where a man who might have retired and taken his grant has stayed on, and therefore not taken it, it is quite unfair that he should be deprived of the benefits of what by contract he has in all substance already earned?

There are two questions here. The first is to ensure that when an officer leaves the Army he will be able to find a job and start up a career in civilian life, and that is what this grant is aimed at. The second question is that his dependants should be looked after, and that is a different matter, which comes under a different system.

Courts Of Inquiry (Reports)


asked the Secretary of State for War the reasons for the general policy of not publishing the reports of courts of inquiry, such as that which investigated the death of Sister Anthony, in view of the widespread demand that the full facts should be published.

The reason for this policy is that witnesses should have every protection in giving the fullest possible statement of the facts, and the court itself should have the assurance that its opinions will not be made public and will only reach those whose duty it is to consider the findings.

Is the right hon. Gentleman not aware, despite the answer he has given, that there is a good deal of public disquiet about this matter, and that it is in the public interest not only that justice should be done but that justice should be seen to be done?

This procedure has gone on for a long time, and I am confident that it is wise that proceedings of this nature should not be published. There is, however, nothing to stop a statement giving the general terms of the findings of the court, and that is done in many cases.

Gypsy Survey, Kent


asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government what progress has been made in respect to the gypsy survey in Kent; what form it is taking; and when it is expected to be completed.

The answer to the hon. Member's Question is contained in the statement made by the Kent County Council on 27th January, a copy of which was sent to him on 15th February.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that people outside Parliamentary circles who are greatly interested in this problem deeply appreciate the sympathetic and helpful way in which his civil servants and the Kent County Planning Officer are approaching this matter, and will he give them every assistance to work out a blue print in Kent which will serve as a pattern for the rest of the country?

Will my right hon. Friend say why Kent is singled out for this distinction? Is Kent more gypsy-minded than other counties?