HC Deb 27 October 1937 vol 328 cc81-3
Sir Hugh O'Neill

(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he has any information to give the House about the shooting at Shanghai from a Japanese aeroplane of Private McGowan of the Royal Ulster Rifles?

The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Eden)

At about 3.30 on Sunday afternoon, 24th October, a party of civilians, which included both British and American nationals, riding outside the Shanghai International Settlement but inside the section of the defence perimeter for which British troops are responsible, were machine-gunned by a Japanese aeroplane. The party took cover in a British military post just within the perimeter. The aeroplane circled round and made a direct attack on the post with machinegun fire. The attack was repeated three times and Private McGowan, of the First Royal Ulster Rifles, was hit and, I deeply regret to say, died shortly afterwards. Three of the horses were killed and only by great good fortune did the remainder of the party and other soldiers at the post escape without injury. The aeroplane then carried out a machine-gun attack on three other British military posts along the perimeter and just within it. No casualties resulted in these instances. After the first attack the British post opened fire on the aeroplane.

The Commander-in-Chief, China Station, at once reported this inexcusable attack to the Japanese Commander-in-Chief at Shanghai. The Japanese Government instituted inquiries forthwith and on the following day addressed a Note to His Majesty's Ambassador at Tokyo conveying an apology in the name of the Japanese Government, undertaking on completion of their investigations to deal suitably with the persons responsible for this incident and expressing readiness to make compensation for the damage sustained by the British subjects involved. His Majesty's Ambassador was instructed to acknowledge this note and to say that while His Majesty's Government accepted the apology and assurances at the same time they must make it clear that in their opinion retaliatory fire by the British posts was entirely justifiable, and must always be expected if ever a case of this kind should recur. The House will not expect me to add anything further to my answer pending the receipt of a report as to the steps taken by the Japanese Government to fulfil the undertaking they have given to deal suitably with the persons responsible.

Sir H. O'Neill

Does my right hon. Friend's answer mean that the Japanese Government will pay to the family of this soldier such compensation as the British authorities think reasonable in the circumstances?

Mr. Eden

Yes, Sir. I so understand it.

Mr. Thorne

Can the right hon. Gentleman inform the House what was the calibre of the anti-aircraft guns that were used?

Mr. Eden

The aeroplane fired with a machine gun, and the British soldiers replied with a Lewis gun.

Captain Gunston

Has disciplinary action been taken by the Japanese authorities, and if so, what was it?

Mr. Eden

My hon. and gallant Friend will have observed that in the last part of my answer, I said that pending a report on the steps taken, I do not want to add anything further. Of course, we wish to know and to examine what those steps are.

Mr. Gallacher

Has the right hon. Gentleman any intention of reporting this matter to the League of Nations?