§ Order for Committee read.
The Secretary of State for War (Sir James Griģģ)
I beg to move, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
In peace-time, when a Service Minister makes his annual appearance at this Box, he does so on the basis of already published Estimates, which set out in detail his proposals for the coming year. It is true that he is called upon to defend his record for the past year, but, in the main, he is occupied with his plans for the future. In war-time he is much more confined. Even of the past he can tell only in part, for the past is inextricably mixed up with the present and future; and neither of the present nor the future can he tell anything which is likely to give the enemy information as to the size, strength and equipment of the forces arrayed against him. Still less can the Minister disclose anything which will give pointers to future operational plans. It is not for him to say when and how the second, third and fourth fronts will open, or to discuss the possible counters to the enemy's secret weapon, if any. It is true that he can, if he likes, venture into a future which is distant enough to have no operational significance, but even here he is likely to run into trouble and to impale himself on one or other horn of a dilemma. If he builds splendid castles in the post-war air, he will be hailed for a short time as a man of imagination and enlightenment, but he must always remember that he may, and probably will, live long enough for the public to compare performance with promise. If, on the other hand, his view of the future pays regard to what is quite likely to be stern reality—if, in other words, he counts the cost of his castles—he is certain to be belaboured in 1594 all quarters, in and out of the House, as a reactionary and a red—no, I beg pardon, a white tape-worm. In the story which I am now to give I must deal, therefore, much more with the past than with the present and future. I shall not altogether neglect the future but I shall watch my step very carefully so as to avoid both of the very pointed horns to which I have just referred. But even of this restricted field, I shall be able to cover only a small part, and I hope therefore that the House will allow me to deal reasonably fully with a limited number of topics, rather than try to hurry quickly over the whole area.
First, as regards military operations. I am afraid that I shall say little that has not already been made public as the actual events have opened, but it may be that, if the story is told continuously, we shall see the pattern in the carpet which is not discernible while it is being unrolled. A year ago the 8th Army, having completed the destruction of the Italian Empire, was about to enter Tunisia from the East. Inside the western boundary of the same French colony, the 1st Army was, with an American Army and a substantial contingent of the liberated French, building up the other jaw of the nutcrackers. At the same time, the Navy and the Air Force were gravely interfering with the supply lines of the German and Italian forces left in Africa and ensuring that military defeat in Africa could be followed by no Dunkirk. Also at the same time plans were being prepared to invade the island possessions of Italy in the Mediterranean as well as the mainland. The occupation of the former was necessary to the full re-establishment of Britain's historic highway to the East, while the latter would open one of the few doors into the Continental stronghold of the Axis.
The brilliant results of the Tunisian campaign are apt to obscure the fact that it was brilliant in itself. Nobody who has been over the ground can have any patience with the armchair strategists who at the time criticised the conduct of the operations, and complained that those responsible for it did not throw armies and air forces about at will. It is not really possible to annihilate time and space in ten lines of print. In June and July I was privileged to see for myself a good deal of the Tunisian battlefield, and 1595 I say that I am filled with admiration for what our armies did, and especially with what was done in that last phase when, after capturing Tunis, they fanned out to join hands with the Americans who had captured Bizerta, to clear the Cap Bon peninsula and to squeeze the last remnants of the Axis forces up against the 8th Army's Enfidaville position. As to the results, probably enough has been said already but I should like to mention four. First, the liberation of Malta from its long and heroically endured ordeal, secondly, the capture of 300,000 Axis prisoners, thirdly, that it was now possible to pass convoys under cover of the African shore to the Middle East and beyond, thus saving in effect millions of tons of shipping and, what is more, a vast amount of time, and fourthly that we now had secure ports and bases all along the North of Africa from which to re-enter the Europe we had been forced to abandon three years earlier
When I was in Africa the first of these expeditions was ready, and I saw a good many of the formations allotted to it a very short time before they were due to embark for Sicily. I wish I could adequately express my admiration at the quiet efficiency with which all these complex arrangements had been made, and even more at the confident bearing and cheerfulness of the troops who were to take part. I remember writing that I had the impression of looking at men who were all seven feet high, and I do not think I can better that description. Anyhow, the Sicilian expedition, unlike its Athenian predecessor, was a complete success. Incidentally, I may perhaps mention that a large part of the population of Syracuse took refuge in those very caves in which Nicias and his men met their miserable end. It was clear from the beginning that the Italian forces would make no effective resistance, and the German forces quickly withdrew to form a very strong position round Etna and the North-East corner of the island. This was ultimately forced and the occupation was completed in 38 days. Some commentators at the time thought this too long, but those of us who have seen even the lower slopes of Etna are not disposed to share this view. Moreover, the view overlooks the fact that nothing has occurred in the Mediterranean theatre to suggest that the German soldier 1596 is not still a most efficient and formidable fighting animal. The invasion of Sicily was the first major operation in which Canadian troops took part though, needless to say, they themselves had wished to be in action much earlier. Their performance in Sicily and Italy has spoken for itself and fully justified the high hopes placed on them.
In the meantime the Mussolini régime had fallen in Rome and it was clear that a continuance of our pressure would very soon knock Italy out of the war. Plans were in hand for landing on the toe and heel and for a considerable expedition to land South of Naples. These plans had to be adjusted to the secret negotiations for an armistice, which was, in fact, concluded on September 3rd. It was not, however, announced till September 8th, the eve of the landing in force at Salerno. The landings further south at Reggio and Taranto led the Germans to withdraw northward, opposing our progress by nothing more than intensive and extremely skilful demolitions. I need not remind the House how the Salerno landing was ultimately made good, after some very anxious moments due to its being made at the extreme limit of shore based fighter cover and to Italian assistance being less than might have been hoped; nor how the other landing forces ultimately joined up to form a line right across Italy. Foggia with its airfields and Naples were soon occupied, but subsequently the determined German resistance, combined with their ruthless destruction of roads, bridges and buildings and, of course, the winter rains and snows, congealed the operations into something very like the positional warfare of 1914–1918. Slow progress in the mountains was made, but nothing dramatic happened until the landing, behind the main German position, at Anzio and Nettuno on 22nd January.
The object of this was obviously to cut the communications with Rome and the north of the German forces engaged with the 5th and 8th Armies and, of course, to capture Rome. A good deal of disappointment has been expressed that a landing which was so prosperous in its beginnings did not lead quickly to decisive results. It is not yet possible to say whether this disappointment, however natural, was justified. It is possible to say that the German High Command reacted to the landing with the utmost 1597 vigour and fury. Forces were gathered from the rest of Italy and beyond, and Hitler gave special orders that the positions were to be held at all costs because a wholly successful defence would have important political results. What these important political results were can easily be guessed.
In the Eastern Mediterranean the surrender of Italy led to no spectacular changes. The obvious venture was the capture of Rhodes, but, with Salerno on the balance, there simply were not the resources for a landing against determined opposition, and the failure of the Italians to diminish that opposition from within made it certain that no improvised expedition would succeed. However, other key islands in the Aegean were hastily occupied and put into a state of defence. But in the end the defence could not be made good and the German hold on the islands is still unshaken.
In the Balkans the Germans were hard put to it to replace the occupying forces previously furnished by the Italians. Both in Greece and in Yugoslavia the guerillas made considerable headway for a time. In the former, that is, in Greece, the Germans have probably re-established their position, but in the latter their hold on the country is still partial and precarious, and Marshal Tito continues to render his own country and the United Nations generally outstanding services.
This is perhaps a suitable place to say a few words about the Russian fighting. A year ago the Soviet forces had turned back the German flood from the Caucasus, but the invader was still 500 miles or more inside the Russian border. To-day we have a very different picture. Though in the south there is a deep salient this is being rapidly reduced. Hitler still clings to the Crimea, it is true, but all the same we are now within measurable distance of seeing Russian soil cleared of the invader. In other words, Hitler is very nearly back where he started from three years ago. Millions of his soldiers have been killed or permanently maimed. The dreams of rapid conquest with which he started are replaced by the certitude of ghastly defeat, and the nation, of which he had made an ideological bogy, has turned into a relentless foe which his master race has real cause to dread.
1598 The hall marks of the Russian battles are a series of carefully prepared and co-ordinated attacks by the Soviet forces at widely separated points and the absence of general strategic reserves on the German side. The German High Command, therefore, have had to move forces rapidly, and at short notice, from one threatened front to another, and, as they could not be strong everywhere, they have had to give ground continuously. Until recently, though they suffered immense losses in men and material, the Germans have managed to avoid the encirclement of any substantial part of their armies. But now it looks as if the master hand of Hitler, which produced the disaster of Stalingrad, is at it again. One feature of the Russian fighting which is perhaps worth mentioning is the enormous German air inferiority, no doubt due to the preoccupation of the High Command with the intensive British and American air attacks on the Fatherland.
I may now come to a brief glance at the Far East. The Arakan campaign of last year was a great disappointment. However, I hope that we have profited from the lesson that to fight the Japanese in Burma the most intensive training in jungle warfare and the most careful logistical—I think that is the new jargon—preparations are necessary. More recent fighting in this theatre shows, I think, that we have so provided. In the Pacific General MacArthur's forces have penetrated the outer ring of Japanese defences. Perhaps it is legitimate to mention with some pride that a considerable part of these forces come from the Dominions of Australia and New Zealand. Further north the U.S. Navy are pursuing their plan of seizing more and more strategic points in the various groups of Pacific islands in order to prepare the way for the assault on the Japanese inner ring. But when all is said at only one point have the Allies impinged on territory which was Japanese before 7th December, 1941.
I have set out as briefly as I can the operational story of the past year. Here is the pattern as I see it. In the West it is easy to see that Germany is bound to be defeated in the end. It is clear that she cannot continue to provide forces to stem the Russian tide, to hold the Allies south of Rome and so keep them away from the airfield from which Southern Germany can be more effectively bombed, 1599 to provide for the anti-aircraft defences of those parts of the Reich which are already subject to heavy bomber attack, to hold down the Balkans and to guard against the possibility of landings based on this island along the whole length of the coast of France, the Low Countries or Scandinavia. Sooner or later she must crack. But at present she is fighting with the utmost resolution, and, except possibly where Hitler's intuitions have been at work, with consummate skill. A good part of the Far Eastern pattern is still covered. But enough has been revealed to show that in the end Japan, too, must perish before the weight of the resources which can be brought against her. I think, perhaps, it would be better if I abandoned my somewhat complicated metaphor and reverted to the one I used a year ago. I said then that we were emerging from the dark forest. Now we have quite definitely emerged, but, though the full light of day shows up clearly the shining city at the end of the road, it also enables us to see that the road is rough and winding and beset with many pitfalls.
There have been a good many re-organisations of Command during the past year, most of them designed to further the process of inter-Allied and inter-Service collaboration. Lord Louis Mountbatten has been appointed Supreme Allied Commander for South-East Asia and operations outside the boundaries of India are no longer under the control of the Commander-in-Chief, India. Under him the land forces are commanded by General Giffard. General Eisenhower has been appointed Supreme Commander for the Allied forces operating from this country, and we look to him to establish and foster here that comradeship and unity of purpose which was the feature of his work in North Africa and Italy. In the Mediterranean he has been succeeded by General Maitland Wilson who, for purposes of better co-ordination, brings with him some of his former responsibilities from Cairo. General Alexander carries the command of all the Allied Armies in Italy, while General Paget takes over the very arduous Middle East Command. At home the Army has been reorganised to provide the greatest possible striking force, with the necessary reserves and base organisation to support it. The latter, and the defence of the Imperial base, are en- 1600 trusted to General Franklyn, and the former, under General Eisenhower's supreme command, to General Montgomery. General Montgomery, with his 8th Army laurels still fresh, finds ready to his hand material finely trained and tempered to make something which shall be even better than the 8th Army. Taking the changes as a whole, I think we can say that all that can be done by integration of command to bring a united mind and will to bear on the enemy has now been done.
Sir J. Griģģ
The House will expect me to say something—indeed a good deal—about the problem or rather the whole congeries of problems of man-power. These fall into two broad classes—those concerned with the size of the Army's allotment and those concerned with the use of the man-power when allotted. About the first class of problem there is, I think, one truth which conditions everything, viz. that this country has probably mobilised its man-power more highly than any other belligerent, and certainly more highly than it did in the last war. Indeed, some people think we have bitten off just a little more than we can chew. I do not think this, but we have certainly bitten off a good deal more than we can chew with comfort. Everybody will remember the facts and figures which the Minister of Labour gave in this House on 23rd September last. They show a truly stupendous effort on the part of this country, but they also show very clearly why no one of the Services can get all the man-power it thinks it needs to perform the tasks allotted to it. I hope that in saying this I am not giving the impression that the Army has any grievance against my right hon. Friend. We certainly have not. Everything that a human being could do to help us he has done. There have naturally been occasions when he could not do all that we asked, but no appeal has been made on which we haven't had some response and nearly always a pretty full response.
1601 As a consequence of the fact that none of the three Services can be fully satisfied there is a constant competition between them for man-power—man-power not only for the actual Fighting Services but also man-power to produce the equipment and weapons those Services require. This competition has, of course, to be settled by the War Cabinet. I said just now that no one of the Services could be satisfied. Personally, I have often thought that the Army has taken third place in these judgments, but I have no doubt that the other Service Ministers would say exactly the same about the Navy or the Air Force.
Anyhow, certain facts are undeniable. In the days of so-called rearmament before the war the Army definitely made a later start than the other two Services. This was, of course, largely due to the prevalence of the view that this country would not need to undertake a large continental commitment, but, be that as it may, some of the consequences of the late start are with us even to-day. For example, it is well known that the Territorial Army at the outbreak of war contained a large number—tens of thousands—of men within the Schedule of Reserved Occupations. These were, of course, embodied but had subsequently to be returned to civil life, with the result that the Army lost a great deal of even what training had been done by September, 1939, and lost a great deal of very fine material into the bargain. Again, there is no doubt that in the early days, when men called up were allowed to opt for the Service of their choice, the then greater glamour of the Navy and Air Force attracted an undue proportion of men of high physique and quality and that the Army took an undue share of the men of lower medical category. Even to-day something like 6 per cent. of our men are of category "C" or are awaiting discharge or are below the minimum age for overseas service. I do not mean to imply that these men are not doing useful work. We do our best to employ them to advantage, but nothing can alter the fact that they have got to be kept out of the fighting line.
Now let us come to the use the Army makes of its ex-hypothesi inadequate allotment. Clearly the very inadequacy of the allotment generates a constant pressure to prune and save, to reduce reserves and to make do with second 1602 bests. In the realm of equipment we are constantly reducing our demands on the Ministry of Supply, and they have indeed in recent months released many tens of thousands of their workpeople. The bulk of the men and women released have gone to increase the resources of the Ministry of Aircraft Production. The reason for this is obvious. Though we have passed the peak of our equipment demand, the R.A.F. have not yet reached theirs. Even so, their programme is already employing more workpeople than the Army equipment programme, and I dare say that there are, in fact, as many engaged on making heavy bombers as on the whole Army programme. The main cause of the reduction in the Army demand on the Ministry of Supply is that we have now pretty well completed the job of equipping our forces with their initial establishments and first reserves, and that, by and large, we require to produce for maintenance only. But this is not the whole story. There is going on a continuous study of the scales of initial equipment in the light of battle experience. Then we can from time to time reduce our insurances, for example by reason of the opening of the Mediterranean and so diminish our scales of reserves. Then we are always improving our standards of technical maintenance. And, fourthly, we seek to avoid unnecessarily multiplying new types of weapons of war.
As regards this last, I do not, in the least, mean to say that our weapon policy is allowed to stagnate, or that we never make new or additional calls upon the Ministry of Supply. Quite the opposite, in fact. Research into new devices and projects is going on all the time and many improvements have taken and are taking place. But we do not change merely for the sake of changing; we do so only when there is a definite gain in changing. In one field, the Ministry can expect from us a whole range of new demands, viz., those for the specialised weapons and equipment which will be needed when we transfer our main weight to the war against Japan. The actual size of these must, naturally, be largely conjectural, until we can see clearly the size of the land forces which we can deploy in the Far East. But we are not sitting still in the meantime. A special mission has visited the U.S.A., Australia, New Zealand, New Guinea, the Solomons, 1603 India and the battle fronts in Burma in order to make a special study of what is required for the war with Japan and neither our friends nor our enemies have any cause to assume that we propose to sit back as soon as we have finished with Germany. We intend to go on, and we are preparing to go on until that task, too, is finished.
But what the House really wants to be assured of is, I imagine, that we are using our own Army man-power to best advantage. I think I can best deal with this by trying to answer the questions which are most frequently asked in this connection. These questions are, I think, first "Why, after 4½ years of war, is there need for this constant re-shuffling and rearrangement, involving the turning of one sort of soldier into another?" Secondly—"Why is it that, with the very great number of men who are known to be serving in the Army, you are not able to put more divisions into the field?" And thirdly—"Why is so large a part of the man-power of the Army consumed by administrative and technical units?" The first is easier to answer than the other two, and the answer, of course, lies in the constantly changing face of the war as it affects this country. The number of different facets is already considerable. In the beginning, what was very un-euphonically called the "phoney" war, then Dunkirk, the Battle of Britain, the various Middle East campaigns, the entry of Japan and the consequent entry of the U.S.A. into the war, North Africa, Italy, the preparations for what is miscalled the Second Front, and the developing war in the Far East against Japan. Each of these has in prospect called for changing plans and forecasts, many of them, either currently or in retrospect, have shown up the need for continuously adapting the tactical organisation to the lessons of battle experience. I mention only a few of the more obvious examples—the most interesting one cannot, for obvious reasons, be given—the need for close support for the infantry involving on the one hand the incorporation of heavy mortars in support units and the internal rearrangement of the infantry battalion to provide for manning anti-tank weapons; the growing need for artillery support; the desirability of the closer association of infantry and armour in armoured divi- 1604 sions; the insatiable demand for wheeled transport in all theatres where there have been long lines of communications; and there are lots of others.
This volume of experience has, of necessity, then, led to considerable changes, not only in particular types of unit, but also in the number of each type of unit required to make up the Army as a whole. If there had been an ample supply of manpower, the changing necessities would have been met merely by variations in the constitution of reserves, but, as the contrary is the case, we have had to do a great deal of converting units or disbanding them and re-posting and re-training the individual soldiers. I have, unfortunately, had to take a good many unpleasant decisions of this nature, and I assure the House that it is a very heartrending task. But it is far worse for those who have had to be moved from one arm of the Service to another, and, worse still, for those who have devoted themselves to building up an efficient unit with fine traditions, only to find that either the unit disappears altogether or it is converted into one of a totally different character. There is a tendency historically to assume that decisions of this kind spring from an inherent insensitiveness in the War Office or from lack of foresight. But I have usually, in fact invariably, found that when the reasons for the decisions are explained they are loyally accepted and the disappointment swallowed up in the desire and determination to promote the good of the Army as a whole.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Dower (Penrith)
I should like to ask the Minister—this is not criticism in any way, but surely it is rather a point—if a unit requires a new character, why not create a new unit, and not convert, say, a well-trained infantry battalion like the Lancashire Fusiiers from infantry work to anti-aircraft work, when you could create, and are creating, new units to become infantry?
Sir J. Griģģ
I had hoped that I had made that clear. It affects numbers of different types of units, but, in spite of that fact, the number of infantry units has decreased since two or three years ago. However, I cannot deal with that at length now, but I am ready to do so.
All this has an important bearing on the preservation of the regimental system. The traditional ideal was to employ the 1605 great bulk of the men in the Army in their County regiments alongside their neighbours in private life. And this ideal ought to be preserved as far as it is humanly possible to do so. But in this war as in the last breaches in the tradition have been inevitable. Casualties in the field do not fall evenly on all units. Reinforcement pools, therefore, cannot be adjusted in advance to the probable casualty rates and a good deal of what appears to be promiscuous drafting is accordingly inevitable. This is not new. It was common during periods of heavy casualties in the last war, and it was bound to occur in this though, mercifully, casualties have been comparatively light so far. Moreover, there is bound to be unevenness in the number of battalions of different regiments at home and abroad, though we do try to ensure that there is adequate representation of every regiment in active theatres of operations. Thus the geographical identification of men from a particular part of the country with the regiments belonging to their counties has suffered much interference, but, on the other hand, we have tried to interfere as little as possible with the actual regimental traditions.
It is, for example, settled policy that no pre-war units, whether Regular, Territorial or Supplementary Reserve, should be finally disbanded. When we have had to convert them to other arms, they retain their identity by including their own title in their new designation. When it has been necessary to break up a pre-war Territorial unit in order to make men available for other arms, although the men are posted away, the unit is not disbanded but is simply placed in abeyance in order to make it easy to resuscitate it should it be required at any future time. And in re-posting individual soldiers we do our best to fit them into a unit which is associated with their home area. I wish we could do more than we in fact do, so that on this matter, at least, I hope hon. Members will not hesitate to keep the War Office in general, and me in particular, up to scratch.
I said that my second and third questions are harder to answer than the first. This is not at all because there is no answer. It is because the answer cannot be given publicly without giving aid to the enemy. It is quite impossible for me to tell the House how many divisions we 1606 have already disposed against the enemy and what number is ready in this country for future operations or for the provision of reinforcements. Nor can I give enough information as to the general build-up of the Army in order to show the House clearly and in detail the ratio between the men who fight and those who support the fighting line. However, I can give a few facts and figures which I hope may be interesting in themselves and may help to give hon. Members some idea of the general background against which an Army has to be constructed and striking forces created and maintained.
To begin with, before we can arrive at the forces available for expeditions overseas, we are faced with a number of what my right hon. Friend the Minister of Pensions calls "disregards." Broadly speaking, about 10 per cent. of the total Army strength at any one time is represented by sick, wounded and men undergoing their initial training. Another considerable block is represented by the static defences of the country, including coast defence, soldiers guarding vital points and the anti-aircraft organisation including, not only the ground anti-aircraft organisation, but soldiers earmarked for anti-aircraft duties on merchant ships. The strength of the anti-aircraft organisation is very much less than it was once intended to be, and I can assure the House that we are continually reviewing it so as to satisfy ourselves that we are not over-insuring. But recent events have shown that a certain caution is necessary in this matter. In the meantime, the employment of A.T.S. in mixed batteries, and of Home Guards to man some of the static defences, have helped very materially in saving manpower. Then we must allow for what I may call the home base, which includes, for example, the R.E.M.E., Ordnance and R.A.S.C. personnel who man the workshops and the supply and store depots, without which the Army in general and the Overseas Armies in particular cannot be fitted up or nourished when fitted up. Taking all three of these categories together, we have to discount our total strength by something like a third before we can embark on the task of creating forces for operations overseas, and even so I have made no allowance for a Home Defence Army or for a holding and reserve organisation out of which the units of the overseas forces can be kept up to strength.
1607 As regards the ratio of administrative to fighting troops, it is obvious that it will vary with the varying local conditions of each particular theatre. But over the whole field, and including the home base, we may take it that getting on for two-thirds of the total strength will be fighting troops and rather more than one-third will be servicing troops. The ratio is certainly heavier on the side of servicing troops than it was in the last war. This is largely a machine war and the machine needs a more elaborate maintenance organisation than the man. It may be a shameful fact, but it is so. Ludicrous as it may sound, I am not sure that the biggest single change in the Army since the last war is not the complete disappearance of the horse, and also the mule. This change has entailed the provision of a multitude of lorries of varying kinds and a consequent demand for maintenance facilities. But, on the other hand, it has stepped up the mobility of the Army out of all knowledge. Moreover, we have greatly increased the fire power of the division, and increased fire power needs not only more supplies but more maintenance troops also. So, to put it briefly, we have a longer tail, but our teeth though rather fewer in proportion are much more formidable.
We are naturally striving constantly to increase the proportion of combatant to non-combatant troops. The manpower stringency makes the utmost economy in administrative units essential. But I am bound to tell the House that I do not foresee any considerable change in the present proportion. All our experience proves that the troops in the fighting line are not too lavishly supplied or maintained in the matter of arms and equipment. Indeed, one of the lessons that is continually coming home to us is that we need more and more transport units. Nevertheless, as I have said, we shall not for a moment lose sight of the overriding importance of getting the greatest possible impact upon the enemy. So, then, I would sum up by saying that it is the War Office's duty to make the best of the share of man-power which is allotted to it; to produce out of that allocation the heaviest weight of fighting troops that it can without starving those troops of their proper maintenance services; to reduce to a minimum the numbers of able-bodied men employed in 1608 non-fighting capacities and on the staffs; and to profit continuously from the lessons learned in the field in the organisation of its formations to meet the changing aspects of war. I do not, of course, claim that we have been or will be perfect or anything like it in this respect, but I do claim that the attitude of the directing staffs to these problems is receptive and progressive, and that the organisation which we are now reaching is that which is best calculated to meet the tremendous tasks which lie before us in completing the defeat of Germany and in re-disposing our forces against the enemy in the Far East.
I should now like to spend a few minutes in saying something about military government in occupied or liberated territories. In its simplest form this is not a recent problem, for the ex-Italian possessions in Africa have been under British military administration for periods of up to three years or more. There are two points to bear in mind in this connection. The first is that in occupied enemy territory the civil administration must of necessity be military because under international law the sole source of legal authority is the commander-in-chief of the occupying forces. The second is that, whether in occupied enemy territory or in liberated allied territory, the primary object of the military administration is to ensure that, so long as military operations are in progress, the needs and vagaries of the civil population do not interfere with military operations or create difficulties for the military commander. So long as operations are going on, therefore, the tasks of the military government staff are to preserve law and order, to eradicate all traces of active enemy agents, to see that the civil population have enough food to support life and to prevent among them epidemic diseases which may spread to the soldiers.
In North Africa the period of military operations has long passed and the administration, though still military in form and law, has been able to turn to a wider range, of problems and, in particular, to undertake beneficent activities. But let me repeat that the problems here are comparatively simple. The population is sparse, there are very few large centres of habitation, life is not at all complicated, and needs are elementary. A European country is a vastly different 1609 business. Nevertheless, the experience of North Africa was of great value in planning for the administration of Sicily and the mainland of Italy. For these the early planning and the subsequent administration was an Anglo-American enterprise, and from all the accounts I have received the collaboration and, indeed, the integration of the staffs belonging to the two countries was about as perfect as anything in this fallible world can be.
Military Government officers went ashore with the first landings and very quickly took charge and issued the necessary proclamations in the name of the Commander-in-Chief. Sicily is, of course, a densely populated island with a number of large cities. There had been a great deal of destruction of works and buildings. The senior officials of the Fascist regime, which had been clamped on the island for 20 years, had either fled or been unceremoniously removed. A.M.G.O.T., therefore, had to work quickly, and it naturally had to make use of minor officials of the old regime, including the carabinieri, to such extent as was necessary to prevent a breakdown. This course has been heavily criticised by some hon. Members opposite, but for the life of me I do not see what else could have been done. Freedom of speech and of the Press was restored but, except for a revival of the Mafia, was not much taken advantage of in the early days. I believe that there is a healthier movement recently and trade union activity has restarted. Schools and hospitals were re-opened, some sort of control of food prices and rationing were introduced, and altogether I go so far as to say that this first example of military government in difficult circumstances was a brilliant success. The executive head of that government was Lord Rennell, and though he is always concerned to emphasise the work of his co-adjutors, both American and British, I am sure that a great part of the credit, both for making the plans and carrying them into effect, must be given to him personally.
Of course, even before the Sicilian campaign opened plans had been made to extend A.M.G.O.T. to the mainland. Here the destruction and chaos were likely to be even greater than in Sicily, but nobody had any doubt that the A.M.G.O.T. organisation would be able to cope with the difficulties however 1610 great they turned out to be. At the same time, plans were being prepared to cover the contingency of a separate armistice with Italy and for a control commission to administer the terms of such an armistice. Plans were also made to delimit the work of A.M.G.O.T. and the control commission and to ensure that they were properly dovetailed. In the event matters did not turn out quite as expected, for the Italians became co-belligerents and a collaborative Italian Government transferred itself to Brindisi. Some parts of southern Italy were left under this Government, in the forward areas A.M.G.O.T. functioned as in Sicily, but the structure of the control commission was found to be not entirely suitable to the changed circumstances. However, all this has now been sorted out. The rearward territories have been transferred back to the Italian Government. A.M.G.O.T. and the control commission are under one management and the structure of each has been adjusted to this fact.
As the territory under A.M.G.O.T. included Naples, it was clear that Italian domestic politics would obtrude themselves upon administration to a much greater extent than in Sicily. Some criticism has been made by hon. Members opposite because A.M.G.O.T. did not busy itself with securing a particular form of Italian Government. But politics are a matter for politically constituted Governments and not for a military administration whose primary purpose is to be an adjunct of military operations. However, in these matters I am content to produce the testimony of Count Sforza, who is somewhat of a labarum to my Mazzinian friends opposite. When the announcement was made of the return of all the country south of Salerno to the Italian Government he warned—naturally, perhaps, considering his general outlook—the extremely able officers at the head of the Control Commission to keep a careful eye on the Badoglio Government. He then went on to pay a flaming tribute to A.M.G.O.T. and said, if I remember the words aright, that in spite of some defects A.M.G.O.T. had been one of the best regimes of occupation ever seen. So much for the past. I repeat that a great deal of the credit is due to Lord Rennell for what seems to me—and to Count Sforza—an outstanding achievement.
1611 As regards the future, plans for the preliminary military administration of Burma as it is reoccupied have been worked out. Those for the other British possessions in the Far East are being worked out. For Europe plans to deal with the various territories to be liberated have been concerted or are being discussed with those concerned—I think I may reasonably say with all those concerned—and a great deal of work has been done on the problems of administering a conquered Germany. A great deal is also being done in training suitable staffs for the work. Then, too, we are studying in close concert with our Allies the wide range of relief problems. Ultimately, of course, these problems will fall largely in the sphere of U.N.R.R.A., but it is pretty clear that in the early stages the relief of civil population will have to be a military obligation. The procurement of supplies in this preliminary period and when and how to hand over to U.N.R.R.A.—all this kind of conundrum is under examination. Of course, one thing is certain, and that is that nothing will work out quite as expected, but that is no reason for not showing forethought. The main hypothesis of any possible preparation has by now become an axiom, viz. that Germany and in her turn Japan, will be thoroughly defeated and the enslaved countries will in consequence be liberated.
I come now to Army education. The broad outlines of our educational activities are by now well known to hon. Members. It is partly compulsory and partly voluntary. The compulsory part is a combination of A.B.C.A. discussions and of lectures, followed by questions and arguments, on a series of booklets under the general title "The British Way and Purpose." I suppose it is fair to describe these activities as an education in what is rather jargonistically called citizenship. The publications are intended to be objective and they have, in my view, succeeded to a very remarkable degree in avoiding partisanship on one side or the other. I know that the hon. and learned Member for North Hammersmith (Mr. Pritt) does not take that view; but I disagree with him on that as on a good many other things. There is, however, one aspect in which they have been anything but neutral. These pamphlets have definitely sought to teach 1612 the British soldier the Cromwellian tradition of knowing what he fights for and to love what he knows. And they have certainly made no attempt to conceal from the British soldier that men of his race have played a great and beneficent part in the history of the world and that they themselves and their children have and will have an opportunity of playing at least as great and as beneficent a part in the future.
As regards A.B.C.A., we have been paid the sincerest form of flattery in that the R.A.F., the American forces in this country, the Dominions and to a large extent the Navy have copied our example. The voluntary side of Army Education covers a very wide range of activity and I have no time to do more than give a mere chronicle of them. Music, drama, handicrafts, languages, art, correspondence and technical courses, the countless lectures arranged through the C.A.C. for Adult Education in the Forces and, I almost blush to mention it, basic instruction for that small minority who cannot read and write. The first impact of all this educational work naturally falls upon the Army Educational Corps but the great bulk of it must be carried out by instructors in the units themselves. These have been trained partly by courses at the Army School of Education and partly by the organisation of short courses in Commands. So far as is practicable, Army Education is carried on overseas as well. The limitations, of course, are obvious but they are overcome at times to an astonishing extent. To give one totally unexpected example I am told that it was possible to arrange for the London Matriculation Examination to be held in June at Tripoli.
I have said enough to show how important we think is the current education of the soldier. It will become much more important as we get nearer the time when we can begin to release some men from the Forces to return to civil life. It is not only a question of educating a man while he is retained in the Army; there is also the question of adjusting the training he gets in the Army to what will be made available for him under the auspices of the Minister of Labour after he is released.
Sir J. Griģģ
I think so. I think I can give that assurance quite safely. There have been instances earlier when it was not as well known as it ought to have been, but I think it is all right now. In the scheme of further education announced by my right hon. Friend on 25th March last, explicit provision was made for co-ordination with what the Army is doing before a man's release. And I have no doubt that this will be the case with any other projects the Minister of Labour may have in mind.
Incidentally, the lines of the Army's educational scheme in the demobilization period were laid down in the report of a departmental committee under my noble Friend the Under-Secretary of State which contained representatives of the other Services, of the Ministry of Labour, and the Board of Education and also the Chief Education Officer of the L.C.C. Its report was unanimous, and the steps to give effect to it are being worked out. As the House knows, the Army Council has recently appointed a distinguished educationalist, Mr. P. R. Morris, to be Director-General of Army Education. This task will be not only to consolidate and continue what has already been done, but to have everything ready against the arrival of that testing time when men are being re-transformed into civilians—civilians I believe most at any rate of whom will be much better civilians for having made themselves and shown themselves to be extremely good soldiers.
Mr. Bellenģer (Bassetlaw)
Is it possible for the House to be informed in some way or other what conclusions the Departmental Committee have come to? Obviously, it is a matter in which the House and the general public are keenly interested.
Sir J. Griģģ
Yes, Sir. There is an intention of making a general statement about it sometime. It is not quite ready, but that certainly is the intention. It does dovetail into what the Ministry of Labour are doing.
I expect hon. Members will be hoping to hear from me something authoritative about the principles upon which soldiers will be released from the Army when the fighting is done. I am afraid, however, that I am not in a position to say anything new about demobilisation. 1614 This is not very surprising, for the shape of things to come, particularly in the period between the defeat of Germany and the destruction of Japan, has not yet disclosed itself at all clearly. Three things can be said, however. The first is that it is no good thinking that the whole of the Army, or even the greater part of it, can go home as soon as Germany is defeated. Japan will be still in the field, and to a very considerable extent in our field, and we are, in commonsense as well as honour, bound to see that job through too. The second is that, whatever scheme of release is adopted, it must be not only fair but demonstrably fair. The third is that our preparations are sufficiently far advanced that we can guarantee to cope quickly and efficiently with any reasonable scheme of demobilisation. A number of hon. Members were able last September to see something of what we have done in the way of getting machinery ready in advance, and I am pretty sure that in this matter at least they share my confidence in the foresight and administrative competence of the military machine.
This survey would not be complete without some glance at the prospects of the post-war Army. In an examination of this problem there are many incalculable factors. Perhaps the only certainty is that, for many years, we shall be forced, in our own interests and in the interests of world peace, to maintain considerable Armed Forces, and that the land Forces will have to play their part. It may also be taken as certain that the hard core of the Army will be a professional organisation having behind it considerable reserves. But what precise tasks will lie before the Army, whether in the period immediately following a peace or in the years after that, is a question which cannot be answered until we know, for example, the length and nature of the occupation of Europe, the respective tasks assigned to the Royal Air Force and the Army, separately or in combination, the size and location of our overseas garrisons, and many other points. And when we know these things there will still be the question of the mode of producing the considerable reserves which, as I have just said, will be clearly necessary. All these questions, and others, have been under examination in the War Office for a long time, and it will not be for lack 1615 of thought if we fail, in the years after the war, to produce, or rather to maintain, a fighting instrument no less competent than that which we have at present.
It seems to me that one of the first necessities is that the Army of the future should be a profession which attracts the best elements of our population, which offers also an honourable career to all classes of the community, to almost every kind of intellectual training, to the technician and to the scientist alike. These objects cannot be attained unless certain basic elements are present in the Army itself. Advancement in the Service must be open to everyone who applies himself to its study. The monetary rewards must be sufficient, together with the intrinsic interest of the career, to attract a more than ample flow of recruits, whether for the commissioned or non-commissioned ranks. We must never return to the situation as we knew it for the 10 years preceding this war, when every unit in the British Army was short of its peace establishment, and the supply of officers was not merely inadequate in numbers, but in some cases in quality too. What we hope to see is a waiting list for the Army, and it is upon this assumption that in the intervals of running the war we are working at the problem. One matter I might perhaps mention specifically. We are considering carefully how best to associate scientists with the post-war Army. This war has shown how great a part science plays in modern warfare, and we cannot afford not to attract into the military organisation the best scientific knowledge and experience that our country can produce.
I do not think that I ought to occupy the time of the House much longer. I have covered only a few of the topics open to me, and most of those are concerned with the administration and welfare of the Army, rather than with its fighting efficiency. I have said little about the equipment of the Forces for overseas, which has now reached a very high degree of fulfilment. I have said nothing about their training, which is working up to the climax for which everybody is waiting. I have said nothing about that vast Movements organisation which is charged with the work of assembling them and launching them upon their appointed task. I 1616 have said nothing about the growth of airborne forces and co-operation with the Air Force. My confidence is that what has been and is being done in these spheres will best and most assuredly show itself on the bodies of the enemy. This confidence is complete, and it rests upon the faith that this Army, which came out of the great tribulation, is the best we have ever had.
Far too little is said in praise of the British soldier. Fortunately, there will be many opportunities for repairing this neglect in the coming months. The National Savings Campaign of this year is to take the form of a salute to the soldier and I shall seize every opportunity I can to pay verbal tribute to him; but verbal tribute is not enough. There must be a recognition on our part that the soldier's great ordeal is still to come; we must determine, whatever the temptation to ease our efforts, and however much we may wish to beguile ourselves by looking to consolations and even rewards when the fighting is over, that so long as the fighting lasts we will cheerfully undergo every sacrifice that will lighten and support the soldier's sacrifices. The mood which now ought to govern us is finely expressed in Drake's prayer on the morning of the attack on Cadiz in 1587, in a general situation not altogether unlike that in which we find ourselves to-day:O Lord God, when Thou givest to Thy servants to endeavour any great matter, grant us also to know that it is not the beginning, but the continuing of the same until it be thoroughly finished, which yieldeth the true glory.
§ Mr. J. J. Lawson (Chester-le-Street)
The right hon. Gentleman has given a detailed review of the Armed Forces of the Crown and, generally speaking, he has contented himself with reviewing the factual side of the life of the Army. There were scarcely any frills in his speech, except that now and then he used a new word or two—new, as far as I was concerned. I thought the first one went all right, but when he got to the third one I thought that I should bring a dictionary with me, when next the right hon. Gentleman is dealing with the Army Estimates. He has given a valuable detailed review, and it is just that kind of speech, opening out discussion of the Army Estimates, which is necessary for the House, when it wants to deal with the business, as well as the human side of the Army.
1617 I was very pleased to hear the right hon. Gentleman say that we too seldom praise the Army. It has been to me a never-ending surprise that we can have millions of men in this country for over four years—ours alone at first, and now representatives of many nations—divorced from their home life, and largely, from ordinary civilian life, and yet with such a fine standard of conduct, on the whole. I have seen criticisms, here and there, of some sections of the Army, but the wonder to me is not that there should be some criticism, but that there should be so little—almost a lack of it—when one thinks of the number of men concerned. I have sometimes wondered whether, without having had the full effect of the increase in school-age, and without the Army educational effort and many humanising influences which were not operating in the last war, it would have been possible, to have had so many men in the country, with so little in the way of incident. When it comes to the men overseas all who have met them try to find language in which to express what they feel of the spirit of these men. I notice they are in the same difficulty as I was when I met the men in North Africa. There is something in the spirit of those men that it is quite impossible to translate to the ordinary citizen of this country. I was amazed to find that they did not seem concerned about themselves, even in the difficult conditions of desert warfare. What they were concerned about was their own people at home, who were generally living in much better circumstances than they were.
There are a good many questions that I should like to ask the Secretary of State, but one or two I would particularly like to ask. These men, as I have said, are cut off from their people, and their people are cut off from them, and it is quite right that this House should very much concern itself about the letters going to and fro between their wives and relatives and the soldiers. Last year we had to complain strongly about this matter. I notice that there are still a number of Questions about it. My experience is that the position is better, but it is a fact that there is a good deal of complaint. What the explanation is of these complaints I cannot say. Some of us know that it is sometimes difficult to reach men in the line, but, allowing for all the difficulties, I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman what the 1618 War Office are doing to meet the difficulties and to improve generally the postal services between people at home and their sons and husbands, because a letter matters a great deal both to the man who is fighting and to his people at home.
Could we also have some detailed explanation as to what really is the position of the miner in the Forces when he wants to get back into the mines? I have had a general statement made to me, but I must say that the statement that we as miners get is rather vague on some points. Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us what the position is? I am sure that the Members of the House will have had pretty much the same sort of experience as I have had. Just before I left home a young man aged about 30 came to see me. He was a good class miner, one of the men who were called up as a Territorial. He wanted to offer his services for the mines. I told him that as far as I knew it was not possible but that he ought to make his application through his Command. But when all is said and done, taking into account the memorandum that has been sent out on this matter, those who know the Army authorities and know the difficulties of dealing with the men in the different grades and categories and arms of the Service, find that the ways of the War Office in reference to the release of miners from the Army pass understanding.
I should like also to ask about another matter that has occurred to me in view of what is imminent. There is a whisper that numbers of medical men for the Services are not quite up to the standard they ought to be. That would be a serious matter. Can the right hon. Gentleman make a statement upon that matter? Finally, I want to join with the right hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to the Home Guard for their manning of the anti-aircraft guns and the remarkable aptitude they are showing for the work. I do not think that any of us in our wildest dreams thought that when the Home Guard were established we should ever see them manning the anti-aircraft guns, and that we should almost rely on them and the A.T.S. and the rest for the defence of this country. This House ought to express itself concerning the Home Guard, because men who are engaged in many occupations and services give and have given long hours to their training after the 1619 day's work and after the week's work, and it is really remarkable to note the degree of skill and perfection which they have achieved. When the Home Guard were first established I used to watch rather surreptitiously the drilling here in Westminster Hall. I used to think, "If anyone wants a real example of democracy in action they had better come and see the squad training in Westminster Hall." I used to notice very distinguished Members of this House, and indeed of the other House, being addressed, sometimes by an attendant who was an ex-sergeant, in language which I appreciated and found a good deal of joy in hearing, having undergone the ordeal myself.
§ Mr. Lawson
If they were not in step when he had finished with them it would not be possible to make them be in step. There is another question coming on which I cannot deal with here, of course, though I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give serious consideration to it, and that is the question of pay and allowances for the troops. I do not intend to pursue that, but I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will take serious note of the opinions that one knows to be prevalent in the House in practically all parties, and that he takes sufficiently serious note of them to give what we should call a useful decision.
The right hon. Gentleman said that it is not for him to tell us when the second or third or fourth front, as he called it, would be opened. Of course, he cannot. I do not call it the second front; I think it would be more approximately true to say the 22nd front than to call it the second front. This Estimate is no ordinary Estimate. It is for men, equipment and stores on a vast scale for what is undoubtedly, as the Prime Minister said, one of the greatest efforts in military history, that the Government are asking the consent of Parliament. We have now arrived at that stage for which the nation has laboured and trained its manhood and its womanhood and for which it has also fought for some years. The right hon. Gentleman gave a rough estimate as to the number of people, men and women, who have been engaged in this great war effort. I should think it is true to say 1620 that in the industrial field and on the fighting field more than half the personnel of this country has been concerned. Before the war there were about 14,000,000 people engaged in industry. I understand from the Ministry of Labour that the figure is now about 23,000,000, and I agree with the right hon. Gentleman when he says that no nation has made such a complete effort as we have in the use of our manhood and womanhood. It would be true to say that apart from the very old and the very young and the usual few exceptions, practically everybody in this country is engaged either in the industrial or on the military field. For years now they have concentrated all their energies to that one aim of destroying the worst enemy that ever menaced mankind.
When one considers the position of this country to-day compared with what it was four years ago miracles have been worked. It is less than four years since I had in my hand a leaflet dropped upon the Northern moors by German pilots which was headed "My last appeal to reason. By Adolf Hitler." I gathered from that leaflet that we were done for, finished altogether, and that we were being told that we had got to come in any case so we had better come quietly. Those were the days when we were going about swearing what we would do if Hitler landed. Our courage was all right, but, as a matter of fact, the whole population, apart from about one division of soldiers, had not a half a dozen youngsters' catapults among them. And we remember the days when we were so pleased by the action of America in sending what we thought then was a valuable assortment of arms but which were very poor by the standards of to-day. When we think of those days and now, when we see our men, our great guns, our tanks, and the swarms of our planes everywhere, we realise what wonders have been wrought. I think that, regardless of political opinions, and in spite of the criticisms that we have to make at times, the country is grateful to the Government who have borne the burden and have been responsible for such great achievements. Millions of men and women in this country, too, have given service freely and at great sacrifice to themselves, asking nothing in return. On what may be the eve, as I think it is, of possible attacks somewhere in Europe, it is right to say that while we 1621 have in war-time the mean showing themselves, it is still more true that the bulk of the population have given and do give themselves without let or hindrance for the great cause in which we are engaged.
I think the country is very sober about the undertaking which is before us. It is in a different frame of mind from what it was three months ago. It understands, as well as citizens can, what we are about to do. I know that the Government will never be influenced by propaganda. So grave is the need for calling upon our men to-day that we do not want the Government to be influenced in their timing and in their strategy by any propaganda which results from the idea that they are not quick enough in action. I am very pleased that our people are not too much influenced by propaganda. We had 20 years of it from Mussolini, and 10 years of it from Hitler. There is general resentment on the part of the ordinary man in the street, who may be considered a simple person, by people who think themselves clever attempting to bludgeon his brains with their ideas. Those in power would do well to note this resentment. I can say with assurance that the average British man or woman wants real facts before making a decision, and I am glad that our Government generally recognise that. The one or two instances of propaganda which have ignored that consideration have been so gauche, so left-handed, so bad, that even those who were responsible would hardly call them a success. The timing and the strategy of this matter, irrespective of criticism from outside, ought to be decided on the facts as they are at the particular moment. We cannot go into detail on this matter, and I should be the last person to attempt to do so.
This operation is almost the biggest thing attempted in military history. Napoleon did not attempt such a thing, and Hitler did not. The only reason we can attempt it is that there is a British Navy, in addition to the Royal Air Force. The British Navy we take for granted, like the law of gravity—we cannot see it, but we are told it is there. A lot of people forget the British Navy only when it is not immediately serving their purpose. I remember once, in a part of the Mediterranean, before the war, meeting nationals of a country, and they seemed to think that the British Navy was theirs 1622 instead of ours—when they had finished I was not sure whose it was. We know now that we can get a landing. We have had landings already in the South of Europe. But Dieppe and other actions have taught us—Anzio has taught us, for that matter—that the landing is not the only thing; there must be consolidation. I trust that, before a great effort like this is made, those in charge will be sure that these men, from whom we are asking so much, will not be placed in a position where, having faced the worst dangers in landing, they cannot be reinforced. That is a very difficult subject, and I do not want to say more about it.
We are calling these men to one of the gravest tasks that ever men were called to do. Soberly we await the event. Many of these men have already endured greatly in various parts of the world. It is a grim task which awaits them. It is a melancholy fact that the manhood of the nation should at this hour have to be called upon to face such a duty, but it would have meant the surrender of manhood and womanhood and all that matters in human life if we had not been prepared to do this thing. With their American comrades and the soldiers of many other nations, once more they are about to undertake the task of defeating the Germans practically on their own ground. The American and the British soldiers in years gone by accomplished that task beyond the shadow of a doubt. We did it, and we almost forgot. All I can say is that I trust that when this magnificent effort is made, when our men and the soldiers of the Allied nations have undoubtedly accomplished the tasks set before them, the nations which do the fighting will remember in the time of peace, so that never more shall men be called upon to perform such a duty.
§ Major Conant (Bewdley)
My right hon. friend the Secretary of State for War has given us an interesting review of the work of the Army since the last Estimates were introduced. I would like to join my hon. friend the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. J. J. Lawson) in congratulating him upon the clarity with which he has given his account. If I may pick out distinctive features of the past 12 months and compare them with those of the previous year, I would say that in 1942 the Army showed that it could defeat the enemy in a straight 1623 battle. We first of all defeated the Italians in Africa and, after practising on them, we were able to defeat the Germans. But the distinctive feature, I believe, of the past year has been that the Army has shown that it can when necessary combine with the other arms of the Service, and, whereas only recently the Navy, the Army and the Air Force all spoke different languages, we have found this year, from the successful carrying out of a number of landing operations, that the combination which some people thought at one time could be obtained between the Army and the Air Force only by subordinating the one to the other has been obtained by different means.
I can think of no more difficult military operation than the landing of a modem Army upon a hostile shore; and I can think of no more complicated operation to plan. I was taught in the last war, as a very young soldier, to look down on the Staff officer. When we were in the trenches we used to regard the Staff officer who came round as something that was quite unnecessary; he seemed to come round only when things were especially quiet, and to find fault with everyone and everything, and eventually he seemed to disappear to the luxury and comfort from which we imagined he had come. That was the view, I think, of many people in the front line. Things have completely changed to-day. The front-line soldier to-day realises that the soldier serving upon a Staff is probably running risks as great as, or even greater than, the soldier in the front line, and that the whole success of the most complicated operations depends on the brain of those people who have planned the operations behind the line. It may be because soldiers are told far more than in former times what they have to do, and the reasons for doing it.
I want to offer a few brief observations about war correspondents. We all enjoy the very clear and interesting stories which they send home, and which we hear on the radio and read in the papers, and the armchair critics are able to base their criticisms upon a far surer foundation as a result. We all want the very latest and the maximum amount of information to come home to us. There is only one qualification which I would 1624 mention, that is, that we are most anxious that no news should be sent home if the collection of that news in any way, however remotely, can interfere with the military operations. I would like to have an assurance that the activities of war correspondents, where they are allowed to go, what they are allowed to see as well as what they actually say, are entirely under the control of the soldiers on the spot. There were alarm and despondency last week when there was some delay in the sending home of news and no doubt we were right to become anxious. The Prime Minister intervened and things were put right, but I think it is essential that we should be satisfied that these men of great resources, courage and enthusiasm should not run the risk of interfering with military operations in a task they are carrying out so well.
I am very glad to say, in that connection, that the practice which was started a short time ago—I think last year—of publishing the names of units and regiments as soon as possible and without giving away information which the enemy does not already possess, has been continued, not only because my own regiment has received a mention lately, but because I think that such information and stories about units are a great consolation to the relatives of those who are serving and a great inspiration to the young soldiers, the recruits, here at home and elsewhere. There is an immense amount of regimental loyalty and patriotism in this country, and it is much more satisfactory and satisfying to a soldier to hear what his regiment has been doing in the previous week than what it did 20, 30 or 100 years before. I do hope, as far as possible, that practice will be continued and extended and also that when those re-organisations are carried out—as my right hon. Friend explained, they are to a large extent inevitable—every effort will be made to preserve the regimental traditions which have meant so much in the past.
My right hon. Friend referred briefly to the question of demobilisation, and I entirely agree with him that it is of very little use to speak in any detail about this subject at the present time, and that one must all the time remember that we have not yet beaten Germany and that even when we have we are pledged to continue this war until all our enemies have 1625 surrendered unconditionally. But an official statement has been made as to the broad method upon which people are to be demobilised, and I would like to see that followed by a further broad statement as to what we propose to do to make that possible. I should like to hear it said not only that men, when military conditions allow, are to be demobilised on the basis of first in first out, but that, to make that possible, we intend, when that time eventually arrives, to continue conscription and to abolish reserved trades, and that we are then going to call up the necessary age groups, the younger men, to take the place of those soldiers who wish to come home, so that after a period of training they may be employed in any future police duties that are required. That suggestion is nothing but a skeleton; of course, it is not a plan. But I think it is a skeleton which would give a great deal of satisfaction to the serving soldier. There would, of course, be many exceptions to that general outline, but before we can talk of demobilisation in any detail there is a great deal of work for the Army to do, and I am confident, from the experience of the Army's work in the past two years since it has been re-equipped, that the men will carry out whatever tasks may fall to their lot to perform.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Gluckstein (Nottingham, East)
I should like to join with my hon. Friends in congratulating the Secretary of State on the admirable and concise statement which he has made to-day. Of course, he was unable to cover more than a limited number of subjects and I cannot complain that he has not told me the particular things to which I wish to refer, in the main portion of my speech. I would like, initially, to say two things. The first is that while the Secretary of State paid, without immodesty one may say, a well-deserved tribute to the Army, he might, perhaps, have mentioned the Territorial Army which has not yet received the full measure of commendation it really deserves. My right hon. Friend the noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) has pointed out to me, as have other Members of the Territorial Army, that the failure to give adequate promotion in the last war and again in this war to the Territorial Army has undoubtedly had a serious effect on recruiting between the two wars. It is a fact that the Terri- 1626 torial Army has not received the recognition which, in my opinion, it is entitled to have.
The second point to which I would like to refer is on the question of education. The Secretary of State spoke about the technical training courses which would be available to members of the Army both before and after demobilisation. I should be most grateful to hear from the Secretary of State what steps are being taken to use the valuable training which has been given to a number of persons now in the Army so as to fit them for similar occupations as civilians. I should like to know whether the T.U.C., for example, has been asked to set some sort of standard which it will be prepared to adopt as sufficient for the admission of a man into a particular trade union when he has served in one of the technically trained portions of the Army, or what further instruction it will be necessary for that man to have in order to qualify himself for inclusion in a technical trade. I hope that attention will be paid to that aspect so that the very valuable technical training which men have had in the Army will not be completely lost when they come out.
The purpose of my speech to-day is to draw attention to the problem of the repatriation of prisoners of war. I would like to say that in my opinion it is a most important question, because, in the first place, it deals with upwards of 100,000 men and their families. If I may say so, the treatment of this question by the Government and the military authorities may well be regarded as a touchstone of the sincerity of the Government in dealing with general demobilisation. We have had a preliminary and a small experience, and I submit that we ought to learn some valuable lessons from certain mistakes which appear to have been made in the case of our recently repatriated prisoners. I will say at the outset that I have not the slightest desire to attack the War Office on this matter I recognise that, as far as the welcome home was concerned, they did as well as they possibly could, and the suggestions I am hoping to make I trust will be found helpful and not destructive. But I am bound to say that after that initial welcome home there has been some falling off in the treatment of the people who have come back. Perhaps it may be helpful if we analyse the problem by considering the mentality 1627 of repatriated prisoners. Many of them return home with what I can only describe as a Stalag mentality engendered by a gallant and continuous passive resistance to the German military authorities. Though largely creditable to the sense of duty of these soldiers, it is not easily eradicated or reversed when they come to deal with their own British military authorities. We know that a number of these men have suffered privations and, very often, have been under-nourished. They have certainly suffered from depression and a sense of being out of things. Their initiative has been sapped and their self-respect has been affected.
I do not think I can do better than to read to the House an extract from the words of one who 43 years ago was himself a prisoner of war and is now the leader of our war effort, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. This is what he said about his experience as a prisoner of war when he was captured by the Boers:You feel a constant sense of humiliation. The days are very long; hours crawl like paralytic centipedes. Nothing amuses you. Reading is difficult; writing impossible. Life is one long boredom from dawn till slumber.Then he adds:I certainly hated every minute of my captivity more than I have hated any other period in my whole life. Looking back on those days I have always felt the keenest pity for prisoners.These are the views of the leader of the Government to-day, and I expect that they will percolate through into all parts of his Government. These sentiments will be shared by his subordinates and his colleagues. I would remind the House that many of the men who have come back in the recent convoys feel bitter at being let down, as they think and as many of them say, through the inefficiency or inadequacy of the armaments provided for them, and they feel, perhaps wrongly, perhaps rightly, that that inadequacy was the cause of their capture. We must remember that these are men who have been away from this country for years. Some of them are men who fought at Dunkirk and with the 51st Division at S. Valery, men who fought in Crete and Greece. They have been cut off from this country for a long time—they have become Rip Van Winkles—and on returning to this country they feel a 1628 deep sense of bitterness for the reasons I have just given.
Another unfortunate aspect of their captivity appears to be that they have got an underlying fear that their health has suffered some permanent injury. Very often that fear is quite unfounded, but, of course, it is necessary to eradicate it by intelligent medical care at all costs because a man handicapped by that fear may prove very difficult to rehabilitate. Of course, while the prisoners have been away they have been idealising the homes to which they will return and the conditions which they will find when they get back. The reality, of course, is very different from what they imagined it to be. They have got to adapt and adjust themselves to the conditions at home as they are to-day, a thing which is very difficult even for people who have been living here all the time. I would like to point out that probably some of these considerations apply with equal force to men who have been overseas for any period of time although not as prisoners of war. A great task will have to be undertaken to adjust them on their return home. But I want to deal particularly with the repatriated people. They were only a few in number, but, of course, they are the forerunners of a very much larger group of people. I want to say that from contacts I have had with them that they do not want pity or sympathy; they want to be understood. I suggest that we cannot afford a misunderstanding with these men. We canot afford to allow a sore to fester at a time when it is important that there should be no misunderstanding and when there should be real national unity in the rebuilding process after this war is over.
I ask the Government to consider the following suggestions in the light of the problem which I have outlined to them. I suggest that all men who have been in captivity for two years or more and who return to this country, should be asked, at their choice, whether they wish to remain in the Army or whether they wish to be demobilised forthwith. If they ask for demobilisation, they should be guaranteed civilian employment or training in order that they may obtain civilian employment, but I emphasise that the choice should be theirs, because, apart from anything else, even on grounds of expediency, I would suggest to the War Office 1629 that they are unlikely to obtain a very large number of men fit for service from among these prisoners. Therefore, it would be much better to act generously and give them the choice. When they are asked to make that choice, they should be given the help and advice of individual officers who have themselves experienced captivity, and who will, therefore, enjoy the confidence of the repatriated prionsers. The general criticism of these men is that they are not understood, because only those who have been through it can understand. If the soldier elects demobilisation, the payment of a pension or a gratuity and the provision of a new suit, a certificate of good conduct, if he has earned it, and the Ministry of Labour form for employment are pretty poor substitutes for the comradeship and leadership which the man enjoyed while he was in the Army.
You have to make some effort to ease the absorption of the soldier into civilian life, and that is a task which the military authorities must undertake. I understand that the Australian Government have rehabilitation officers who do this sort of work. The British Legion, the British Red Cross, and the Prisoners of War Relatives' Association might all be invited to help in the task. One might even extend the suggestion so that it covered the general demobilisation of the Army and that military liaison officers should work in conjunction with the Ministry of Labour to advise and guide all ex-servicemen in due season. I hope that we shall avoid any suggestion on this occasion or the creation of an impression that the Army uses the services of a man for as long as it suits it, and that, after that, it gets rid of him without any particular reference to what happens to him. I do not believe it to be true, but it would be most unfortunate if such an impression got about, and it could easily get about if we did not take some steps such as I have suggested.
Suppose that after a man has considered the alternative he says, "I will remain in the Army." At present it cannot happen. Unless a man has been discharged on grounds of health all the repatriated people have remained in the Army. Here are one or two instances of the troubles which they have suffered since their return to the Army for men who come back from years in a prison camp need easing into the Army just as 1630 much as they need easing into civilian life. The first point which causes a great deal of trouble and irritation is the settling of pay and allowances. That is a serious matter and I ask the War Office that, if there is any doubt, it should be exercised generously in favour of the soldier. It probably will not amount to very much in money. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) is not here to remind us about pounds, shillings and pence being meaningless symbols, but on this occasion the Finance Branch of the War Office might consider acting generously and even improvidently. I do not think they would find themselves seriously criticised if they did.
The second point is that these men, unlike officers, who are repatriated, get no clothing coupons; they can apply for them and the theory is that they will receive them almost as soon as they apply. The fact is that a great many of them have had 28 days' leave and have walked about in uniform because they could not get clothing coupons. This has caused a serious grievance. It should be remedied. It makes a difference to these men who have come back home and do not want to be conspicuous until they have integrated themselves into the national life. They do not want to be asked awkward questions. They feel better if they are in civilian clothes and steps should be taken to see that they get them when they go on leave. I do not think that the Board of Trade would suffer any serious loss on that account.
Do not take these old soldiers, many of them Regulars with years of service, and treat them as recruits when they get to their depots. Do not put them in charge of instructors who have not had any overseas service themselves. It can be avoided; there is no great difficulty about it. It is a small thing, but it makes a great deal of difference to a man who is feeling out of place, and a little bitter, in any event. Above all, give these men a generous diet because they have been starved for a long time with only their Red Cross parcels to keep them alive. Give them reasonable leave and plenty of opportunities of consulting the welfare service about the inevitable domestic problems which have arisen while they have been away.
So much for those who get back and now something about those who are still in the camps. The War Office should give 1631 itself the chance to deal properly with the repatriated prisoners who are not yet back, by sending through the Red Cross, an account of what can and cannot be done when the prisoner returns home and in particular—and I have had this mentioned to me by a number of returned officers—let the men still in prison know that the Convention payments which they receive have some real value. They are frequently being squandered because it is not believed by the men who are in the camps that they will have any value whatever after they are released. That is not true, and it is most important for their own sakes that they should realise it. If it is possible—one cannot give details—give these men still in prison some idea of the demobilisation and rehabilitation plans which have been arranged. If you do that probably it will ease the burden of yourselves very much indeed when the large number of prisoners get back again. I feel a strong sense of duty in making these observations to the Government, because I reflect that, in 1940, but for the grace of God, I myself might well have been in captivity. These are serious matters, and I hope that the Government will find it possible, not perhaps to-day, but at some future time, to indicate their policy so as to satisfy the many thousands of men and their families, to say nothing of the general conscience of the people of this country. For we all realise how much we owe to these men and how much they have sacrificed and suffered for us.
§ Mr. Horabin (Cornwall, North)
As usual, the Minister to-day has made a good speech and he also enlivened it with a pretty wit. During the course of his speech he said that the tribute to our fighting soldiers was not nearly enough, and I thoroughly agree with him. I think, too, as he thinks, that the present fighting Army is probably the best that this country has ever had. Our task in this House is to see that these British soldiers of ours are given the right leadership and the right equipment that will match their grit and their courage in the fight they have to undertake. What I have to say will be said in order to see that they get that right leadership and equipment. I am sure that those of us who have talked to soldiers who have returned from Italy, and who have taken the trouble to study thoroughly the Press reports of what is happening in Italy, 1632 must be, at any rate, a little disturbed at the course of the Italian campaign. It seems that we have switched over from mobile warfare to static warfare once again. Fighting soldiers keep telling one, in rather lurid language, of the way they have to fight up one side of a mountain by frontal attack, and, as soon as they have done that, have to fight down the other side, and then to fight up another mountain, and so on. And they imply that minimum results are being got for the maximum expenditure of invaluable lives and for less invaluable ammunition. We are perhaps getting back to the conditions we had at Passchendaele in the last war and that, in the interests of our fighting soldiers, has to be avoided at all costs, because it is preventible.
What are the causes of this? There are a number of factors which are responsible and they all seem to point to one thing—failure at the top still to grasp fully those changed conditions of warfare that are brought about when a whole nation is involved in war and we have the conditions of a totalitarian war. I sometimes suspect that we still have to fight this war in terms of the last war. One of the explanations given for the slackness of the Italian campaign has been the weather. I would like to ask whether the General Staff, in making their plans, studied the meteorological reports for the areas of Italy in which they are fighting. If they had, they would realise that there are very heavy rains in October, which soak and soften the roads and the sub-soil, and that it is not until February at the earliest that the rain begins to cease. Do they get these reports and study them, or do they disregard them? Is their attitude the same as that of the general in the last war who received a deputation of scientific societies wishing to impress on the War Office the importance of meteorology? This is what the general said in reply:Gentlemen, I have listened a long time to your presentation of your case, but, gentlemen, what I have to say is this—the British army fights its battles with guns and bayonets and not with meteorology.In planning the Italian campaign the exigencies of the weather were either foreseen or else they were ignored. The Press correspondents with the Forces in Italy have made it abundantly clear that, since October and November, our Armies in Italy are neither effectively organised nor effectually equipped for their task. I took 1633 the trouble yesterday to read through a number of these reports, but I will only quote two of them to the House—one from the "Daily Mail," of 8th February, and the other from that highly respectable paper, the "Daily Telegraph," of 17th February. The correspondent of the "Daily Mail" says:The impression I have formed, particularly during the last three months, is that our technique—indeed our war machinery as a whole in this country—is ponderous. We have stubbornly persisted in trying to steam roller Germans from positions no steam roller can ever hope to reach. We have not improvised nearly enough, either in the matter of weapons or tactics. Surely this mountain warfare calls for highly mobile, specially trained forces, with speedy light, rough-riding vehicles, with powerful yet easily transportable armies.Then it goes on to say:I was depressed the other day when I heard a British brigadier say that artillery was our greatest war-winning weapon, and that lessons of France in 1914 to 1918 still held good to-day.In the "Daily Telegraph" on 17th February last a special correspondent said this:The Germans owe much of their success in the defence to the flexibility of their methods. Whereas our fighting unit tends to be the division, the Germans operate far more frequently with the battalion as an independent unit. This has stood them in good stead, most particularly in their concentrations against the Anzio forces. Each of these battalions with its supporting artilllery moves and fights as an integral whole. Greater responsibility consequently devolves upon the regimental officer. The method seems justified by the result.But these things are no new discoveries. In the Debate on the Army Estimates in 1942, I dwelt at length on these very points in relation to Singapore; in fact, I could have made here to-day the speech that I made at that time merely substituting examples from the Italian campaign for the examples that I gave from the Malayan campaign then. During the course of my remarks I described the functions of the enemy composite groups, referred to by the "Daily Telegraph" correspondent, and I also dealt at some length with the German selection and training of their regimental officers. We come back to the fact that it is failure to evolve correct tactical doctrines based on modern developments in military technique that is responsible for these failures. That is what I said two years ago and can say again to-day, and in the meantime 1634 two years have gone by and it is our fighting soldiers in Italy who are paying the price for our failure to learn the lessons of those past mistakes.
I feel that it is because there is no strong Opposition in this House that the Government have been able to ignore the criticisms that have been made in the past, and have been able to go on in their own way. Failing a strong Opposition in this House, which we are not likely to get, I return to the proposal that I made in 1942, which is that we should have a Select Committee of this House to pass continuously under review the military conduct of the war, in the same way as the Select Committee on National Expenditure deals with the money end of things. If we did that, I should feel that we, as Members of this House, would be doing our duty by the fighting soldiers of the British Army, to whom the Secretary of State paid such an eloquent tribute.
We have yet to hear an explanation of what happened at Singapore two years ago, and our recent failure in the Dodecanese—which has already had, I think, profound political results and, therefore, strategic results—has not yet been explained in any way. This failure really to get down to the causes of our military mistakes is contributing to a prolongation of the war. I also feel, from what happened in the Dodecanese, and from the way in which that incident was treated, that our generals are being encouraged to be over-cautious, and an over-cautious general who fails to take advantage of a favourable military situation delays the victorious conclusion of the war.
Then there is the question of the political weapon, which I also dealt with at some length in the Army Debate of 1942. Under the conditions of totalitarian war, politics have become, as I then said, one of the most vital weapons in the armoury of war. Surely, earlier appreciation of the importance of the Tito movement, which I think was lacking because of political considerations, might have given a different direction to the Southern front. We might, as a result, have avoided this frontal attack in Italy. As it was, I am given to understand that it was the Army which, in the end, insisted upon a recognition of the full support of 1635 Tito as against Mihailovitch, and, as a result, the Prime Minister and the Government had to give political ground on account of military considerations. To-day, however, there are also good omens in Italy. There are reports of more than 300,000 guerillas fighting in Northern Italy at the present time. They are under the control of six anti-Fascist parties who formed the Bari Conference. If that is so, particularly having regard to the political leadership of those guerillas, I disagree profoundly with the Prime Minister when he said that the Badoglio Government command more obedience from the Armed Forces of Italy than any other Government that could now be formed.
The British Army, during the next few weeks or months, is going to undertake what will probably be the greatest expedition and the greatest operation that will be carried out in this war. The casualties they suffer will depend to a great measure upon the way in which the higher ranks of the Army take advantage of, and study and learn, the lessons of previous campaigns. I hope they are being thoroughly studied at the present moment in the interests not only of the ordinary people of this country, but of those men who have to risk their lives on behalf of us all.
§ Brigadier-General Sir Ernest Makins (Knutsford)
We have had a most interesting appreciation of the situation from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War as regards the past, present, and paulo-post future of the operations of the Army as a whole. I would like to detain the House for a few minutes on some rather wider issues: what sort of an Army are we going to have after the war? There are constant and insistent demands for planning after the war in every other direction. In all kinds of Reports the social welfare of our people, the improvement of the condition of the land, and other matters are considered, but we hardly ever hear about our plans for our security after the war, on which all these future benefits depend. If we lost this war or any other war, we know full well the sort of conditions that would be imposed on us. We should be condemned to slavery and bankruptcy, and we should be totally unable to provide for the social amelioration of our people 1636 that is envisaged in all these Reports. We should be bled white. In the old Prussian phrase, we should only have our eyes to weep with and we should, no doubt, be kept permanently under the jack-boot of the self-styled Herrenvolk. I was glad to hear, in the concluding remarks of my right hon. Friend, that the Government have not been unmindful of this, but I think we must impress upon them the fundamental importance of this question. They have not been bothered on it, as they have in other directions, but I am sure they realise that it is fundamental and that war expenditure, on which everything depends, must have priority over every other kind of expenditure.
Now is the time, when we have a National Government, to come to some sort of agreement for the future on the great question of the land forces of the Crown after the war. In years past, when the Secretary of State brought in his Estimates, we had a well-reasoned statement of the rôle of the Army, our commitments, the numbers and strength required which, I may say, were always as exiguous as possible. The whole scheme, as it affected the Army, postulated the theory that the Navy was supreme—it kept command of the sea, of our coasts, and kept the whole country inviolate. At one time, not recently, we considered that it should be double the strength of the next strongest naval power, and on this assumption we had a small Army. I will not weary the House with what the Army was, but half of it was at home with its recruits of young soldiers, and the other half was abroad with its more matured and seasoned soldiers, and the small expeditionary force and the semi-trained Territorials. The whole point is, that it was based on the fact that the Navy held the sea and that we had time to make our preparations for any eventuality that might occur.
Recent years, and the last war, have taught us many lessons for the future and I think we might take them to heart. Wars are no longer localised between individual nations, they become global and spread throughout the whole world. All big Powers are drawn into the war in the end. Smaller nations try to keep out, try to proclaim their neutrality, but that neutrality is a farce. They are either too weak to enforce it, or they get drawn in 1637 on one side or the other, depending on their situation and the fear of becoming the next victim. Some have called themselves non-belligerents, a term which I believe was invented by Mussolini, and which is almost the same thing as taking actual sides. As I understand it, the only difference is that they do not actually put troops into the field, although in the case of Spain, she is not only a non-belligerent but has actually put the Blue Division into the field against our Ally, Russia.
The element, of course, that has altered the conditions a good deal is the air, which has come to play a most decisive part in the conduct of the war. This renders the Navy no longer the power it was without its aid and co-operation, and we have no longer the time we used to have to prepare. Neither have we shelter for the Navy; the English Channel is no longer the protection it was. In fact it looks as though, before very long, it will be nothing more than a glorified anti-tank ditch, because even to-day the amphibious tank has come to stay. The power of the air, and the pace of modem Army vehicles has speeded up the whole tempo of war. There is no longer a breathing space, or time to prepare behind the shelter of the Navy. Enemy planes can be over this country in a matter of hours, if not minutes. Air power in the last war was in its infancy. We can now drop more bombs in one night over Berlin than were dropped on this country in the whole of the four years of the last war. Berlin can be blotted out in five or six attacks. What might happen in the next war? It may be that London would be blotted out in one night.
The old method of starting a war has gone. The period of tension, the breaking of diplomatic relations and the formal declaration of war—these leisurely proceedings are totally obsolete. Germany and Japan made their sudden aggressions on their victims while diplomatic relations were still in being. As I have said, the whole tempo of war has accelerated. Germany was the originator of the term "blitzkreig," which means the conquering of one's victim in double-quick time before the next victim has time to think, and to present a fait accompli to other nations before they have time to consider what policy they will pursue. Blitzkreig is no new invention of Hitler; it was invented by that well-known trium- 1638 virate, Bismarck, Roon and Moltke, in 1864. They started a sudden aggression on Denmark, but that gallant little nation held out longer than some of the larger nations which were attacked afterwards, because her navy was predominant over the German navy. This triumvirate brought in Austria to help, and then, having discovered the weaknesses of Austria, they chose her as their next victim, two years later. To all intents and purposes there was a blitzkreig in the decisive battle of Königratz, sometimes called Sadowa. On that occasion they got Italy to help, but Italy as usual was defeated at Custozza, although she did her job by drawing off the Archduke Albert's army from the main theatre of war.
All this time France looked on; she was the next victim. The blitzkreig, in her case, was practically over in a month. From the time Germany crossed the frontier to the decisive battle of Sedan was a month. That shows that blitzkreig is nothing new. In this war it took 17 days to conquer Poland and 21 to conquer Greece. From the time that Germany crossed the frontiers of France, Luxemburg, Belgium and Holland to Dunkirk was only 19 days. Holland was subdued in no more than five days. We must learn a good many lessons from these facts. In peace we must be much more ready for war than ever before. Are we to follow, after the war, our historic practice of practically disbanding our Army and scrapping our armaments after we have won a commanding position in Europe and the world, or are we to learn the lessons from the past?
I think it is a matter of common knowledge that after the Napoleonic wars the Duke of Wellington could not provide enough troops to give a State funeral to King William IV. Also, the troops were so untrained that he is said to have said that if the Army got into Hyde Park he did not think they could ever be got out again. When this war is over nobody knows how soon hostile conditions may again materialise. Germany knows only too well how to organise secretly. In fact, I think that at this moment, with the possibility of defeat in view, she is already beginning to think of the next war. I will remember in 1933, just when Hitler came into power, that we chose that moment to reduce our Imperial Forces by no less than 152,000 men. During 1639 that period we based our strength on the futile basis that there would not be a war for 10 years. To that basis we adhered until 1934 and even into 1935—within three years of the Munich crisis and within four years of the outbreak of this war. That shows the futility of such conjectures. When people say there will be peace it generally means that there will be war. I believe that it was in June, 1914, that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) said that never was peace more secure in Europe. I will not say that those are his exact words, but he used words to that effect, although with probably more Welsh imagery about them. Our late Prime Minister, the Rt. Hon. Neville Chamberlain, came back from Munich with the words, "Peace in our time" on his lips. Therefore, I always think it is ominous when anybody tells us that peace is assured.
After the South African war there was always great controversy between the principles of universal as against voluntary service. Field Marshal Lord Roberts, on the one hand, favoured universal service and General Sir Ian Hamilton was for the voluntary principle, on the other. We all remember the old tag about one volunteer being worth ten pressed men. If one wants to reduce that to absurdity one has only to imagine one battalion of voluntary British soldiers against a whole German division of conscripted men. I feel that we must have some sort of universal service after the war; we must combine universal service with the Regular Army. We shall always have to have a volunteer Regular Army, superimposed upon the Territorials, for service abroad. It might possibly be smaller and with longer service than at present, when the whole country is properly organised. Service in the Regular Army might be the beginning of continuous Government service in civil life, with pension afterwards calculated for the whole of a man's Government service. There would be the usual intake of volunteers, supplemented by those who had been called up for universal service. Many who have enjoyed their training would, I think, willingly come forward and join the Regular Army and see the world at the Government's expense. But the Service must be a profession, with favourable pay and conditions and 1640 assured employment for a man after he leaves that Service if he so desires. He must not be thrown out, like he has too often been thrown on to the labour market in the past at a comparatively young age, without a trade and without any prospects. In the past a man did sometimes receive training at a vocational training centre, but, unfortunately, that seldom qualified him to join a trade union.
Universal service has many compensations and advantages besides pure utility defence. It would be good for the physical and mental welfare of our nation. I think we should see fewer juvenile delinquents if we had universal service. It would improve character and promote good fellowship, which is a great thing. There is nothing like the good fellowship there is in the Army. Further it would inculcate the duties of citizenship. I would like it to be considered as the final stage of a man or woman's education. If there was any loss of time everybody would be in the same boat and I believe that the gain to them would be greater than the loss of time. This should be no party question; now is the time to consider it while all three parties are working in conjunction for the furtherance of the war. We have had two devastating wars in our generation. Let us make some sacrifice of our individual liberty to try to ensure that we do not have another. We shall always have wars so long as human nature is what it is; people will always quarrel and if the worst comes to the worst, and we have to endure another war, the only way to ensure our protection is by being properly prepared to meet it.
§ Mr. Evelyn Walkden (Doncaster)
If I do not follow the hon. and gallant Member for Knutsford (Sir E. Makins) in his arguments he will understand that there was also a difference between us in the last war when, I believe, he was a major-general while I was a humble corporal in the ranks. I do not claim his knowledge of historic military strategy and for that reason I do not wish to follow him in what he has said. I would be acting contrary to my feelings if I did not express my appreciation of the Secretary of State and pay tribute to him for the workmanlike survey of the task he has undertaken, the responsibility which has been his during the past 12 months and the gigantic problem he has now to meet. 1641 I express my admiration most sincerely for what he has done, but I can hardly express the same kind of admiration for the rudeness which sometimes comes from him when he is being criticised by Members, or when suggestions are being put to him, in all sincerity, by ordinary humble folk like myself. From time to time, some of us learn from the public what they are thinking and feeling, and when we refer to the public's mind on the Floor of the House, the Secretary of State thinks everybody wants to shoot at him and get rid of him. As I have said, he is sometimes very rude indeed, and we cannot admire him for that.
It is on the question of the Army in Britain that I want to speak for a short time. The right hon. Gentleman gave us an opportunity of selecting subjects and the many he left for us would take a week to debate. He gave us an assurance that the War Office was making active and general preparations concerning demobilisation and said that its plans, though not complete, were in an active state of preparation.
Some weeks ago I asked the right hon. Gentleman whether he was aware of the types of suits that were being offered to demobilised soldiers. After one or two questions, and probably a discussion or two, he told the House on 18th January that, whatever types of suits were being offered, hon. Members would be agreeably surprised by the variety and quality and scope of the outfit that he intended to issue. The suit that is being issued even to-day, is similar to the type of outfit that was offered to demobilised men after the Boer War. We do not change very much. We did not change even during the last war. But it has become clear that the right hon. Gentleman, or his advisers, have made up their minds that they are going to have revolutionary changes. I do not know if the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to give us some indication whether the newspaper puffs or hand-outs which have been circulated, represent the official point of view on what we may expect during the next few weeks, and whether the suggestions that have been made about revolutionary changes go much further than existing arrangements. At present a soldier receives a suit of austerity design, a khaki shirt, a cap and a collar—for which I believe he has to pay 8d. or 9d. 1642 —army boots, army socks and army underclothes. I feel that the Minister does not require any convincing at this hour that that kind of arrangement is not good enough.
§ Mr. Walkden
I am glad to have that assurance, but I beg the right hon. Gentleman, rather than that he should allow newspaper reports—
§ Mr. Walkden
Whoever is responsible, it seems strange that just before the right hon. Gentleman replied to that question, someone in his Department was extremely anxious to see to it that a kind of coloured story was put out, about what was to be issued by the Department.
§ Mr. Walkden
Someone even loaned a suit to the reporter who wrote the article in the "Daily Mail." It is strange that, although the Minister has given an assurance that changes are to be made, and that he is going to exhibit the garments in due course, the "News Chronicle," two days ago, came out with a survey of what is supposed at the moment to be known only to the Minister—namely what the arrangements are to be. Will the right hon. Gentleman check up and find who issued that information? If it is true, I am very happy to learn that a complete civilian outfit, by what I should call the best manufacturers in the country, is to be made available to every soldier on demobilisation, including shirts, ties, socks, hats and everything else that a civilian requires. I beg the right hon. Gentleman to see to it that, if that is not true, the information is corrected without delay and, if it is exaggerated, will he give us the fullest possible information on what his intentions are?
There is another matter which has been the subject of two or three questions that I have addressed to him. He got angry even about this. He answered a question about the provision of entertainment in certain provincial towns on Sundays and said that this House alone could decide and, until it changed its present decision, 1643 he could do nothing. That is not true. What he has been asked to do is to survey the needs of men in the Army in various provincial towns, and if there is a shortage of entertainment, whatever may be done for the general public, whatever may be the local by-laws, or what-ever provision there may or may not be in local areas, it is his duty to see that provision is made by his Department for the troops. To say that he requires further powers from the House is to give a false answer. There are at least 20 areas where authority has already been given for towns to provide entertainment on Sundays. In Doncaster, the corporation have just agreed to provide it for the general public, but six of the cinema managers have said they cannot do it because they have not the staff available. That is a bad state of affairs. I mentioned the case of Newark almost two years ago and brought a certain amount of criticism on my head for describing it as a thoroughly miserable hole on Sunday evenings.
The Minister has a big responsibility for the well-being and welfare of the troops. Does he refuse to accept the suggestion that, if cinemas or theatres are not open, he does not require more power to open them himself? The War Office has, undoubtedly, all the power required and he could act right away. If he visits some of these provincial towns, where there may be anything from 10,000 to 20,000 troops, he will realise why I have selected Newark as an example and called it a "miserable hole." Why should soldiers who have never been inside a public-house, or a drinking club, be compelled to visit such places if they want diversion? I beg the right hon. Gentleman to examine his powers and to co-operate and collaborate with whoever is willing to render assistance to open up theatres for the troops. If he does so, I believe he will quickly earn the gratitude of the men and women in the ranks of the Army.
There is a third issue which does not affect the country as a whole but which particularly affects the wives of soldiers in London. A soldier's wife in London is entitled to 6d. a day extra. Whether that is right or wrong is a matter for the House to decide. I believe that wives in every other part of the country should get the 6d. as well. A few weeks ago a soldier in the 1644 Middle East received information that his wife and family had been bombed out of their home in Battersea. The wife, on account of injuries, was transferred by the ambulance service to a place just outside the London district but so far that she could not use a London postal district address, and her pay was reduced by 6d. a day. Such pettifogging, cheeseparing tactics do not convince the soldier or the soldier's wife that there is the humanity inside the War Office that we should like to see. It is inhuman. Does not the right hon. Gentleman feel that there is something totally wrong in that? He ought to examine whether this woman has lost her home or not. In a letter to me he said that this expense includes an element on account of the high rates obtaining in the London area and that her home may have been only slightly damaged and may be available to her in a matter of days. But if she has lost her home she loses her sixpence.
I have raised this issue in order to give the Minister an opportunity of looking at the general question. There must be many hundreds of soldiers' wives in the London area who have been so treated and, merely because London has spilt over and the ambulance service has stretched itself to Hertford, Kent, Surrey and parts of Middlesex, the 6d. is taken away in this niggardly fashion from these people. I ask the right hon. Gentleman not to be rude and horrible, because we make suggestions. I ask him, for Heaven's sake, to examine the issues which have been presented to him in a sincere and human way.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Dower (Penrith)
I think the House will agree that we have heard from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War a very masterly survey of the situation as it existed and as it exists to-day. I know myself that I have improved my vocabulary after hearing his speech and I should like to ask my right hon. Friend whether he has had a note from the Press Gallery asking for confirmation in writing of some of the words used by him. But I do not want to follow the general speech; I want to get down to one particular problem, and that is the question of the anti-aircraft defences.
This is the first occasion for three-and-a-half years or more on which I can conscientiously say that my duty as a Member of Parliament precedes my duty as a soldier. As I am not in receipt of any Army emoluments, I think I can take this 1645 opportunity to put forward one or two suggestions on matters which I know are felt rather strongly. First, as regards the personnel. Nowhere could you find a finer lot of men, officers or other ranks, determined to play their part in the defeat of Hitlerism and in the defeat of Nazism. Their job is extremely difficult. I do not know whether hon. Members have ever considered it, but I can assure them it is not easy. The technical apparatus of anti-aircraft defence is really second to none. The average anti-aircraft man has to master something like nine or ten most technical problems and one can realise how difficult it is for anyone to try to hit a stone in the air with another stone.
The strain and tension of their work is bound to tell on them in time. They have long periods of enforced idleness followed by sudden action, and they have not the least idea two or three minutes beforehand that they are going into action. Consequently, they have to be on their toes the whole time. I wonder if hon. Members realise that these men have to be perpetually in 30-seconds readiness. The result is that for long periods of time they are not able to get a proper night's sleep. I have known cases where, for weeks on end, men have had to wear their army boots and I have also known them to have to sleep in their tin hats. It cannot be avoided.
Viscount Hinchinģbrooke (Dorset, South)
May I ask the hon. and gallant Member a question? He says that these men have been in that state for three-and-a-half years. Surely, he only means for certain specified periods in that time, certain hours in the day?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Dower
No, I am referring to men who have been in the anti-aircraft units for three-and-a-half years.
The hon. and gallant Member referred to men working on the anti-aircraft sites who were always in readiness. He said they have been in that condition for a considerable period of time. I am asking him whether it is only for specified hours during the day and night.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Dower
If you take an average anti-aircraft site it is pretty well the case that during the hours of darkness the men have to be on their toes, and that position has lasted now for a con- 1646 siderable time. I do not think anyone who has had experience will differ from me, when I say that this necessity for immediate readiness places a great strain on anti-aircraft crews. This is not a criticism in any way. It cannot be avoided, but I do want to stress the point that such a state of affairs exists. Then, again, the sites they have to occupy vary from, say, the snowy hills of the Orkneys and Shetlands—where I was myself for nine months—to the docks of London and Liverpool. The loneliness of these sites, and the difficulty of rationing them, means that the men have to put with a great deal of hardship. In the same way, the anti-aircraftman at the docks of London knows that practically every night, he is liable to get an alert and he has to be on his toes. I ask that these men should be given proper recognition. I ask my right hon. Friend to consider whether the 1939–43 star should not be awarded to them. They deserve it. I was in Liverpool during the blitz and I can tell the House that my men went through as hard a time in a short period, as any I went through in France during the last war.
However good the anti-aircraft defences of this country may be, there is room for improvement, and I should like to put forward one or two suggestions. First, I want to bring out our old friend the channel of communications. In the Army it is necessary to work through channels of communication. It is essential that the channel of communications should be as speedy as possible. It is no secret that in the anti-aircraft Command the channel of communication from the battalion is to the brigade, from the brigade to the division, from the division to the corps, from the corps to the command and, if the command cannot deal with the matter, it has to go to the War Office. I can assure hon. Members that in many cases it takes weeks and weeks to get any reply. I do not put the matter forward in any spirit of criticism, but I ask how can inquiries go through all those different centres, and be dealt with in a reasonable time? Of course, in a great many cases, the particular crisis is over before any reply is received. The commanding officer has had to take his chance by the time approval comes back. That is very difficult, and I would like to suggest that in the case of searchlight sites and in similar instances, we ought 1647 to try to speed up active and immediate decisions.
I would mention a case—in Liverpool—where I heard that the equipment was foreign equipment. I will not mention the name of the equipment, but all the instructions for its use were in French. None of my men knew anything about this particular kind of equipment. The Hun was bombing docks at the time and I thought that it quite likely that Liverpool would get it. I tried to get permission for advance parties to learn the equipment before we took it over, but although weeks went past I could get no authority. Eventually I got over the difficulty by finding I had the right to grant leave to electrical and mechanical engineers whose homes had been bombed and who were personnel of anti-aircraft. I sent men back, ostensibly on leave, but in actual fact they went to the regiment in Liverpool to learn the equipment we were taking over. This is no secret; it happened a long time ago. Those are the difficulties with which these units are faced and I do not think it is quite fair that commanders should have to "chance their arm" quite as much as they have to do because of long, lengthy and cumbrous channels of communications.
The second point I would like to make is that, however much we have cut down paper and orders, there are still far too many of them. I hope that my right hon. Friend will really believe that that is true. The position is very much better, but there are still far too many. In orders alone there are Army orders, the A.C.I.'s, command orders, divisional orders, brigade orders, battalion orders and company orders. They all descend in great showers on the lowest formations who cannot possibly consume them all. We send in something like 40 returns a month. I am sure that all of them are not necessary. I would like to mention one in particular, which is the denominational return. If a man changes his faith during the month the commanding officer has to find that out and record it on the return which he makes at the end of the month. I have known a dispatch rider having to go many miles to find out whether Private So-and-so belongs to the same denomination as before. In addition to the returns, the amount of paper could be decreased.
1648 My third point is that there is a certain amount of waste that could be eliminated. I would like to put forward a suggestion which might lead to the saving of a considerable amount of petrol and oil. In searchlight battalions there are generators which generate electricity for the searchlights. For ten minutes every hour they have to be run in order to keep the temperature of the generators at a sufficiently high level so that a beam can immediately be exposed. The amount of petrol and oil used on these stationary runs is very formidable and amounts to thousands of gallons. Anyone with experience of generators knows that they differ very much. One generator will keep its heat for two or three hours, whereas another will lose its heat within one hour. The rule is, however, to run each generator for ten minutes every hour. I put into operation a test by which I put the onus on the sentry to look at the thermostat, and told him that when the heat declined to a certain point he should give the engine a stationary run. The result was that we had a saving of nearly 20 per cent. in the amount of petrol and oil used on the generators during the week. For one week I went round the sentries at night, and I never once found a sentry who was not watching the thermostat and who could not tell me what the heat was. That is a useful point if we are interested in the saving of petrol and oil. I have tried to put forward concrete suggestions, and here is one based on my experience.
I will also give an instance where there could be a saving of personnel. The average headquarters is over-staffed. I have had a letter from a divisional general, who wrote to me as a friend and not as a Member of Parliament, so that I cannot give his name. He said that when he took over his division he invited between 30 and 40 staff officers to return to their units, and that the result had been greater efficiency in the way the division was run and the units in the field were enabled to get on with their work.
§ Mr. Turton (Thirsk and Malton)
Does that mean that after 40 staff officers had gone, there were sufficient left?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Dower
I am including educational officers, welfare officers and all kinds of other people who are attached to a division.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Dower
I am referring to an anti-aircraft division. I suggest that there is ample room for cutting out waste so far as both supplies and personnel are concerned. I hope that these few remarks will not be taken as criticisms, because I do not make them as criticisms in any way. However good a show may be, it can be a little better. I would like to say, however, that I believe the anti-aircraft Command in this country is a great success and infinitely better than the anti-aircraft command in regiments in countries which we are fighting. I feel that we could make improvements, and I have put forward these suggestions in the hope that they will lead to improvements.
§ Mr. Turton (Thirsk and Malton)
A little time ago the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Horabin) flitted into the House and made a speech. I am sure that it will be adequately answered by the Front Bench, but I think it only right that some Members on the Back Benches should answer it. He complained that the military commander in Italy had not sufficiently studied meteorology and that the tactics employed in the campaign in Italy were wrong. He also recommended that we should set up a Select Committee to pass under review the military conduct of the war. It is a difficult and dangerous thing in this House to criticise operations that are going on and are not completed. I speak with feeling about this, because I remember a time when we were fighting in Africa and speeches were being made in the House and resolutions were being passed that undermined the morale of the troops who were fighting. I hope that the hon. Member for North Cornwall will not repeat the speech he made to-day. If the War Office can be criticised, and I do criticise it, it is because it has not paid sufficient attention to morale. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State to-day talked about the regimental spirit. I have always felt that the regimental spirit was of tremendous importance.
There is also another thing to which I think we have not paid sufficient attention, and that is the divisional spirit. It is what appeals most to the civilian army. The division is the smallest self-contained unit in the British Army. The man in the field feels that he belongs to this unit. A fine divisional spirit makes the whole 1650 difference, during the supreme test of battle. When I have criticised the War Office for not paying sufficient attention to morale, I have been quite aware that there is one great exception, and that is General Montgomery. He has been conspicuous in encouraging the divisional and the Army spirit. I hear the Secretary of State saying he only encouraged the 8th Army spirit, but I have served under General Montgomery and know he encouraged the spirit of the 51st Highland Division, the 50th Northumbrian Division and other divisions.
The striking thing in this war is the value of publicity. The outstanding divisions of the present war have been the 51st Highland Division, the 50th Northumbrian Division, the 78th Division, and the 7th Armoured Division. We have heard a great deal about the 50th and the 51st, and that is because they were in the 8th Army, where attention was paid to morale and publicity. It is also because those two divisions were given a regional title. The 51st was from Scotland, and if ever there was found a man who was not from Scotland in it, he left by the next train. The 50th was drawn from the North of England. I suggest that the Secretary of State should pay more attention to regional areas of formations and to publicity. On publicity, more has been done recently, and I feel sure that it has been at the instigation of the Secretary of State.
Far more could be done, however, in the local and national Press if they were fed more with the achievements of the divisions which are actually in contact with the enemy. Factories which are producing equipment for particular formations could be linked up with those formations, and there would be a bond between them that would help morale both in the factory and in the formations. I also do not see why we should not follow the example of our Russian Allies and, when a division makes a signal victory or takes part in it, why there should not be added to their title the name of the victory. We would therefore speak of the 51st Highland Division of El Alamein, the 50th of Northumbria, Gazala and Primesole, and so on. That would also help morale and make the men proud to fight, and if necessary to die, for and with that division.
In all this matter there is the great bugbear of secrecy. Directly one mentions 1651 a division in contact with the enemy, at once the intelligence security officer says: "You must not mention the location of that division, because it is imperilling lives." I earnestly beg the House to believe that it more often saves lives. Have we not fought this war long enough to know that the enemy is aware of our location just as we are aware of his? I remember being extremely interested, when I was at one part of the Mediterranean front to find that my division and a particular division of the enemy of the same numeral were located on two different islands next door to each other. I quite agree that there will be times when the security rule may make it necessary not to disclose the location of a division, but when a division has been fighting in the line, and prisoners, wounded and killed have been seen by the enemy, there is no advantage in hiding from the people at home where that division is, and the more you publicise it, the better for morale. After all, we are fighting this war in the 20th century and not in the 19th.
I would like to say one word on the regional system, and the question of drafting. We heard the Secretary of State explain some of the difficulties that make him have to scramble units by what he called promiscuous posting, and make him have to disband units. I agree that mischances will often occur, but we must admit that they are due to faulty planning by somebody in the organisation. There are times when a bad estimate is made of the casualties that will be suffered in a certain battle and, as a result, you bring out to a theatre reinforcements of a certain arm. If a big mistake is made in regard to casualties, there are the wrong kind of reinforcements and the result is promiscuous posting. I can assure the Secretary of State and the House that a great deal of promiscuous posting and scrambling of units can be avoided by looking ahead sufficiently far. To meet these difficulties we have regional depots and in our stations abroad regional branches of depots. For instance, the Highland division is reinforced from the Highland branch of the infantry base depot, and North County regiments from the Northumbrian branch. You will get promiscuous posting if you allow people in the base areas to borrow reinforcements for other purposes.
1652 Let me give the House an example. In October, 1942, I was sent down from the 8th Army to take a job as Assistant Adjutant-General liaison and man-power officer at G.H.Q. in Cairo. My first job was this: The Battle of El Alamein had passed its first phase. The commander there wanted reinforcements. At that time, reinforcements were in short supply in the base depot. It was right in the middle of the battle. I had to go round and, in three days, see what I could collect from the Delta among troops who could be sent back, battle-fit, to General Montgomery. In three days, after going round headquarters and convalescent depots, and examining guards, I sent up seven officers and 775 other ranks, all battle fit, all men who, if there had been correct planning, would have been in that reinforcement depot, ready on call for the Army, but all borrowed. All borrowed, for guards—essential duties no doubt—or at a convalescent depot having recovered from their wounds and not getting a transfer. Examples like that, I think, show how there is misuse of personnel, and at this active stage of the war we must see that that misuse of personnel does not recur.
I can give the House many other examples of the misuse of personnel that exists. Let me give one other example. When I was in that job I went to a camp staff at a certain town in the Delta. I will not name the town. The staff in that camp had a war establishment of one officer and seven other ranks. On the date of my visit there were on that staff two officers and 120 other ranks. Is that misuse of personnel? I have heard some of the Secretary of State's not very polite comments as I have been proceeding. I will ask him, does he regard this as misuse of personnel?
§ Mr. Turton
I found that of that 120 there were two sergeants who spent their time packing parcels for sending to the United Kingdom. Would the right hon. Gentleman regard that as a correct use of man-power in this year of the war? There was one private employed as a groundsman at a local sports club. Is that a correct thing? It is all very well to describe this as nonsense but this happened in the year of our Lord, 1942, November to the following January. I 1653 have given these two examples. Clearly we must come to the conclusion that more should be done to conserve manpower at the base because it is wanted at the front to-day, and will be wanted even more to-morrow.
I heard the Secretary of State's description of the tail and the teeth and his figures that he was employing 33 per cent. in the tail and 66 per cent. as the teeth. It is difficult to know how he gets at these figures. I must say that from my experience, both here and in the Middle East, I was surprised he put the tail figures as low as he did. I was given the opportunity a little time ago to hear about the tail in detail. I was in the Middle East when the now Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Supply came out to examine the tail and we all afforded him information on the subject. What happened? Has there been a report on this examination? Has the Parliamentary Secretary reported to the War Office? Probably the Financial Secretary will tell us. Has there been any report published? Has any action been taken on it?
As I have gone through this war I have been struck by this fact that at the base there are far too many people to support those who are fighting. I do not intend to give any comfort to the enemy by giving him information but I will make a comparison in percentages which may give a picture of what I am talking about. When Lord Wavell was administering the Middle East in 1941, when the Germans were not far away from Cairo, he had a small staff. In December, 1942, when the Huns had been pushed back to Tunisia the Staff, compared with the Staff in Lord Wavell's time, had increased in officers by 350 per cent. and in other ranks by 280 per cent. That is the Staff at General Headquarters, Cairo, with the bodies attached to it. I ask the Financial Secretary, when he replies, to tell us whether, now that the Germans are cleared out of Africa and the Middle East has a different role, we have yet got back to the figures which were necessary when General Wavell was administering the Middle East in 1941, because if we have not I think it is time we did.
In Cairo there are three quite separate headquarters, each with staffs. There is a Headquarters, British Troops in Egypt, there is Headquarters, Cairo Area, and there is General Headquarters. We have 1654 a right to know how much there has been a decrease in these numbers in recent months. I hope that when the Government come to reply they will tell us these facts quite clearly. The reason for the headquarters staffs is as has been so well stated by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Penrith (Lieut.-Colonel Dower); there is far too much paper about to-day. We started the war with too much paper. I remember that in the last speech I made on the Army Estimates three years ago I quoted to the House what André Maurois said of France and paper. My hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) and I had both recently left France and had both been struck by the same fact. I quoted André Maurois as saying:Never had these honest bureaucrats, submerged as they were under waves of papers, considered what they would do if enemy tanks or motor cyclists armed with machine guns should present themselves at the gates of their citadel.I went on to say:we are now prepared but we have still this same waste of paper."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th March, 1941; col. 1083, Vol. 369.]I have been out of the Army for some time but I have observed that since I came out the job that I did myself for two years when I was in the field now requires two officers in every division. I have seen these officers working. They are hard worked, as I was then. It was hard work because there was pile after pile of paper that ever grew. There has not been a reduction of paper, but there is a time when one finds that one can do without paper. When we fought in France we never used anything but a message pad. When we fought in the desert we did not use paper and I must say that the Army was administered just as well on a message pad as on all these reams of paper, and the Army did not suffer. We have to realise in this matter that headquarters can at any time be in the front line. You cannot have this Civil Service idea of administering the Army and the sooner my right hon. Friend and those at the War Office realise that an Army in the field should be administered on more modern methods without paper, and without large staffs, the better it will be for the Army.
I have spoken of morale and manpower, and I can assure the House that there is a connection between the two. If a man in the Army is always allowed 1655 to feel that his job is destroying the Germans, and he never gets browned off through feeling that his job is merely hampering the war effort, you are going to get a fine Army of men, who will carry this job through with success and bring you to the victory that is so longed for, and so certain.
§ Major John Morrison (Salisbury)
I will not attempt to follow too much the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton), though I find myself a great deal in agreement with him, particularly in regard to the territorial boundaries within which regiments are recruited. In regard to his lengthy discourse on excess paper, I entirely agree with him. I want to make one brief point, which I do not think has been mentioned yet in this Debate. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Knutsford (Sir E. Makins) spoke of the Army in the more distant future, and he covered a large area; but I want to speak of the Army of to-morrow, by which I mean, the Army of 18 months' time. In his all-embracing speech, my right hon. Friend the Minister did not have time, perhaps, to touch on the subject of the Army Cadet Force. With the Armies of this country abroad, and the Armies in this country, planning to go overseas, the Army Cadet Force and other Cadet Forces are likely in a year's time to become the most important asset that we shall have to the Forces of the Crown. I know there are those in the War Office, urged on by the Minister himself, who are doing all that is possible to popularise and publicise the Cadet Force and its work.
Only the day before yesterday I saw in one of the daily papers that 1,000,000 boys were required for technical jobs in the Army. Those young men going into the Cadet Force should now be given every facility to learn those jobs, and to become keen on them. That can be done only through my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State persuading the Chancellor of the Exchequer to allow a little more money to be spent on this all-important Force. There are many comparatively small points about the work of the Army Cadet Force, on which, with a comparatively small amount of money and assistance, individual cadet officers, boys and youths, could be usefully helped. I know that officers in the War 1656 Office are doing a great deal, but I hope they will increase their efforts to provide facilities, particularly on the technical side, for the Cadet Force. We shall need a lot of young men in the technical side of the Army, and we must give them some opportunity of learning the jobs. They must be given tools and various sorts of engines, which can quite easily be found among war material which at present may have become somewhat out of date. I would like, in finishing, to congratulate the Secretary of State on his very full review of the whole of the work of the Army, and on the amazing increase in the strength of the Army and its work during his period of office.
§ Mr. Spearman (Scarborough and Whitby)
I would like to refer to a point which was raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Knutsford (Sir E. Makins). If I understood him aright, he advocated that after the war we should not only have in this Country compulsory military service—I think nearly all of us think that that will be necessary—for the security of the country, but also compulsory service for the State in a civilian capacity, because he considers that discipline is good for individuals. I realise that we have to call on the services of individuals whenever it is necessary for the sake of the security of the State, but I entirely disagree with the idea that the State should take people compulsorily into its service, in the mistaken idea that it knows what would be good for the individual better than the individual himself. I will not take that point further, because I want to bring up another matter, the question of War Office methods of requisitioning hotels. I realise that this is a very small matter compared to the great events which were so vividly described by the Secretary of State, and that what I have to say is unimportant compared to the wise and stimulating speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton); but in extenuation I may say I have been struggling with the War Office for 2½ years on this question, and I have shown a patience and forbearance that have amazed me—although that is not perhaps the opinion of the War Office.
I suggest that, even at this late hour, an organisation might be created which would be responsible for all the requisitioning of premises required by any 1657 Government Departments. That would avoid all the overlapping that takes place, and should prevent the anomalies in treatment. At present there is, I believe, a tendency to what I might call preemptive requisitioning, the acquiring of buildings which a Department does not want at the time but may want at some time in the future; a manœuvre, to prevent another Department getting in first. That is very wasteful of public money, and unnecessarily injurious to the public. If only there was one organisation which could deal with all these matters, there would be great economy in effort and in money. Secondly, I would like to stress how much resentment is felt at the anomalies in the treatment meted out by different Government Departments.
I will not weary the House with details, but in Scarborough, for example, I have not had a single complaint from the owner of any of the very many hotels that have been taken over by the Air Ministry or by the Admiralty but I have had complaint after complaint from almost every one of the proprietors of the very many unlicensed hotels and lodging houses that have been taken over by the War Office. I want to make two criticisms of the War Office in connection with this matter. The first is in regard to the way the negotiations have been handled. I have been present at some of the negotiations on these matters, and I have seen letters emanating from the War Office which do not, in my opinion, redound to the credit of that Department. The wording of these letters is much more what one would expect from a bully who wanted to throw his weight about than from a State Department of a democratic country. I would like to suggest to my right hon. Friend that pegs, however effective they may be in themselves, do not always fit the holes to which they are allotted, and I do suggest that in the War Office there are some round pegs in square holes.
Secondly, I should like to make some criticism of the basis on which these rents are assessed by the War Office. Most of the hotels of which I am speaking at the moment were taken over in 1940. At that time, there was a general feeling of insecurity, following the fall of France, and the ban on travelling to seaside resorts which caused a temporary decline in the demand for hotels. The War Office 1658 appear to me to have used their compulsory powers to snap up bargains for long periods in an artificial market. It seems to me that, where the War Office is competing with other people for an hotel and only buying from a willing seller, then they are right to bargain all they can, but when they are using compulsory powers they ought to take scrupulous care to give a fair price. It does seem most unfair that whether a man is solvent or on the verge of bankruptcy should depend upon the chance of whether his hotel was requisitioned or, indeed, on the date when it was requisitioned. Most of these hotels are owned by small men, who bought them on borrowed money; and so it is not just a question of the inadequate rent meaning that they are not quite so well off as they might be, but it may be a question of whether they can meet their obligations. The War Office reply has always been that they can go to tribunals. That seems to me to be an unrealistic answer altogether, because many of these people cannot afford litigation. If we were only concerned with very big hotel proprietors, who can afford to hold out and to engage the most expensive counsel, I should be not nearly so disturbed, but we are dealing with a lot of small men, some of them with very little resources indeed. I want to ask the Minister if he can give an assurance that it is not the wish of the War Office to use these compulsory powers to obtain property as cheaply as possible, but to give a fair price and one in line with that given by other Departments. I think that if we had that specific assurance, it would relieve people and it might influence War Office officials who are conducting these negotiations.
I want to make one further point on the question of rehabilitation. I want to ask the Minister if he will see that the Departments are prepared to put back these hotels in a satisfactory condition as early as possible after the war. It is inevitable that they should be very much altered and knocked about, and it would mitigate the great hardship inflicted on those who had the bad luck to have their hotels taken over, as compared with those who escaped, if they knew that plans were ready to rehabilitate them at the earliest possible moment. I suggest that that applies also on public grounds. Sir Walter Citrine has recently said that the right way to deal 1659 with those munition workers, in the transition period before other work is available for them, is that they should have a holiday. I think that is a point on which my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour would not disagree with Sir Walter Citrine, because I know how keen he is to promote holidays, especially for weary war workers, but all that depends on whether the hotels and lodging-houses are going to be fit to receive them.
I, therefore, make three requests to the Minister. First, to consider with his colleagues setting up an agency entirely responsible for all requisitioning of premises; secondly, to set up an impartial inquiry to see whether these hotels are getting fair prices, where they have been compulsorily taken over; and thirdly, if he will see that plans are made so that there will be no delay in rehabilitation owing to lack of preparation. The Financial Secretary who I understand is to reply may think I am rather critical of the War Office. I should like to say that I have not been dealing with his Department at all in the matter to which I have referred as I understand that this matter does not come under his rule. I would like to say that I, like almost all hon. Members, have to go to him a great deal on constituency troubles and I would like to take this opportunity of paying tribute to the great patience and the helpful and prompt manner he and his staff always deal with all these problems. I had thought that it would be easier to get blood out of a stone than to spot efficiency in the administration section of the War Office, and I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for proving that I am wrong.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore (Ayr Burghs)
I would like to add my admiration to that which we all feel for that wide, roving, romantic review of the war in all its stages which my right hon. Friend gave earlier to-day. I do not want in any way to follow that survey, because it would be obviously impossible, in the very few remarks I am going to make, and so I want to confine them to one rather narrow issue. I want to speak about the great unpaid, the men who tramp the hills and dales, night after night, week after week and year after year, to their parades and drills, to make themselves more efficient, and about their brothers in industry and in the cities, who tramp through the streets in the blackout 1660 and in the raids, even when bombs are falling, to fulfil their duties and fit themselves still more fully for their jobs in the defence of this country. I want to talk about those who have given up their weekends to courses and surrendered their family life, who have given up the cheerful comradeship of the village pubs—the men who man the "Ack-Ack" batteries now, and all those who have supported police and Civil Defence. In other words, I want to speak of the Home Guard.
In referring to this subject of the Home Guard, a very peculiar feature has grown up in our system of Government. Whenever a willing and voluntary helper comes along to a Government Department, he is treated with politeness, but no very great concern, but, once he becomes paid, he enters into a field in which he has every form of protection. I can only imagine that it is due to the dominance of the trade union movement who see that the people who are working and paid are carefully and properly treated. What surprises me, after these three and a half years, like all my hon. colleagues, is that voluntary and unpaid people, because they cost nothing, must therefore be treated as something lower than living things. Because they are apparently unimportant from the financial or Treasury point of view, they must be treated as of no importance.
There are two or three outstanding questions relating to the Home Guard which I want to bring to the notice of the House. I have brought them already to the notice of my hon. and learned Friend, who invariably treats every inquiry with courtesy, even though he does not always give what is wanted. These outstanding questions have greatly perturbed the Home Guard during the past two or three years, and they cannot understand the position. I return again to the question of travel. Take the case of the man with the rank of colonel in the Home Guard travelling with a man who is a captain and who may be his adjutant whom he himself had appointed. The adjutant is paid and the colonel is unpaid. They are going to a course in a communal taxi, but when they reach the railway station an inexplicable influence asserts itself. The colonel must go third-class and the captain must go first-class. This is too absurd and cannot really be explained with any degree of conviction. It is said 1661 that it is the fault of the Treasury, and so I appeal to the Treasury. If a Treasury official—many of whom are in the Home Guard—is of sufficient status he travels first-class, but he has to go third-class as an officer in the uniform of the Home Guard. There is no logic or sense in this discrimination.
I now come to a very sinister matter which the House will appreciate. Some months ago a letter was sent out from the Medical side of the War Office, which had discovered to its horror that five Home Guard officers, who had suffered disability in the course of their duties, had found their way into an officers' convalescent home. That was too much for the War Office, and in consequence a most critical letter emanated from the Deputy-Director of Medical Services at the War Office to all Commands, informing them that this could not be allowed to happen again, and that such officers must be relegated to where they belonged and put into the ordinary ward, in which the private soldier is treated. That action defies any explanation and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War and my hon. and learned Friend the Financial Secretary have not really sought to explain the position. They always wish to introduce the word "democracy" which in these days is supposed to cover every sin and, no doubt, some hon. Members above the gangway think it does. But democracy has nothing to do with this matter. The point at issue is that the soldiers themselves do not like this discrimination. They like to feel that the officers, whom they may one day be called upon to follow, are treated in the same way as regular officers. Why should there not be this comradeship and friendship between the regular officer and the Home Guard officer? Why should there be a discrimination?
§ Mr. Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
Does not the hon. and gallant Gentleman think that the situation of which he so justly complains would be completely rectified if only Regular Army officers were compelled to travel first-class?
§ Sir T. Moore
That point does not concern me. I am speaking on behalf of the Home Guard. If I were speaking on behalf of my hon. Friend or the Regular Army I might have different views to express. I am speaking in my capacity 1662 as a Home Guard officer representing the views of the Home Guard.
I come to a final point which the hon. Lady the Member for Fulham, West (Dr. Summerskill) could have put far more tactfully and persuasively, and that is the question of women and girls who have been nominated to the Home Guard to serve in an auxiliary capacity. There is no doubt about it, they are grand; just as the women in the A.T.S., the W.R.N.S. and the W.A.A.F., they fulfil their functions admirably, efficiently and cheerfully. These women have happily and willingly come forward to help us in the Home Guard. The trouble is that there is not enough of them, and the reason is that they are not allowed to wear any form of covering which designates them as members of the Home Guard. I will give a couple of examples to the House to show the ridiculous attitude adopted by the War Office in this matter. They say there is no cloth. Conductresses and women railway porters and women in the forces of our American Allies can obtain cloth but no cloth is available for these women who come out perhaps for two or three hours at night and on Sundays to do driving, canteen work, clerical and store work in the Home Guard. They are given one of the cheapest forms of plastic brooches, which breaks if you touch it, and that is the only designation they receive. These girls, supposing there was an invasion, would perhaps be driving lorries, taking ammunition to the front, while attired in flimsy chiffon frocks. This sort of thing is ridiculous and the War Office know it well. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War has not shown the courage and tenacity which he displays on most occasions in fighting the case with the Treasury, the Board of Trade or whoever decides these matters.
There is one other Matter which may perhaps appeal to hon. Friends above the Gangway. These women who come in so cheerfully may be in different categories or walks of life. Some may perhaps have pre-war fur coats, and some cannot afford, and have never had, fur coats, and so you inevitably create a sort of class distinction, which is totally wrong. It does not exist in the mind of the spirit of the women themselves, but is created by the mere fact of the kind of clothing that they wear. That is one of the reasons why 1663 uniform should be given to everyone; it eliminates every form of class distinction. These women should be provided with suitable overalls or uniform; it would put them on to a common basis and it would give an impetus to the recruitment of women for this service, and would satisfy a very reasonable and just claim.
I want to say a few words about the post-war Army. I have already referred to this subject twice in very brief talks on the Adjournment on the question of the continuation of the Home Guard after the war. I ask only that these should receive the closest consideration from my right hon. Friend on the grounds that the Home Guard is a more national force than any Army of a similar kind that we have had in our history. It was born out of stress and danger and patriotism. Therefore, it represents, in its ranks, the best of our civil community, and I suggest it forms the instrument and the basis of a post-war compulsory civilian army. It is no good blinking the facts. We have had two lessons now; we do not need a third. We have relied on sentiment, on idealism, and on appeals to the better instincts of others, but we have now to rely on ourselves. I leave the matter there, hoping that the sympathetic mind of my right hon. Friend will ensure that the words I have said will not be forgotten.
§ Lady Apsley (Bristol, Central)
I welcome this opportunity, first, to support very briefly my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) in every word he says regarding the importance of maintaining the regimental spirit and the morale of our Army at the present time. I remember in the early days of the war the consternation that was caused in a certain West Country yeomanry regiment when 100 postings arrived from Durham. I may say that the only means of conversing in the regiment for the next few months was by means of Morse and the wireless. It is of the greatest importance, in my view, that we should do something to return to the county spirit in the Army which, at the present time, seems to have been forced to imbibe the Corps spirit, a spirit which appears to have been copied from our French Allies and which, in this country is a very poor substitute for a true regimental spirit, founded on pride 1664 in our counties and in the past of our county regiments.
The second point I should like to bring to the notice of my right hon. Friend is the importance of bands in maintaining morale. We are a musical nation; we have been since the days of the Elizabethans. Music in our regiments has meant a great deal in the past, and has tended to be lost or to become overloaded by the comparatively modern importations of elaborate tunes and German instruments. If we could return to the traditional simple pipes and fifes and drum bands in our county regiments I believe we should help to maintain, in that way more than in any other way, the magnificent fighting spirit and morale of our Armies, for our soldiers greatly appreciate music, and particularly the music of their own bands when they come out to the front line. I would like in conclusion to associate myself with the congratulations which have been given to my right hon. Friend on the far-reaching, most interesting, and prideful account which he has given us.
§ Mr. Bartle Bull (Enfield)
My hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) made a few observations about the speech of the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Horabin) with which speech I disagree. I will confine myself to one observation on the speech of the hon. Member for North Cornwall. He said that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War had, as usual, made a good speech. I do not quite agree with that. I think the Minister's speech has been a little better to-day. It has taken the House some little time to train him, but I think that to-day he was very good, and even sitting on the other side, we could hear what he had to say to us.
Observations have been made on the German soldier in the course of to-day's Debate, and I must say that, judging by the last time I saw him, there is nothing very much better than the German soldier. There were also a number of observations about Russia. I think we under-play our hand a little in this respect. Since I returned to England, we have had one or two Red Army weeks, and I have often wondered whether there has been any suggestion in Russia that they should hold a British Navy week there. I could not say more 1665 in my admiration for everything which the Russian troops have done. I do not wish to be misunderstood in any way on that point but, as I say, I think we under-play our hand a little, and I do not think, myself, that we would have been back at El Alamein, except for the number of tanks, planes, and other equipment sent to Russia. I think it should be possible to mention some of these things. I would also like to say what, in my opinion, has contributed to the great success of the Russian Army. I stand open to correction, but, in my view, the first thing that has contributed to their success has been iron discipline, and the second thing is that they have been taught by senior German staff officers who went to Russia at the conclusion of the last war, and who taught them the art of offensive warfare. They have always been good defensive soldiers.
There is one other small point which perhaps hardly bears on this discussion but, if anyone can inform me of the date of the last by-election in Russia, I should be glad to know when it was. The only other thing about the Russian war is that they have in Russia, as we had in the desert, room to manoeuvre. The line is so long that obviously you can get an army round within 100 miles or so, and bring it up to some place so that the other side cannot see where the reinforcing army is going to be put into the front line.
The Secretary of State made a few observations about Hitler's intuitions. Hitler may have gone wrong from time to time lately, but he would appear to have had a number of reasonably correct intuitions in the early days of the war. I would like to suggest that there should be more promotion for younger officers in the field. At the end of a campaign, or at any given time, a number of officers would be sent out from Britain to the Middle East to be given command of battalions, and so on, over the heads of some of the officers who had been there a long time and had fought all through the campaign and—what is vitally important—they were officers whom the men had grown to like and to trust implicitly. I often think it a great pity that that should have been so, I think there should be more promotion on the spot of younger officers who have proved their 1666 worth and whom the troops both like and respect. An hon. Member said that the A.A. gunners in this country were on their toes. I can assure him that the troops in the front line are on their toes all the time, and not just merely during an attack now and again. Otherwise, they would have their throats slit. I think there should be a little more latitude for a man to go into the Service of his choice. I agree that there are different branches of the three Services, yet there are innumerable instances of men of 41 or 42 being called up and younger men of 26 or 27 in other trades who have not yet had a chance of doing any fighting.
As regards regimental tradition—and here I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton from what I have seen of base camps in Egypt there are officers who have not gone out of their way the least bit to see that men go to the regiments to which they properly belong. I know that exists. The Secretary of State may say that I am wrong, but it so happens that I know that I am right. I found that regimental tradition did not just apply to a division but to a company, a battalion or a brigade. It depends upon where the engagement is. The question of regimental tradition is vitally important, and although I am not a proper soldier, and have never really been one, I feel strongly about the question of the value of discipline in the field. If you do not get it in training you will not get it in the field. My hon. Friend also mentioned something about administrative staffs. In Cairo I found that many officers and other ranks were very much too young for these staffs. I do not think anyone should be on an administrative staff unless he has done active service, either in this war or in the last war. We also heard something to-day about the necessity for one third of the Army being kept on the lines of communication, and in the rear to supply troops in the forward areas. I am glad to think that owing to the endeavours of some of us we shall be able to take off these lines some of the people who have been supplying these infernal "V". cigarettes to our forward troops. I was in Abyssinia and Eritrea for a short time, and in my opinion these two countries were extremely well run by A.M.G.O.T. It was extremely bad luck for the Italians that they did not stick to the job which 1667 they have been able to do best in their history—road building. However, it was their mistake, and it is now too late for them to go back.
We have also heard about the lack of mention of a division, brigade or battalion which has been in action. I think it is foolish not to do so. There may be an opinion that our intelligence is better than the German intelligence; the only reason for that is that we patrol at night and that the Germans, being wise, do not. Our patrols bring in a few prisoners from whom we can get information, but the Germans know perfectly well where every battalion, brigade or division is situated, and if a regiment has been in action and has done well it would make a difference to morale in the forward areas if that fact was mentioned. The Germans know all about it; they have our prisoners and dead. All this business about not wearing regimental cap stars or indications of rank is nonsense.
The Secretary of State mentioned the Japanese war, and I hope we shall all remember that conscription must go on when the war with Germany is over. Bring back some of the men from 35 to 40, if you like, and let the younger ones go out. If you do not intend to run the Japanese war on the basis of conscription then I do not know how many men who have done service in the Middle East for so long will volunteer. If you do not continue with conscription it is an open invitation to call the war off once we have done with Germany. If you want a world organisation of some kind after this war the last thing you should do would be not to carry on with conscription against the Japanese.
So much has been said about this war having been started through not having finished the last war that I am sure we shall not be so imbecile as to have that charge laid at our door a second time. The Prime Minister said on 9th February, 1941:Give us the tools and we will finish the job.By that I presume he meant we would finish the job irrespective of whoever might be in the war. America has given us the tools and we must help her to finish the war with Japan, just as she is helping us now to finish the war with Germany. So far as the Liberals are con- 1668 cerned I would remind them of what Mr. Asquith said at the Guildhall on 4th September, 1914. Speaking about Pitt's appeal to the nation, he said:England in those days gave a noble answer to his appeal and did not sheathe the sword until after nearly 20 years of fighting. The freedom of Europe was secured. Let us go forward and do likewise.He might have said, "Take the Liberals with us," but he did not mention that. May I remind Members what the late Prime Minister said?It is the evil things we shall be fighting against, brute force, bad faith, injustice, oppression and persecution and against them I am certain that right will prevail.All of us will remember the Japanese atrocities which have been committed against British subjects. I am quite certain that we shall keep up our effort to the utmost until we have the Japanese completely out of the war. In addition to not letting down the United States, we must not forget Australian and New Zealand troops who are engaged in the Pacific area. When the war in the Pacific is won we want a continuation of the goodwill on both sides of the Atlantic which has been so well fostered lately. Also we must not forget the debt that we owe to China, who has helped to keep the Japanese at bay for so long.
With regard to bombing, you may soften the German nation but I do not think you will ever get the Prussians or the British down by bombing from the air. The land attack, I am afraid, must go in. The only thing that will possibly influence the Germans is the loss of the war, and then they will be willing to stop it in order to get ready for the next. So let us be strong and be ready for them if they still think it necessary to prepare for a third war in our time. I should like to express my admiration for the regular soldier. I have acquired the greatest respect for the regular officer, N.C.O. and private. They really do know their job, or we should not be sitting about here as we are to-day. The fact that we went back at Alamein was not their fault. We had not the tanks and we had not the proper guns. It was the equipment which was wrong, never the soldier. In a large measure the fault lies at the door of the people themselves but, even more, of the leaders of public opinion. There are few Members of this House who can shirk their share of this responsibility.
§ Mr. Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
In what way could the leaders of public opinion have affected the construction or delivery of tanks?
§ Mr. Silverman
If the hon. Member invites me. If Members on this side had had their way, Hitler would not have been arming for six years with our money and our raw material.
§ Mr. Bull
No, he would have had an even earlier start. We must be strong after the war. If we have to fight again, which God forbid, we should like our sons to be on the winning side at the beginning and not three-quarters of the way through. Then let us see that those in the Services will have proper jobs when they come back. Nothing was done to stop profiteering in Egypt at the expense of our troops. I wonder if we could not get something done about profiteering in Italy. It would be fairer if officers and men of 30 or 35 could have a reasonable prospect of remaining in the Army as far as administration is concerned after the war. It is one thing to go away for five years when you are 20, but another when you are 30 or 35. I would say again, as I say whenever I get the chance, that I hope we shall as soon as possible increase the pay, allowances and pensions of those in the Services and their dependants.
§ The Financial Secretary to the War Office (Mr. Arthur Henderson)
A good many points have been covered during the interesting Debate we have had, and I am sure the Members who raised them will not expect me to cover all of them in the time at my disposal, but I promise that any points that I do not deal with will be examined in the light of the Debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. J. Lawson), with his well known sympathy and friendship for anything connected with the Army, raised two or three points to which he invited me to reply. The first related to the question of the adequacy of the postal services. I can assure him at once that we should never be satisfied even with the improvements that have been made, but the position since the last 1670 Debate on the Army Estimates has shown a considerable improvement. This time last year sea mails were being sent to our Forces in Egypt, India, Ceylon and East Africa by the long way via the Cape. Transit times were protracted and arrivals irregular. The air-letter service had just commenced. Airgraphs were then the best means of communication, but, like the mails containing air-letters, they were often sent by sea over part of their journey, usually by a long and circuitous route via West Africa and Egypt.
All this has changed following our successes in North Africa, Sicily and Italy, and the subsequent opening of the Mediterranean and the increasing availability of shipping and aircraft space. But we are by no means satisfied with even the improvements in the availability of shipping and aircraft space and, the more we get, the better service we shall be able to give. In fact, however, the average transit time for sea mails, calculating from the date of despatch from the home postal centre in this country to arrival at the overseas base, has fallen from 77½ to 29 days for Egypt and from 75 to 53 for India. Air letters have come down from 26 to 7½ days to Egypt and from 22 to 10½ to India. Airgraphs now take 4½ days from the London airgraph centre to the processing centre at Cairo and nine days to the Bombay station. Transit times for mails from the home postal centre to base post offices in Italy and North Africa are on the whole satisfactory. During December, which was a bad month for flying, air-letter mails took 6½ days, on the average, from despatch at the home postal centre to North Africa and 8½ days to Italy.
Airgraphs reach the processing station at Algiers in four days on the average after dispatch from the airgraph station in this country. It is hoped, however, soon to establish a processing station in Italy itself which will save, of course, several days. At present airgraphs to troops in the Central Mediterranean Force are sent from this country to Algiers in film form and prints are flown to Italian base post offices for distribution.
§ Mr. E. Walkden
Did the hon. and learned Gentleman say we had a processing station for airgraphs in Bombay?
§ Mr. Henderson
Yes. A great deal has been done to speed up distribution of mail 1671 from overseas Army post offices to front line troops, and in Italy, on the 8th Army front, instead of going by the long rail or road journey by the east coast, mails are flown to forward airfields for distribution to forward divisions. The general improvement in postal communications with the forces has gone hand in hand with remarkable increases in the volume of traffic. The House may be interested to know that the number of letters, packets and parcels of all kinds handled by home postal centres stood at 2,288,000 a week in January, 1943. The weekly traffic is now 5,356,000, of which 3,300,000 are these 6d. air-letters, which I think illustrates the popularity of the air-letter system.
My hon. Friend put a second question to me with regard to the release of miners. I think I ought to take the opportunity of making clear to the House the system which the War Office is at present operating in regard to the release of miners. No man will be considered for release if (a) he is serving in a unit ordered to mobilise for overseas service, (b) is serving in the Corps of Military Police or the Army Catering Corps, (c) if he was under 36 on 6th October, 1943, except for those who are serving in the Pioneer Corps, in which case he must not have been under 30 on 6th October, 1943. My hon. Friend was interested in the procedure that was adopted, and I think he said there were things which caused doubt in his mind as to the methods of sifting cases of this kind. The procedure adopted is as follows. The War Office is in possession of the number of men serving in this country who are not debarred by the provisions to which I have just referred and who according to the information available on enlistment had former underground experience. Immediate steps have been taken to obtain particulars of the minis in which these men were previously employed and to pass this information to the Ministry of Fuel and Power. There may in addition be a number of other men serving in this country who, although at one time underground workers, were on enlistment working in other occupations. Such men if desirous of being released, and if not debarred by age and the other provisions to which I have referred, may write to their former colliery employers. Any man inquiring should be informed by his Commanding Officer whether or not 1672 he is debarred by age or the other provisions. The collieries, if desirous of employing such men in an underground capacity, should submit requests to the Ministry of Fuel and Power, for transmission to the War Office.
§ Mr. Henderson
Yes; it does not apply to soldiers overseas. The House may be interested to have figures as to the number of men released under the earlier scheme for release of miners which closed at the end of 1942. 10,000 men were released from the Army, of whom about 1,000 have since rejoined the Army. Under the present scheme to which I have just drawn attention, which started in October, 1943, release has either been authorised or carried out in some 5,000 cases. That is the position at the moment.
§ Mr. Walter Edwards (Whitechapel)
Could the hon. and learned Gentleman tell me the cause of the 1,000 men returning to the Army?
§ Mr. Henderson
I imagine that a number of them, strange as it may seem, desired to rejoin and applied to rejoin, but I should want to have notice of that question really to give a firm answer.
§ Mr. Foster (Wigan)
The hon. and learned Gentleman said applications are to be made to the colliery managers. There are many complaints that the applicant is not informed of the result of the application. Could he say whether the War Office take any steps to notify applicants personally, by post or in some other way, the result of the application and the reasons for it being turned down?
§ Mr. Henderson
I would not like to commit myself to the method adopted by the War Office to inform a soldier that his application has been turned down. Of course, if it is done through a Member of Parliament the information is passed to the Member and no doubt he informs his constituent. I could not 1673 say whether it is practicable to inform the soldier at unit level of the reason for an application being turned down, but I should be willing to look into the matter if the hon. Member desires information. My hon. Friend also made reference to the work of the Home Guard and he was followed by the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir T. Moore). I have had discussions with my hon. Friend on this point elsewhere, and I am sure he knows perfectly well the point of view I have expressed, representing the War Office in this connection, but I was grateful to both my hon. Friends for their references to the service of the Home Guard. During the past year their strength has been maintained, their equipment increased and their general training improved all round.
The increased risk of air raids has drawn attention to the importance of Home Guard anti-aircraft units. We value their help very much, and I know this is the opinion of General Pile and the Anti-Aircraft Command. Training is laborious, and so are the hours of watching when no attack comes. I can tell the House that the Home Guard anti-aircraft units have materially helped in the barrage in London, which was so recently in full action, and in this connection Home Guard units are doing most essential service. It would be wrong for the House to take the view that the importance of the general service Home Guard units has been lessened. They, too, are doing a first rate job under present conditions. We rely in increasing measure on the Home Guard for local defence and forthcoming events may well enhance their importance.
My hon. Friend also raised the question of the supply of doctors in view of present and impending operations and asked whether we were satisfied that we had adequate numbers of doctors. I can say in reply that the Army Medical Service, which of course includes the Army Dental Service and Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service, have had to take on very wide commitments throughout the world and have been strained particularly owing to shortage of doctors. The Army Medical Service, for example, have had to accept as an additional responsibility the care of Yugoslav wounded. That is not an unwelcome responsibility, but it is an additional responsibility. It is well known that the number of doctors 1674 available is insufficient to meet the needs of the fighting services and the civil population, and medical personnel have been unavoidably overworked in many instances. They have, however, accepted it cheerfully and with zeal and efficiency, and medical officers, dental officers, nursing officers and other ranks have surmounted all difficulties and produced excellent results. Every effort is made to replace medical officers where possible by non-medical officers, R.A.M.C., in appointments which can reasonably be filled by officers who lack medical qualifications. I would give as illustration the case of a hospital registrar. The Army has cut down its demands for doctors to an absolute minimum, and that minimum is not likely to be supplied. Although we shall be able to meet the demands of the Forces engaged in the future on active operations, other formations of the Army at home will have to go short. The Army at home will not receive the same high standard of medical service which it has had in the past, but every endeavour will be made to see that the sick are well cared for and do not suffer. There are bound to be delays and imperfections in such functions as medical boards, specialist examinations, the answering of complaints, and other administrative activities which are not a matter of life and death. These, I am afraid, must be accepted.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for East Nottingham (Lieut.-Colonel Gluckstein) raised the question of men who were being trained in the Army and who wanted to know what was being done to ensure that when they left the Army their technical qualifications would be available to help them secure positions in industry. I can only say that that problem is under the consideration of the War Office and that discussions have been taking place between the War Office and the Ministry of Labour. The hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Horabin), who is not now in his place, has been fairly and adequately replied to by other Members. He made a point about the General Staff and said they had not studied the meteorological reports on Italy before the campaign started. That is such a fantastic suggestion that I do not think I need take up the time of the House in dealing any more with it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) raised a number 1675 of points. One related to the question of publicising divisions which were in operational contact with the enemy. He may be interested to know that my right hon. Friend has drawn the attention of general officers commanding-in-chief in the various theatres of war to the need for publicising the divisions and special formations which are taking part in operations. I think that there has been evidence of some improvement in this connection in recent weeks. He then made a point about the importance of maintaining the regimental spirit in postings from the point of view of morale. I thought that he was a little inconsistent, for he argued against having a large number of people forming part of the tail, as he called it, at the base, and then said he thought there ought to be an adequate number of regimental personnel at the appropriate base in order to supply the drafts and fill up the gaps in particular units. Then I understood him to say that he thought in that case this regimental personnel should not be used on fatigues.
§ Mr. Henderson
I do not suggest that. I am pointing out that my hon. Friend objected to fighting personnel being at the base camps. Before they go out to the line they have to go through base camps, and he objected to men being there doing fatigues, but somebody has got to do them.
§ Mr. Turton
The whole object of my illustration was that on that date seven officers and 775 other ranks could be taken off fatigues and put into the battle line and no damage done at all.
§ Mr. Henderson
They must have being doing something before they were taken to the battle line, and somebody else would have to do the jobs that they were doing. The real difficulty is one of manpower. As my right hon. Friend said, in all previous wars, even in the 1914–18 war, when there was no real shipping difficulty and a much easier man-power position, drafting by regiments broke down completely. In this war the difficulties are increased by man-power problems, limited shipping and the necessity of continually reorganising overseas forces to meet the needs of projected operations. It is because of these factors that the num- 1676 bers to be allotted for maintenance purposes have to be strictly limited. The difficulty which arises in seeking to meet the complaint of my hon. Friend is that if his demands were met and there were a completely regimental system of drafting overseas, it would mean the abolition of the present system of constituting divisions and the holding of large numbers of draftable men for every battalion, because the theory would be that they would be supplied by men of their own battalion.
§ Mr. Henderson
I am well aware of that, but you may have a first battalion of a particular regiment in this country and a second battalion in Egypt. If you have to replace casualties in the second battalion the theory is you are to have men of the same regiment. That would mean having to hold large numbers of draftable men for every battalion of a particular regiment in the theatre of war, plus a permanent staff to administer and train them. I am advised that a similar number would have to be available in the United Kingdom to ensure that the overseas reinforcement unit is kept up to strength.
§ Mr. Turton
Is my hon. and learned Friend aware that for the last two years the regional system has been adopted by the Secretary of State and G.H.Q. Middle East? We had the base depot on a regional basis and what we complain of is that men are still switched from one regional branch to another division.
§ Mr. Henderson
The mere fact that the system has not been too successful does not make the case any stronger for doing it on a purely regimental basis. I am trying to point out the difficulties of meeting the problem on a regimental basis. It has failed, largely because of our acute man-power problem, and we have not found it possible to follow that system.
My hon. Friend then referred to staffs. I think he was in agreement with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Penrith (Lieut.-Colonel Dower). The impression left on my mind was that all the formation staffs of the British Empire were recently very much overloaded, and are to-day. I am not so sure that I would disagree as regards the distant past, but 1677 a good deal has been done to reduce the number of officers serving on various staff jobs. Let me take the case at home. Last autumn, the Commander-in-Chief Home Forces and general Officers Commanding-in-Chief Home Commands were invited to review their establishment and to report what cuts could be effected in their staffs. This produced a definite saving. Last December, on the personal instructions of my right hon. Friend, a 2½. per cent. cut was applied to the strength, as at 8th December, at all static headquarters. This also produced a saving. I find that in the Middle East, as a result of the shifting of the centre of gravity of the war to the Central Mediterranean, the Commander-in-Chief was requested recently to review staffs in his own and subordinate head-quarters. He set up for the purpose a strong committee, and the work of the committee has effected a large percentage of saving.
§ Mr. Henderson
I will give my hon. Friend the figures in a moment, and they will speak for themselves. In Persia and Iraq, during recent months, the strength at G.H.Q. has been steadily reduced by leaving posts unfilled. In both the East and West Africa commands there have been gradual reductions, consequent upon the decrease in operational responsibility. I can sum up all the reductions which have taken place during the last six months by saying that the grand total is something in the region of 4,000.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Dower
Might I suggest that when one is on the spot, one sees what happens? It is true that there has been a reduction of staff, but only really about 50 per cent. of what it could be.
§ Mr. Henderson
Both my hon. and gallant Friend and myself have served in the Army and we know the tricks of the trade, but when a committee is set up of staff officers who know all the inside ramifications of general headquarters, we must leave it to the advice of those very experienced and competent officers who have to deal with the problems. I am afraid that unless we completely abolished 1678 staffs we should never get down to the point when, people would not say there were too many.
§ Mr. Henderson
Four thousand all ranks, both at home and abroad. That is a substantial reduction, having regard to the point which I mentioned. The same hon. and gallant Gentleman asked me about the visit to the Middle East of the late Financial Secretary to the War Office at the time when the hon. and gallant Member was there. He wanted to know what had happened to that Minister's report. It was not a departmental investigation. It was my hon. Friend the present Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Supply who went out, at the personal request of the Secretary of State. He made his report to the Secretary of State and, in so far as there has been any action, it has been taken on the recommendations which he put forward. I have covered a number of the points which were raised. Any point with which I have not dealt will be examined, as I said before. If any hon. Member who spoke has not been given the information for which he has asked, I shall be only too happy to make arrangements for him to receive it.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Dower
There is just one point. Would the Minister encourage as far as possible the delegation of authority downwards, wherever it will work, instead of lower formations having to apply to higher formations to decide small points?
§ Mr. Henderson
I assure my hon. and gallant Friend that a policy of what I may call decentralisation has been going on certainly all the time I have been at the War Office, and I believe during the past three years, and that a good deal has been done in that direction. My right hon. Friend said that the British Army was better to-day than it had ever been; I certainly would agree. We have fashioned a very fine fighting machine, well-trained and well-equipped, one in which not only the nation as a whole but this House can have every confidence. It can have confidence, not only because of the Army's past victories, but because we hope and believe that it will achieve victories in the not too distant future.
§ Mr. Spearman
Before the Minister sits down, will he consider my request for an inquiry into the rents paid by the War Office to requisitioned hotels?
§ Mr. Henderson
I cannot make any promise. I have said that every point which has been made, and with which I have not dealt, will be examined.