HC Deb 19 December 1941 vol 376 cc2229-30
6. Sir Henry Morris-Jones

asked the Secretary of State for War what is the present position in regard to the organisation and personnel for tracing the missing in various theatres of war; and whether he is satisfied with the work done?

Mr. Sandys

In a theatre of war the task of tracing soldiers who are missing rests in the first place with the unit. Commanding officers of units report the names of missing men to Force Headquarters, where further inquiries are made. At the War Office a special section of the casualty branch is responsible for conducting inquiries for the missing. Apart from these channels of investigation, the missing man's comrades who are prisoners of war, are asked through the Protecting Power where, when and in what circumstances he was last seen. Valuable information is often supplied by the civil authorities and Red Cross societies in the territory where the operations took place. In cases where the territory is under enemy control, this information is collected and forwarded to us by the International Red Cross Committee in Geneva. In addition inquiries from patients in military hospitals are conducted by a panel of voluntary workers organised by the British Red Cross Society and Order of St. John.

Sir H. Morris-Jones

Is it not a fact that there is really no organisation to do this work at the present time, and that it has been done by two or three voluntary workers of the Red Cross, who are zealous men but have now resigned from office, disillusioned because they cannot get any encouragement from the Red Cross authorities? Will the hon. Gentleman not get the War Office to take over this work? I can give him some evidence as to the facts.

Mr. Sandys

The hon. Member seems to think that the responsibility for tracing the missing rests with the British Red Cross Society. That is not so. The War Office is and always has been responsible for this service. While it is very grateful to the British Red Cross Society for such additional help as it is able to give, the War Office has in no way farmed out its responsibility to any outside organisation.