HC Deb 20 April 1937 vol 322 cc1561-2
11. Sir William Davison

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is aware that the parents of one of the British officers who lost their lives in the recent fighting on the North-West Frontier of India learnt for the first time of the death of their son when listening-in to the British Broadcasting Corporation wireless news on the evening of Sunday, the 11th instant, and only received an official telegram from the War Office at lunch time on the 12th instant; and whether steps will be taken in future to prevent the broadcasting of casualties of this kind until the War Office are satisfied that the relatives have first been apprised of their bereavement?

12 and 13. Mr. Grant-Ferris

asked the Secretary of State for War (1) why the official intimation of the death of one of the British officers killed in the recent operations on the North-West Frontier was only made 24 hours after it had been broadcast;

(2) why the names of the British officers killed in the recent operations on the North-West Frontier of India were available for broadcasting, and were in fact broadcast on Sunday evening, 11th April, when in one case at any rate the next-of-kin had not been notified; and whether he will take steps to ensure that the first intimation of a death in action should be made to the next-of-kin?

Mr. Cooper

I deeply regret the distress caused to the relatives of the officers concerned by reason of the failure to notify them direct in advance of the general announcement. I can assure my hon. Friends that every effort is made to send to the next-of-kin prompt notification of all casualties occurring to British officers and men. It is important, however, that, when news that fighting has taken place and casualties have occurred appears in the public Press, an early announcement should be made in order to allay the natural anxiety of everybody who has a relative or a friend in the units involved. In this case the Press announcement that fighting had taken place appeared on Saturday, 10th April. The responsibility for notifying the next-of-kin in this country of casualties to British Service officers rests with the War Office, which has, however, to rely on the unit for particulars of the names and addresses of the next-of-kin concerned. On Sunday morning, 11th April, the War Office was notified of the names of two British Service officers who had been killed, and one who had been wounded, in recent fighting in Waziristan. The names and addresses of the next-of-kin were, however, not included in the telegram (and were indeed not received until 15th April). Meanwhile a cable was received from India, on the afternoon of 11th April stating that the next-of-kin of the officers concerned had been informed, and in these circumstances no steps were taken to delay the public announcement of the names of the casualties which the British Broadcasting Corporation had been asked to publish in their evening bulletin.

Sir W. Davison

While thanking the right hon. Gentleman for saying that he will take steps in the future, may I ask whether he is aware that not long ago a similar case occurred where a mother heard about the death of her soldier son when reading an evening newspaper? Will he do everything in his power to see that painful incidents of this kind are prevented in the future as far as possible?

Mr. Cooper

I was not aware of that particular case, and if the hon. Gentleman will give me information I will look into the matter. I can assure him that every step will be taken to prevent the recurrence of such incidents.