§ Lieutenant-Commander KENWORTHY
I have given notice that I wish to address the House on the question of soldiers who are being retained in North Russia and who enlisted in the early part of the War. I am not going to deal with any question of general policy in Russia, because it would be impossible to do that in the short time allowed to me and the subject is too large. But I wish to draw attention particularly to cases of undeniable hardship which are occurring through the action of the military authorities in refusing demobilisation to these men. I will quote two cases of fellow-Yorkshiremen who come from my Constituency. The first is the case of a man who enlisted voluntarily in 1914, who has seen much service, and who is now in North Russia. He has applied for demobilisation, to which I understand he is entitled by Army Orders. His relations have applied for him, his employers have applied for him, and I have taken up his case with the War Office. Before I go 1208 further, I should like to pay a tribute to the hon. Gentleman who presides at the War Office and assists Members in dealing with these cases of demobilisation. Unfortunately, I have had to take a great many cases to him during the short time I have been in this House, but on all occasions he has received me with great courtesy, He has put all the information at my disposal, and has done his best to deal with the particular cases raised. There is a question of policy here upon which His Majesty's Ministers should at once pronounce for the ease of mind of many people in this country whose relations are in North Russia, who have been promised demobilisation and have been refused it. I return to the first case. The first excuse given for not demobilisiing this 1914 recruit was that the transport facilities did not allow of his being demobilised. Men from his unit are now here on leave. They have assured his relations and have assured me—I have seen two of them—that this man can perfectly well be demobilised.
The second case is the case of a man who joined the Territorials in January, 1914. He was mobilised on the outbreak of War; he volunteered for service overseas immediately; he was sent to France, where he served fifteen months; he was invalided home from France in 1917 a sick man. After being in hospital and then in various depots, he was sent to North Russia. He was not asked if he would go. He was not asked to volunteer; he obeyed orders as a soldier. He was sent to North Russia on the day after the Armistice. In January of this year he had completed his five years' Territorial engagement. He was, therefore, entitled to a month's leave. He was granted a month's leave, and is now in England. He was not asked if he would undertake not to make any application for demobilisation. He was given leave, and he has now applied for demobilisation. He is in this country. He has been refused it, and is ordered to return to North Russia next Monday. We are informed that sufficient volunteers are being obtained for service with the North Russia Expeditionary Force. That, I am quite sure, is the case. If English soldiers are in danger through the policy or lack of policy or blunders of Ministers or not, there will always be more volunteers than you need to extract them from that position. Why cannot a volunteer be sent back in place of this man?
I do not wish to touch on the policy behind this unjust retention of men, but 1209 I should like to say that I was the first officer in the Admiralty in 1917 to draw the attention of the Staff to the existence of the Gulf of Kola and to point out the danger to our Mercantile Marine should the Germans obtain the possession of the Murmansk coast, Archangel, and the coastal ports through a breakdown of the system of government in Russia. I was the first to urge an expedition to that coast to enable bases to be formed there. At the same time I drew the attention of the Staff to the case of Genoa in North Italy, which might also serve as asubmarine base in the Mediterranean, outflanking our Adriatic barrage in the case of the regrettable event of the Italian Front giving way completely in North Italy. I drew the attention of the Staff to the danger in North Russia, and we sent troops there, ostensibly with the intention of occupying the coastal ports. Who dreamed that they would push inland for some cause which has never been explained to us? The relations of one of the two men who are my Constituents and fellow-Yorkshiremen in the cases which I have quoted, have been informed by the War Office that he cannot be demobilised because we are at war there. At the same time we are assured by the Secretary of State for War that only volunteers will be sent to North Russia. I contend not only that volunteers should be sent, but that only volunteers should be kept in North Russia. That is doubly the case with regard to the men who enlisted in 1914. He was one of the first men to rush to arms to save democracy, as we were told. This is a matter which touches a great many people in this country.
Captain GUEST (Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury)
With no object of interrupting the hon. and gallant Member, but merely to enable the reply to be more complete, may I ask which of the two cases he referred to at Question Time?
§ Lieutenant-Commander KENWORTHY
I referred to the case of the man who is under orders to return and who is on leave. At the same time I am exercising what I believe is my right in drawing attention to the other case. I will be brief and allow time for a full reply.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman misunderstands me. My object in interrupting was to secure a more satisfactory reply. Will he let me know which was the case he referred to at Question Time?
§ Lieutenant-Commander KENWORTHY
The man who joined the Territorials in 1914. He is on leave in this country and is under orders to return to Russia against his will. Many people are concerned deeply in this matter. I submit to His Majesty's Ministers that they should at once give an assurance that at the earliest possible moment these men in North Russia, who enlisted in 1914 and 1915, shall be released and allowed to come home. Further, that the men already on leave in this country, who are entitled to demobilisation by Army Orders, but who are under orders to return to North Russia should be demobilised as well, that the pledge given that only volunteers would be sent to fight in Russia should be kept in the spirit as well as in the letter, and that only volunteers should be retained in North Russia. It may be a small matter, perhaps, to certain Ministers because this affects only a small number of men, but there have been enough hearts broken already in our fight for freedom without more anxiety, more anguish, more discontent, and more feelings almost of disloyalty to our country being raised by this unjust treatment of men who volunteered originally to fight autocracy in Germany and not to engage in expeditions against our late Ally Russia, the object of which has never been clearly and honestly explained.
I really have no right to speak on behalf of the War Office unless invited or instructed to do so, but I was present when this question came up in the House, and I heard the Secretary of State for War reply to it. I regret that I was not here soon enough to hear the details given as regards case No. 1, and therefore I am not in a position to give an exact reply.
I am trying to perform a useful duty by stating to my hon. and gallant Friend that in regard to the two cases I will take the greatest care to see they are gone into without delay.
§ Lieutenant-Commander KENWORTHY
May I give you the case in twenty words? It is the case of a 1914 man being retained in Russia in spite of his desire for demobilisation.
That being so, it enables one's short reply to be made on 1211 general and not particular grounds. The gravamen of the charge is that men are retained in Russia against their will, having in every other respect rendered themselves liable to demobilisation but for the fact that they are in that far-off land. On the second case, the Secretary of State's reply was very clear. It was to the effect that if a man came home on leave naturally it was on the understanding that on the expiration of that leave he would return to Russia and continue his services. That is the usual understanding in the Army to which I had the honour to belong. When a man comes home on leave, it is clearly understood that he is in honour bound on the expiration of his leave to return to duty. I am not at all oblivious of the hardship involved by this Murmansk Expedition and the burden being borne by the troops there now. It is only fair that the House should remember that this force has been there for a long time. It was sent there at a time when it was necessary for us to safeguard the British interests in that area, not against the Russians who fought with us as Allies in the early part of the War, but against the Bolshevik enemy who was out to push us into the sea. My hon. and gallant Friend will find general sympathy in his attitude towards these men whose further service is incumbent, but he will not carry the House with him when he doubts the wisdom of their being there or of our right to be there to defend the interests of our Allies. The arguments which he adduces against the Expedition I do not think will satisfy the House. I feel convinced that the general opinion will be that this is not a matter which can be dealt with piecemeal or on a Motion for the Adjournment. It raises an issue much wider than can be answered by me, speaking indirectly on behalf of the War Office. I can only inform my hon. Friend that I will take steps to draw the attention of the Secretary of State for War to his attitude both on the detailed cases and upon the whole general subject he has raised.
§ 7.0 P.M.
§ Mr. HOGGE
On that point, I submit I was performing a useful function at the moment, because the Noble Lord (Lord Edmund Talbot) was not present on the Front Bench. I was simply enabling him to come from his room in order to answer an ordinary business question. I did not start the Debate. Of course, I am quite willing to obey your ruling if you say I did, but I do not propose to take more than five minutes, and I shall not keep the House more than that time.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Member always performs a useful function. On this occasion I put the Question, "That this House do now adjourn." Thereupon the hon. Member rose, and he made a speech, no doubt very effective, which brought the Noble Lord in. There was a reply to that, and after that there came the hon. and gallant Member behind (Lieutenant-Commander Kenworthy). If the hon. Member wishes to speak again, I have no doubt the House will agree, but I have no discretion in the matter.
§ Mr. HOGGE
The hon. and gallant Member says he does not know the names. But my hon. and gallant Friend behind me (Lieutenant-Commander Kenworthy) gave notice to-day, and after that the Secretary of State for War or the Under-Secretary should have been here. My hon. and gallant Friend has done what he could in the circumstances, and as the matter has not been replied to, and also as it is one of a great number of other grievances, might I point out to him—I would have done it to the Noble Lord, but he has again disappeared—that the Vote for the salary of the Secretary of State for War ought to be put down during the coming week on a day which we may take as an allotted day.
The Leader of the House will be back to-morrow, and the hon. Gentleman's suggestion shall certainly be represented to him.
§ Colonel P. WILLIAMS
This is one of the many cases about which there is much heartburning in the country. We have thousands of communications with regard to men in North Russia, and we send them up to the War Office, and the invariable answer we get is that the men cannot be demobilised, in the terms under which they are entitled to be demobilised, under the recent Army Order, because of the difficulties of transport. That is either true or it is not true. In this case, the man is already here, and therefore that reason cannot apply to his demobilisation. If you can bring him home, then you have no excuse for not carrying out the terms of the recent Army Order. That Army Order was quoted over and over again during the passage of the late Military Conscription Bill. They said "What are you making all this bother about? Here is the Army Order. 1214 These men will all shortly be demobilised. They are all expected to be home before the end of April." That is not true. The men are not home, and the commanding officers are telling the men that they have the power to keep them until 30thApril next year. They have that power, and they will keep them there, a good many of them, notwithstanding anything that even the War Office may do. I suggest that this man, who is due to go back to North Russia on Monday, shall be kept at home on leave until the Secretary of State for War is here in his place to answer my hon. and gallant Friend's complaints. I do submit to the War Office that they should treat this House of Commons and private Members with some sort of courtesy.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at Five minutes after Seven o'clock.