HC Deb 04 November 1918 vol 110 cc1764-6
17. Brigadier-General CROFT

asked the Minister of Munitions whether his attention has been called to the letter of Commander Colomb, R.N., of 19th September, addressed to the Shoreditch Tribunal, in which he substantiates his charges with regard to assistant foremen of military age employed in January, 1917, at Woolwich Arsenal; whether he is aware that on that date there were in that Department eight assistant foremen out of ten who were of military age, that two of them were the sons-in-law of principal foremen, one a relation of an Arsenal official, and one a connection of the Controller; and whether he can now see his way to hold an independent inquiry into this matter?


I notice that my hon. and gallant Friend's question refers to men employed in January, 1917. The charges made in Commander Colomb's first letter were understood to refer to July of this year, and were answered in that belief. Although I have not yet obtained a copy of Commander Colomb's second letter, I have been able to get particulars of all the assistant-foremen employed in the High Explosives Establishment at Woolwich in January, 1917. I find that Commander Colomb was inaccurate in stating that four of the eight assistant-foremen of military age in January, 1917, were related to officials in the Arsenal. Two only were so related. One was a relative of a principal foreman in another branch of the Arsenal. He possessed technical qualifications, and was appointed in November, 1915, at a time when the Arsenal Authorities had great difficulty in securing suitable men for the position of assistant-foremen. He died this year. His appointment proved to be fully justified, and by his death the Arsenal lost a valuable servant.

The other assistant-foreman in question was originally a trained lad, who was selected for his apprenticeship after passing a competitive examination. He became Liable to release for Military Service under the operations of the Schedule, but left at his own request to join the Army some weeks before his release was actually due. Of the remaining six assistant-foremen of military age, one had over sixteen years' service; one was a qualified engineer; three were chemists; and one a teacher of science. These also were appointed solely on account of their qualifications. Two of the chemists, who were in low medical categories, were, on reporting for enlist-ment, referred to the Arsenal by the re-cruiting authorities. The Controller of the Filling Factories has no relations in his department.

In view of these facts, I do not consider that any Rood purpose would be served by instituting an independent inquiry. I take this opportunity of stating that the attack on the methods of combing-out in the Royal Ordnance Factories at Woolwich are made under a complete misapprehension of the position. The Arsenal has offered to the recruiting authorities one and a half times the number of men who were serving at the outbreak of war. Of these, over three-quarters, or about 12,850, have been accepted. The others, after being offered, were rejected or placed in low medical categories. At the present moment, in round figures, there are 19,000 men of the former military age employed in the Ordnance Factories at Woolwich. Of these, 6,000 are covered by the Schedule of Protected Occupations, and have not been required to undergo medical examination, as they are protected even if Grade 1, and about 3,800 are discharged Service men. The 9,200 remaining, who are liable for release if Grade 1, have all been medically examined, and in the case of B1 and C 1 men re-examined recently, and altogether there are only 785 men fit for Grade 1 who have not been released.

The filling factories, which includes the branch in which Commander Colomb worked, has been thoroughly combed out. Out of 4,600 men of military age, only 12 Grade 1 men under thirty years of age remain; 9 of these have over twelve years' service. In the filling factories every employé, almost without exception, has been medically examined, including those covered by the Schedule of Protected Occupations. There are only 146 Grade 1 men there altogether who have not been released, and half of this number are covered by the Schedule. During the six months ending 23rd October, 1918, 1,137 discharged Service men were taken on at the Arsenal.

I think the authorities at Woolwich are entitled to praise rather than hostile criticism.

General CROFT

Will the hon. Gentleman state whether it is not the fact that in the period mentioned by Commander Colomb, out of ten assistant foremen eight were of military age and four were related in some way or other with the principal foreman, an Arsenal official, and the Controller?


No. I gave the fact that two were related, and one of them is dead and the other in the Army.