HC Deb 18 June 1940 vol 362 cc9-11
14. Mr. Cocks

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he will consider the possibility of enrolling as volunteers, men who served in the last war and drafting them into the Militia units now in training for the purpose of stiffening the less-experienced younger troops?

The Secretary of State for War (Mr. Eden)

When the younger men are posted to Field Army units, they find themselves in company with older men of the prewar Regular and Territorial Armies. Ex-service men up to the age of 57 can be enlisted for administrative and instructional duties.

Mr. Cocks

Is the Minister aware that the experience in the Spanish war showed that very great service was done in this way in bringing war levies up to standard?

Mr. Eden

It is a question of the actual training of the men and not of their service in the field.

Mr. Loftus

Will my right hon. Friend consider giving an opportunity to use the services of many former officers and noncommissioned officers, who are aching to be employed in training men but whose efforts are refused?

Mr. Eden

My hon. Friend will appreciate that that is quite a different question from that on the Paper. If he will be good enough to await some of my later answers, and the statement of the Prime Minister later to-day, I think he will then be better able to examine the position.

Major Milner

Is it not a fact that units of Militia have been sent over without either experienced N.C.O.'s or old soldiers, and without any training in shooting at all?

Viscountess Astor

Will my right hon. Friend really look into this matter, because I saw hundreds of men yesterday and they all voiced the same thing?

Major Milner

May I have an answer to my question?

Mr. Eden

I suppose that the hon. and gallant Member referred to certain units that were sent overseas for labour duties and became involved in hostilities when they took place. If that is what he means, then I would like to see the question on the Paper, but I would not take exception to what he says.

20. Mr. Tinker

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is aware that many officers and men who served overseas during the last war have volunteered again, but those who are over the age limit fixed are not accepted if they give their correct age; and will he consider removing the age limit for volunteers and making the test one of physical fitness, such as every recruit must pass before he is accepted?

Mr. Eden

Ex-officers are eligible for enrolment in the Army Officers Emergency Reserve up to the age of 50. While I do not think it would be wise to waive all age limits, they are accepted in special cases over that age. Men up to 50 years of age are accepted for the Auxiliary Military Pioneer Corps and Home Defence Battalions, and ex-service men up to 57 years may be enlisted for instructional and administrative posts.

Mr. Tinker

Should not this really be a question of physical fitness and the question of age ought not to stand in the way of any man who is willing to serve his country?

Mr. Eden

I have great sympathy with what the hon. Gentleman has said. I do not wish to waive the condition altogether which might in certain circumstances be useful, but it is a general principle now laid down that age shall not be a bar, though I would like to keep the clause.