§ 6. Sir WALTER de FRECE
asked the Under-Secretary of State for War the number of men returned as missing during the War who are, rightly or wrongly, officially recorded as deserters?
The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for WAR(Lieut.-Colonel Guinness)
No men returned as "missing" during the War were returned also as "deserters"; the two categories are mutually exclusive. Naturally some deserters—how many I am not in a position to say—have not since been heard of and are missing in that sense, but I have no reason to suppose that men returned as deserters were wrongly so returned, since no man is ever presumed to be guilty of the serious crime of desertion without evidence to that effect. A court of inquiry is held, the witnesses are examined on oath, and the onus of proof rests with the military authorities.
§ Mr. W. THORNE
What will happen to a man assuming he has been reported missing and is found to be a deserter and is caught? What will be his doom?
§ Mr. THORNE
Does not the hon. and gallant Gentleman think it is time to give a free pardon to all these men?
I do not think it would be possible to maintain discipline in the Army if desertion was not subject to punishment.
No soldier is ever presumed a deserter until his case has been examined before a court of inquiry, and I cannot believe that officers who sit on such courts would bring in such a serious charge against a soldier without proper evidence.
Is the hon. and gallant Gentleman aware that we have at least ten cases in South Wales where men have been described as deserters and the documents were missing from the War Office?
If hon. Members will give me evidence of such cases, I will promise they shall have sympathetic consideration.