HC Deb 25 February 1919 vol 112 cc1566-8

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is now in a position to make the fuller statement promised last week, as to the return of soldiers who have served for long periods in the Eastern theatres of war?


asked the Secretary of State for War what steps are being taken to release those Territorial battalions, including the Brecknocks, which were sent to India and other Eastern stations over four years ago, and which consequently have been more hardly treated as regards home leave than any other units?


The withdrawal of the personnel of the Territorial units from India and the Far East is a matter which has been receiving the earnest attention of the Army Council for some time past. Certain difficulties exist which are not present in the case of other overseas garrisons and Expeditionary Forces. The chief of these are:—

  1. 1. The large proportion of personnel due for relief would result in the garrisons being reduced below a reasonable minimum of safety if the whole of such personnel were withdrawn without replacement.
  2. 2. The danger to health which would result in moving troops in the tropics during the hot weather.
In India it is of vital importance that a sufficiently strong garrison shall be maintained to ensure the preservation of internal order and to provide for the defence of the frontier. The British garrison is now being reduced to what is considered to be a bare sufficiency for these purposes. This will enable some thousands ofmen to be withdrawn at once to the United Kingdom and priority in this respect is being given to those who have suffered in health from the climate. The remainder must await relief by troops who are eligible for duty in the permanent garrisons overseas. These reliefs are being collected as rapidly as circumstances permit, but some time must necessarily elapse, since the personnel to form the drafts is mainly composed of those who re-enlist under conditions which entitle them to two or three months furloughbefore proceeding abroad. There is, therefore, no pros- pect in dispatching them before the hot weather commences in May. If all goes well it should be possible to complete all reliefs during the course of next autumn, but not before.

With regard to Mesopotamia, the Territorial troops who were moved from India to that country will not return to India. They will be sent home direct as soon as transport can be made available, provided always that they are eligible for release under the terms of the ArmyOrders which have been published recently regarding the formation of the Armies of Occupation. Attention has been drawn to a promise given in 1914 to Territorial units then proceeding to India, when it was stated by Major-General Donald, on behalf of thelate Lord Kitchener, that these troops would be brought home before the end of the War. When the late Field-Marshal sent this message he could not possibly forsee a War of such long duration with the development of such conditions as now obtain. As has been stated, however, every endeavour is being made to bring home at the earliest possible date these Territorial troops who so willingly volunteered for duty overseas during the first critical period of the War.


Are we to understand that all men who have suffered in health through passing several hot summers in India will be brought home at once?


Yes, Sir. About 20,000 men are being brought home, and it is hoped to bring them through the Red Sea before the hot weather sets in.


May I ask whether what the right hon. Gentleman has stated refers to the garrisons in Egypt and Palestine?


I covered Mesopotamia, and what applies to Mesopotamia applies, with certain modifications, to the garrisons in Palestine and Egypt.


Will the right hon. Gentleman take into consideration the possibility of replacing British Indian troops now in Palestine and Egypt by units of the Egyptian Army?


That is a policy which could be pursued up to a certain point, but, obviously, only to a certain point.


Cannot you recruit the Egyptian Army further?

Sir J. D. REES

Have arrangements been made to send home the families of these Territorial officers returned from India who, otherwise, would be exposed to the expense of keeping their wives and children in India?


Yes, Sir; I should say that any scheme which brings home the father of the family would bring the family home as well.


Will the right hon. Gentleman state the number of white troops which it is considered necessary to retain in India as a garrison?


Approximately the same number that was considered necessary before the War will be required there during this present period of the Armies of Occupation. It is possible that at a later date, when the world has settled down, a general review of the military situation may enable some alteration to be made.