§ Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER, pursuant to the Order of the House of the 12th February, proposed the Question, " That this House do now Adjourn."
§ Captain SHEEHAN
I want to draw the attention of the House to what I regard as a case of extreme hardship, the case of Colonel Monteagle-Browne, who was, as I believe, removed from the Army in circumstances which do not reflect credit upon the War Office or the authorities who control it. My question to-day gave the whole facts of the case. Colonel Monteagle-Brown served at the front for thirty months, with a record of distinction, without one single break. He controlled continuously three battalions of my own regiment, the Munster Fusiliers. He brought them to a high state of efficiency. They did work at the front which was mentioned repeatedly in dispatches, and he, as Commanding Officer, got not alone credit but honour and reward for it. When I put a question to-day giving all the facts the only reply I got from the Under-Secretary for War was that he had nothing to add 1968 to his previous answers. But because, at the end of thirty months' continuous service, Colonel 1VIonteagle-Browne got into conflict with some superior officer all his services were blotted out, and he was removed from his command and relegated to unemployment, and the Army is to be deprived of the services of an officer who had got the Distinguished Service Order, the Order of Danilo, and was mentioned twice by his Brigadier-General, simply because he came into conflict upon the merits of his battalion with one Brigadier-General. The attitude of the hon. Gentleman does not give a man who is fighting for his character and his future a chance of defending himself. Here is a man who has risked his life repeatedly, who has been wounded four times, who has commanded three battalions of Irish regiments honourably, under whom my son was wounded twice, so that I know something about him, and this man is not given a chance of defending himself, and is called upon to resign, and because he refuses to resign he is removed from the Service. I appeal to the House whether this kind of thing is going to be tolerated. Where is there any hope of efficiency for the Army if that kind of thing is to go on?
§ Captain SHEEHAN
As far as I am concerned, I stand up for the honour of an officer and the right of a gentleman. What are the facts? We are here to-night deciding between the autocracy of the War Office and the rights of a serving officer against whom the- War Office has recorded an adverse decision because, forsootl, it has got an adverse report from one man against him, and it declines to go back upon it. That is the position with which we are face to face to-day. There has been an adverse decision recorded on the report of one brigadier who knew this officer for only one month ! But the opinions of the brigadier who knew him for many months, of the Divisional General who knew him for two years, and of the Army Corps Commander, are all to 12n set aside. Is that fair or right? I know Major-General Hickie, the commander of the 16th Irish Division. I was proud to serve under that distinguished officer and he has the highest opinion of Colonel Nonteagle-Browne. He knew Colonel Brovne's work, and recommended him for honours; and yet we are told that the report of another officer, who only knew him for a 1969 few weeks, is accepted in preference, and the Secretary for War says that " efficiency is a matter of opinion." If that is to be the rule, surely the opinion formed in a longer period of experience should stand before that of a short period.
I am given to understand that one of the reasons which told against Colonel Monteagle-Browne was that he was not popular with his officers. Nothing could be further from the truth. He was a strong disciplinarian—that I know—but he got faithful service from his officers and men. I recruited my battalion of Munster Fusiliers. Every man was a recruit of my own, and I took a certain pride in the battalion because I got the men together under circumstances which Members of this House cannot appreciate, perhaps. Colonel Monteagle-Browne came along to control them out at the front, he brought them to a high pitch of efficiency, and, as a result, they became the top battalion of the Division. I was proud of the men I had raised, and of the officer who commanded them. That is the reason I am here to-night to say a word in his favour, and to claim for him the elementary rights of justice and fair play. I think the startling feature in the case is that we should be told that efficiency is a matter of opinion, and that merit and continuous service are not to count. This officer has given thirty months of fine service to his Empire, and yet because somebody comes along and gives an adverse opinion, this officer, forsooth, has to clear out of the Army and is denied the rights of an officer, and even of elementary fair play. Is it fair play for the Army to be conducted on these lines? If so, what are we coming to? I do not think I can do beter than quote a letter from an old soldier, who served under Colonel Monteagle Browne when he started in this War as a Captain and Adjutant in the 10th Loyal North Lancashire. He knows something about this degradation, or attempted degradation. I do not consider it a degradation. I consider that Colonel Monteagle-Browne's case may serve as a means of redress for men who have been placed in a similar position to his. If we expose this whole case we may redress a great many other grievances. This man says:I know you will have the sympathy of all the old boys who remain of that battalion, and I hope that this injustice to you will soon be righted.If the King has no more need of such soldiers as you, then I say the Lord help the British Army ! Let me also congratulate you on your Distinguished Service Order. I am pleased that someone thought 1970 you were worth something. All the Tommies under you, I feel sure, will be glad to hear of your honour.That is from one who served with him in his old battalion. I was told last week that Colonel Monteagle-Browne was asked to send in his resignation on account of his reported inefficiency. He was reported on by the Brigadier-General, then by the Divisional General, right up to the Field-Marshal Commanding-in-Chief, and, as is always the case with the Army, the War Office were satisfied on that that he was justly asked to send in his resignation.
That is the adverse report. But he was reported on by his Brigadier-General, Divisional General, Army Corps Commander, right up to the Commander-in-Chief for two and a half years; he received all the distinctions that an honourable, brave, and gallant officer could get; and there was never an adverse report against him. Yet on one adverse report he was turned out. Is that fair; is it just; is that a thing which will encourage efficiency—and that is what we are told we want to encourage? I do not believe it is.
§ Captain SHEEHAN
Brigadier-General McCalmont. Here I quote from Brigadier-General Pereira in February, 1916, when he was being transferred to this other division:I consider him my best commanding officer and my right-hand man, and I am therefore very sorry to lose him. I am sure you will find Monteagle a first-rate commanding officer, with great powers of command and discipline. I think his battalion was the best-turned-out battalion in our division…I know that to be a fact.He was also first rate at training his officers. He was very popular with officers and men, who always had absolute confidence in him. At Guillemont he commanded two battalions with conspicuous success—two battalions, not one—and I have twice recommended him for brigadier-general, which I think he is well fitted for.This is the man who commanded the Munsters and stood up for them, and that is at the bottom of it all. Because he commented on that battalion he was turned down. That is the 16th Division. He came to the 3rd Infantry Brigade with the 1st Division. He commanded the 2nd Munsters, and I served with them myself on the Somme. Here is what Brigadier-General Crawford says of him: 1971I enclose Pereira's note and one from myself for you to give to McCalmont, and I wish you the best of luck and a speedy brigade "—That was the brigadier-general who recommended him for a brigade. Then it says:During the three months I was with the brigade Colonel Monteagle-Browne showed the greatest energy and zeal, and worked up the smartness of the battalion to a great extent. He has had wide experience of men, and I think he will make a good brigadier.I think he would, but Brigadier-General McCalmont did not, because he told him he thought the Munsters were one of the best battalions in his brigade, and was standing up for fair play for them. Some people say he was unpopular with his officers.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for WAR (Mr. Macpherson)
I do not wish to interrupt the hon. and gallant Gentleman, but is this in the Report?
§ Captain SHEEHAN
Yes. It distinctly appears in the Report, and it is in the original copy dated 18th April. The officer in the opening of his letter says:During three months I was with the brigade under Colonel Monteagle-Browne, who showed the greatest zeal, and worked up the smartness of his battalion to a great extent. He has a wide experience of command, and I think would make a good brigadier.I want to make it perfectly clear that in his important position and with his important standing as an officer, Colonel Monteagle-Browne ought to have fair play. Here is a letter from Major Manning, whom I know personally. He writes;We all regret your hasty departure.Hasty departure? He was forced to go. The writer adds:I know that the men would have gone to hell for you.My son has served twelve months under Colonel Monteagle-Browne, and he was twice wounded. I asked him what his opinion of the colonel was, and he said:The finest officer in the whole of the Army.And that is the reason why I am here to plead as strongly as I can for this officer, who has done good service. In the same letter which I have just quoted this officer says:I can only say again that I am very sorry, and I know that all the officers and men are.Here is another letter, and this is the kernel of the whole thing:Officers have nobody to plead for them, nobody to make their case. There is nobody to make a consistent and continuous attack on their behalf. Nobody but an officer understands the grievances suffered in the Army. I know a lot of them.1972 This officer said he had fears, and Colonel Monteagle-Brown had fears, but he was a country gentleman in Shropshire, and as officers had been talking about his removal from the Service, he refused to resign, because he had given honourable service in the War; he was not going to resign his position, because he was conscious of having done nothing deserving his being called upon to do so. The officer in his letter says:I have tried persistently to obtain a hearing, but failed, despite the fact that I have been really very well supported in my endeavours.He states that he was supported by three members of the present Cabinet, and a member of the previous one, a very influential Peer, and three private Members of the House. He got no redress. And Colonel Monteagle-Browne will get no redress, although he has been wounded four times, has received military distinctions, and has been twice mentioned in dispatches. He is to be turned out of the Army under the stigma of having been removed by the King. I think I have made out a strong case, and I await any possible reply.
§ Major HUNT
The Under-Secretary questions the fact of Colonel Monteagle Browne being popular with his officers. I myself sent all these particulars to Lord Derby, and amongst those by General Pereira are these words:He is the strictest disciplinarian and yet very popular with officers and men.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I think the House will agree that Lieutenant-Colonel Monteagle-Browne, if he has not had an altogether accurate advocate lie has had a very forcible one. On previous occasions I explained exactly why dismissal had taken place, or removal from the Service. I was corrected when I used the word " dismissal," because an officer can only be dismissed by sentence of a court-martial. Lieutenant-Colonel Monteagle Browne was removed from the Service because he refused to send in his resignation. [Laughter.] That may appear very humorous to the House, but anyone who is connected with the War Office knows that it is the common distinction that is made. The hon. and gallant Gentleman (Captain Sheehan) said he was removed from the Service under circumstances which reflected no credit upon the War Office. I must, of course, demur to that, for reasons which I will give, also for reasons which the House will gather from the 1973 speech just delivered. The hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just spoken never for a single moment devoted himself to the reports on which Lieutenant Coilonel Monteagle-Browne was actually removed from the Service. He devoted himself, of course, to the reports which had been in existence for a considerable period of time. He was dealing with a period of service which was past. He was not dealing with the period of service during which Lieutenant-Colonel Monteagle-Browne was proved to be inefficient. My hon. and gallant Friend went out of his way to make insinuations against an hon. and gallant Member of this House.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I am quite within the recollection of the House that the hon. and gallant Gentleman said that he was removed from the Service because of a conflict he had with a superior officer. He went on to state the name of that superior officer. The name of that superior officer is well known to this House and greatly respected. When the hon. and gallant Gentleman said that Lieutenant- Colonel Monteagle-Browne was dismissed because he had a conflict with his superior officer what is the legitimate inference the House was expected to draw from that, namely, that the superior officer, being in a higher position, used that position unjustly and wrongly and unfairly to get rid of this officer. There is not a word of truth in that statement.
I want to deal with the facts of the case. I say nothing about the past record of Colonel Monteagle-Browne. For all I know it may have been a very good one, and I am quite prepared to admit that it may have been.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I did not interrupt the hon and gallant Gentleman 1974 opposite, who in the King's uniform attacks the Army Council. I never took up those points, and I made no imputation; but I do ask the House to give me a fair hearing, and I intend to have a fair hearing. An hon. Member says that I ought to know. I have had the whole of the facts of the case at my disposal. I have made it my business to see why Colonel Monteagle-Browne was asked to send in his resignation. That is the case I have to meet to-night. It is not for me to go back to his services or to his former work. I have to deal with the facts of the case as they have been submitted to me for the purposes of defence in this House. I have to deal with the facts of the case as they were before the particular officers who sent in the recommendation for the removal of Colonel Monteagle-Browne, on account of inefficiency. Those facts, to my mind, are conclusive. It is the' law in the Army, as it is in civil life, that inefficiency is a matter of opinion.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
If an employer in civil life is not satisfied with a servant because of what he considers to be inefficiency, he can give him notice to leave in a month's time.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
It is the same in the Army as in civil life. The whole system of the Army is based upon that. It is the law of the Army that a superior officer's word is taken as far as the Matter of efficiency is concerned. Have they never reported for well or ill about officers junior to them? Would Members be surprised if they found that that opinion was acted upon? In this case here the very distinguished officer—equally, if not more so, than Colonel Monteagle-Browne—who had the opportunity of seeing the work of the latter declared it to be inefficient for the purposes for which it was being used at that time. It is not that that officer alone saw him. He was also seen by the Army Commander. He was the one who signed the report.
§ Captain SHEEHAN
Did not the Army Commander report that he had not a word to say against the battalion?
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
All I know is that the Army Commander signed a report of inefficiency, and not only did he sign it, but it was signed by the Field-Marshal Commanding-in-Chief. It was signed by the brigadier-general, by the divisional general, and by the corps commander; and when the Army Council get a report signed in that way by those distinguished superior officers of any officer or noncommissioned officer, they are bound to regard it as being a just and a true estimate of the character and efficiency of the soldier who is reported upon. The hon. and gallant Member gave as another reason for the dismissal that Colonel Monteagle-Browne stuck up for the E-o-pour of the Munster Fusiliers. As 1976 I have said, I have read the reports which have been the cause of his removal from the Army, and I must confess I have not come across in writing, or, indeed, out of writing, a suggestion of that sort. Where my hon. and gallant Friend got that suggestion, in order to place it before the House for the purpose of sympathy I do not know, but he knows as well as I do there is not a single suggestion or insinuation of that sort in the reports submitted to the Army Council. There is not a word of truth—
§ It being Half-past Eleven of the clock, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.
§ Adjourned at Half after Eleven o'clock.