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British Army

Volume 526: debated on Tuesday 13 April 1954

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Catterick Camp


asked the Secretary of State for War if he is aware of the squalid and obsolete character of many of the buildings in Catterick Camp; and what improvements are now in hand.

In addition to the building of the four new barrack blocks, of which the hon. Member is already aware, improvements of the water and electricity supplies for the camp and some lesser rebuilding are planned to start this year. A survey of the whole camp has just been completed and we aim to start work on a long-term plan for the development of the camp as soon as possible.

In the light of that survey, can the right hon. Gentleman say roughly what proportion of the existing accommodation consists of huts which were intended to be temporary when they were built in 1914?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that I reported to him some time ago the condition of another camp which was in a very deplorable condition? Will he refrain from calling up National Service men until these camps are in a condition to receive them?

Combermere Barracks, Windsor


asked the Secretary of State for War what progress is being made with the rebuilding of Combermere Barracks, Windsor; and if, in the course of this rebuilding, he is endeavouring to secure the preservation of the best of the ancient trees.

Work is starting this summer. Trees will be felled only where this is unavoidable and new planting is planned.

Courts-Martial, Hong Kong


asked the Secretary of State for War the number of courts-martial held in the Hong Kong area in 1951, 1952, 1953 and to the nearest date in 1954, respectively.

"Empire Windrush" Loss (Ex-Gratia Payments)


asked the Secretary of State for War if he will give an assurance that adequate compensation in cash or kind will be given to all Service personnel and married families who lost their private possessions, military clothing and equipment in the fire aboard the ss. "Empire Windrush."

All soldiers, married or unmarried, are advised to insure their personal property and are warned that, if they fail to do so, they will have no claims to compensation from public funds. Nevertheless, there were many with property on board this troopship who had not insured and it is clear that considerable hardship would arise if no compensation were paid. Because of this and the exceptional nature of the loss of the "Empire Windrush," ex-gratia payments within reasonable limits will be made to those whose losses were not covered by insurance. The necessary claim forms are now being sent out to those concerned.

Will my right hon. Friend set his face against any idea that these people should have insured? One does not expect a troopship to go down when one goes on it, and it would be foolish to insure to that extent. I hope that my right hon. Friend will give adequate compensation to these people.

I cannot set my face against insurance, because it is put out in a regulation that people are advised to insure, not only for travel by troopships but for other reasons. I agree about the exceptional circumstances, which nobody would anticipate, but that does not take away from the fact that people are advised to insure, which is a very wise practice.

Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that nobody claiming compensation will be asked to sign a final statement of acceptance of the amount until the inquiry has decided whether there was any negligence on the part of those responsible for the ship and the reason for its sinking in the way that it did?

Will the compensation of which the right hon. Gentleman now speaks be adequate or only partial? Will it cover all the loss suffered?

It is a highly technical matter but, broadly, normal property compensation will be on the basis of value at the time of loss. There will be certain restrictions to ensure that large sums of public funds are not paid out for things like valuables and luxuries, which people might be expected to insure. For instance, if there were diamonds in the troopship these should have been insured and should not be paid for by the War Office.

Personal Cases


asked the Secretary of State for War if he will now employ in the survey section of the Royal Engineers 22989597 Sapper J. D. Atkins, about whose experience and qualifications for such employment the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme wrote to him on 8th February.

No, Sir. My hon. Friend in his letters to the hon. Member has explained why this cannot be done.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that he has not really explained the position at all? Will he not reconsider this case of this outstanding pupil of surveying who was given a responsible post in the town planning officer's department at Stoke-on-Trent at an early age, and was highly recommended for surveying by the Stoke-on-Trent town planning officer when he went into the Forces? Surely as he is in the Royal Engineers it would be sensible to employ him in the surveying section?

There is keen competition for this branch and this lad had had only 10 months in surveying. He failed the G.C.E. examination in mathematics, and it has to be remembered that we have many candidates with better qualifications than his.


asked the Secretary of State for War if he will now grant a discharge to 23003674 Private H. G. Harrison, about whom the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme wrote to the Under-Secretary of State on 23rd March.

Is the Minister aware that there appears to have been a mistake in calling up this man, who is an underground mine worker, and that I am in touch with the Ministry of Labour about him? Will the Minister give an assurance that, as soon as he receives evidence from the Ministry of Labour and a request for this man's release, he will grant a discharge?

Yes, Sir, but no application has been received so far by the Ministry of Labour. I understood that when this man was called up he was an agricultural labourer.

Does my right hon. Friend welcome or deprecate questions about individual soldiers? Do they render any real service to the soldiers concerned?

Civilian Driving Licences


asked the Secretary of State for War that qualifications must be held by a soldier authorised to drive Army motor vehicles to enable him to obtain a civilian driving licence without undergoing a driving test.

To get a civilian driving licence a soldier must pass a test similar to these conducted by the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation for civilian drivers.

Is a soldier allowed to drive any sort of Army vehicle, and, if so, what sort of Army vehicle, without the qualifications which are necessary to obtain a civilian licence?

Before they go out on the roads to drive a vehicle, our drivers have to pass a test which is the equivalent of the civilian driving test.

Local Authority Houses (Applications)


asked the Secretary of State for War what inquiries he makes before a Regular soldier completes his engagement about the family accommodation he will need on being compelled to vacate his Service quarters.

All married soldiers are reminded annually to register with their local housing authority as long as possible before they leave the Army. Where help is needed, the Royal Army Educational Corps take up the man's case locally and my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Scotland and Minister of Housing and Local Government have been most co-operative in using their powers of persuasion in difficult cases.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is not the slightest bit of good asking soldiers to register with local authorities for 12 months, or, indeed, any length of time, before their service is up because the local authority will not accept applications from them? Does he not realise that it is an entirely wrong procedure to leave it to the soldier with so little help from the authorities at the War Office?

I do not think that is quite fair, because what we do is to remind the soldier about registering. I am aware of the difficulties, and also of the fact that many soldiers do not know under what local authorities they will live because they do not know what their job will be. I was asked what steps we are taking to deal with this matter, and I have given the answer.

Will the right hon. Gentleman take steps to ensure that the serving soldier is given the same rights in connection with local authority housing as he would have had had he not joined the Forces?

The Minister has stated that the Minister of Housing and Local Government and the Secretary of State for Scotland do their best in individual cases, but can they not ask the local authority to give soldiers some kind of preference in this matter?

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us what examination is given to the men before they are allowed to drive a motor? I had the case of a man escaping from an asylum who was found driving. [An HON. MEMBER: "That was the last Question."]


asked the Secretary of State for War what proposals he has for ensuring that Regular soldiers can be admitted to the housing waiting list of the local authority of their choice before they are compelled to vacate their service accommodation at the end of their service.

This matter is outside my control and largely rests with the local authorities concerned. I have, however, approached my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government and he is considering a further approach to the local authorities.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that this is quite the most important welfare matter in the later stages of a Regular soldier's career, and how can my right hon. Friend say it is no concern of his? Will he not consider making some approach to the associations of local authorities to try and get a coordinated pattern in dealing with this matter?

I am very well aware of the importance of this matter, but it would be quite improper for me to approach local authorities direct—that I must do through my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government. My right hon. Friend is very well aware of the importance of this, but no one can compel local authorities to do anything on this subject without further legislation.

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider asking his right hon. Friend to take legislative powers to place serving soldiers on the same basis in housing and education as would have been the case had they not joined the Regular Forces?

I have stressed the importance of this subject to my right hon. Friend, who is aware of it and is eager to help.

It is all right for the hon. Gentleman to say, "What about doing something," but it is not so easy to solve when the responsibility lies with the local authorities.

Will the right hon. Gentleman ask his right hon. Friend to represent to the Croydon Borough Council that they should not deny to an ex-Service man residential qualification because he happens to work in London? Sometimes it is a good idea to come down on one's own local authority.



asked the Secretary of State for War if he will make a statement on the use of the flight of helicopters under the operational control of the Army.

Yes, Sir. This flight of three Bristol 171 helicopters is employed on experimental work in the use of helicopters by the Army and on tests of Army equipment. It is also employed on liaison duties and on training of Army pilots in flying and co-operation with ground forces.

Can the right hon. Gentleman say if the only use of helicopters by the Army, in such areas as Malaya and Kenya, is for evacuating the wounded and so forth, and will he expand the use of helicopters in the Army as the Americans are doing?

Oh, yes, but the Question referred to this particular flight of helicopters which is under Army operational control in this country. Of course, helicopters in Malaya, Korea and elsewhere are put to a very much wider operational use.

Does my right hon. Friend consider the operation of this unit is satisfactory, and, if so, will he inform his right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation in order that B.E.A. may do something about the development of the helicopter?

I can only answer for my own Department, and we are very interested and keen on helicopters. We are doing everything we possibly can to get more.

Infantry Training

11 and 12.

asked the Secretary of State for War (1) what were the arrangements made for realistic training in field work, including night patrols, in both Germany and the United Kingdom for units about to be posted to Korea in the period immediately prior to the truce;

(2) whether he has considered recent allegations, a copy of which has been sent to him, of insufficient and misdirected training of young troops recently engaged in Korea; and whether he will make a statement.

I have read the articles to which the right hon. Member refers. The training facilities in Germany are finer than anything the Army has ever had before, and full use is made of them. Units moving through this country on their way to operational theatres get special training, and the battalion to which reference is made in these articles carried out three weeks' special training at Stanford before embarkation. I have seen the report on this unit when it left this country, and its high terms have been wholly justified by the unit's later record in operations.

While agreeing that the account given in these articles is not representative of training generally in the British Army, at any rate as I have seen it, may there not be some case for looking again into the training of this unit, because the articles are extremely circumstantial, and is the Minister really satisfied that in those instances all was well?

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. I read the articles carefully; they were both circumstantial and, if correct, extremely damaging. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman has seen a letter in the "Manchester Guardian" of 9th April from a young ex-National Service officer who had been in the same battalion as the writer of these articles, categorically denying many of the charges made?

Is it not a fact that the inefficiency of the 1st Battalion Royal Fusiliers, to which the articles refer, also applies to other units in the 5th Infantry Brigade? Is the Minister aware that my right hon. Friend had an opportunity of seeing this Infantry Brigade at work last year in Germany and that some of us were quite shocked at the standard of training in the Brigade? Would he inquire into it?

We have been into this with General West as well, who is now back in this country, and we have looked most carefully into the question of training. I am convinced that many of the charges in these articles are exaggerated.

Will the Minister appreciate that, in my view, the allegations in the articles are not representative of the training in the British Army as a whole?

Territorial Army Units (European Training)


asked the Secretary of State for War to what extent he intends to send units of the Territorial Army to Europe for part of their training in the present year.

Although the training facilities in Germany are excellent, the right hon. Member will realise that cost of movement and time spent in travelling necessarily limit the despatch of Territorial Army units and formations there. This year we intend to send a few Territorial Army officers and Territorial Army and Army Emergency Reserve units to Germany.

But has it not been done on a limited scale before with considerable success, and since it has aroused the enthusiasm of the men concerned, would it not be worth while to send some larger forces of the Territorial Army than the right hon. Gentleman intends, to train along with Regular forces in Germany? In the long run, would it not be an advantage?

I agree that there is a great deal to be said for such a course, but time which is spent in travelling is cut off training, there is the extra expense, and the added factor that no man can be sent to Germany unless he volunteers to go, because under the Acts we cannot compel a man to attend his fortnight's camp outside the country.

No one wants to compel anybody who does not wish to go, but is the right hon. Gentleman not well aware that many of the men wish to go voluntarily?

Yes, Sir, but the right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that, if I were to say that a Territorial division would go to Germany, any man who felt he would rather not go could say, "I am sorry but I will not go."

Is the Minister aware that those of us who have served in the Forces view with concern any influence being brought to bear on those who have already served, and when it comes to Territorial service, that influence should be used to send them to Germany?

Ta Civilian Clerks (Pay)


asked the Secretary of State for War if he will consider raising the pay of civilian clerks attached to the Territorial Army.

As the Territorial Army seems to be built on a mountain of paper, and since the dealings with that paper at the battalion orderly room level sometimes leave something to be desired, does not my right hon. Friend think that it would improve both the efficiency and, in the end, the economy of the Service if the conditions of civilian clerks could be made more attractive, because at present, I am told, the turnover is very rapid.

I would tell my hon. Friend that the responsible body, which is the Joint Administrative Council for civilian employees of Territorial and Auxiliary Forces Associations, has made no representations on this matter and, so far as I know, the men appear to be satisfied with their present rates of pay.

Education Advisory Board


asked the Secretary of State for War the members of the Army Education Advisory Board; the dates of their appointments; and the occasions on which the Board has met since 1st January, 1953.

I am circulating in the OFFICIAL REPORT a list of the members, which shows the year of their appointment. The Board has met five times since 1st January, 1953.

Will the right hon. Gentleman be good enough to say whether he has examined the report of the Select Committee which looked at this problem after the First World War and recommended that Army education should have a relation to an external body to advise the Secretary of State for War? Has he not now gone back completely on that policy, and is he not aware of the disastrous result which followed a similar policy between the two wars?

Following is the list:

Army Education Advisory Board

Year of appointment


Mr. J. C. Masterman, O.B.E., The Provost, Worcester College, Oxford1952


Mr. O. Barnett, B.E.M., J. P., M.A., President, National Union of Teachers1948
Mrs. Helen C. Bentwich, Vice-Chairman, London County Council1950
Mr. J. E. H. Blackie, Chief Inspector, Ministry of Education1952
Mr. F. Bray, C.B., Under-Secretary, Further Education, Ministry of Education1948
Mr. Ernest Green, M.A., J.P., Late General Secretary, Workers' Educational Association1948
Mr. R. J. Harvey, M. A. Secretary, Advisory Committee on Education in the Colonies1948
Sir Charles Morris, M.A., Vice-Chancellor, The University, Leeds1948
Mr. A. E. Nichols, C.B.E., Headmaster, Nele's School, Exeter1948
Prof. J. N. Nicholson. M.A., Principal, University College, Hull1948
Brigadier W. G. Pidsley, C.B.E., D.S.O., M.C1952
Mr. E. Sydney, M.C., F.L.A., Borough Librarian, Borough of Leyton Public Libraries1948
Mr. P. H. St. J. Wilson, C.B.E., Ministry of Labour and National Service1953
Mr. E. W. Woodhead, M.A., County Education Officer, Kent County Council1948
Prof. J. N. Wright, M.A., Dean of the Faculty of Arts, University of St. Andrews, Scotland1948
Mr. Arthur Bryant, C.B.E., M.A.. LL.D., Smedmore House, Nr. Wareham, Dorset1948
Mr. F. J. Swan, B. Sc, M.A., Headmaster, West Norwood County Secondary School1948

Consultant Member:

Mr. G. T. Pringle, Scottish Education Department1948

War Office Observers:

Lieutenant-General Sir Colin Callender, K.B.E., C.B., M.C, Director General of Ministry Training1952
Brigadier M. S. Beddall, O.B.E., Director of Army Education.1952

Royal Army Educational Corps


asked the Secretary of State for War if he will make a statement on Army educational policy and on the proposed reorganisation of the Royal Army Educational Corps.

The Royal Army Educational Corps has three main tasks, the preliminary education of illiterate and semi-literate soldiers, general education and individual education. The proposed reorganisation of the corps follows an experiment in Salisbury Plain District and is planned to be put into effect throughout the Army. It is designed to reduce the manpower needs of the corps and to improve the standard of educational instruction in units.

When the Minister drew up the scheme, did he consult with the civilian educational authorities?

Yes, Sir, they were informed of this experiment which went on for several months on Salisbury Plain, they watched it with considerable interest, and it proved extremely successful.

Would the Minister answer my question? I did not ask whether they had been informed but whether they had been consulted.

Is it true that the Army Educational Corps are to be awarded a battle honour for the part they took in the 1945 Election?