HC Deb 30 January 1945 vol 407 cc1349-52

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."——[Mr. Mathers.]

2.2 p.m.

Mr. Ross Taylor (Woodbridge)

In the early part of December I put a Question to the Secretary of State for War asking if he would cause an inquiry to be held into the circumstances under which an officer, of whose name he had been informed, was relieved of his command of a battalion, or take steps to ensure that the charge of inefficiency against the said officer was expunged from his record. The right hon. Gentleman, in a written answer, replied: This case has already been made the subject of full inquiry in connection with the officer's appeals under Section 42 of the Army Act, his rights under which he has now exhausted."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th December, 1944; Vol. 406, c. 376.] In view of the unsatisfactory nature of that reply I sought this opportunity of bringing to the notice of the House some of the details of the case, a very long and complicated one. I will try to bring to the notice of Members the more salient features, because I think that when they have heard them they will feel that a serious injustice has been done to the officer concerned and, further, that it is against the public interest that any officer should be treated as this officer has been, in a manner calculated to sicken him of the Service and make him talk of resigning his commission. We have to remember that for many years to come in this country we shall want the services of all the experienced Regular officers that we have got.

The officer in question, Lieut.-Colonel A. J. C. Rose, now a major, is a Regular soldier with 16 years' service, and, until he was branded as inefficient by his brigadier, a man with a distinguished and unblemished record. He was gazetted in 1929 to a famous regiment, and after some years with a battalion, during which he gained distinguished certificates for signalling and gunnery, he was transferred to another battalion with which he saw service on the North-West Frontier, at Waziristan. Then he commanded a machine gun company and was awarded a medal and clasp. In 1939 he obtained a competitive vacancy at the Staff College, Quetta, and passed out, in 1940, in Category "A," that is to say, among the first half-dozen of the 60 candidates. He then went to Malaya and was successively staff captain, brigade major, and G.S.O.2. He fought in the Malaya Campaign from December, 1941, to February, 1942, first as G.S.O.2 in both combined and special operations, then as commander of the Force, bearing his name, that was in the retreat to Johore, and, finally, as second-in-command of his battalion until as a unit it ceased to exist. After the deplorable end of that campaign he was evacuated to Java and sent on to India, where he was G.S.O.2 and then G.S.O.1 in the jungle warfare training team; after that he was appointed commandant and chief instructor of the Jungle Warfare Training Centre at G.H.Q., the Centre which he himself formed, and which is still in being. He was then repatriated to this country to his own battalion and eventually, in January, 1944, a year ago, was appointed to command another battalion in the same regiment. From that command he was afterwards removed, and that is the origin of my raising this case to-day. I will not give the name of the regiment—probably it is not desirable to do so—but if any hon. Member wishes to know it I shall be glad to inform him of it later.

This officer found the battalion, which had to come home after the fighting in North Africa, in poor shape. It was suffering from reaction, discipline and morale were not good, absenteeism was rife and there had been a lot of sickness. Knowing that his unit would be wanted for what we now call D-Day, he set himself, with all the energy and experience he possessed, to get it ready for battle, and in doing so had the able assistance of some of his officers and N.C.Os. He found it an extremely uphill task, but by May it was, in his opinion—and he had great experience—ready for action, if lacking in polish. Towards the end of May his brigadier, with whom he had been on the best of terms and who had never even hinted that he regarded this officer as in any way inefficient, ordered him to hand over his command, giving him to understand that his order had the approval of the divisional commander. That, as Major Rose subsequently ascertained, was untrue. The brigadier acted on his own initiative, and so his action was irregular ab initio. The brigadier's report to Major Rose is dated 22nd May, 1944, and if I may I will read it almost verbatim, because it has to be carefully compared with the subsequent reports of the divisional and army commanders, and also because it seems to me to be couched, in part, in terms which reveal a personal bias by the brigadier. It says: I consider it necessary that this officer should cease to command the battalion of which he was appointed C.O. last January. I do not consider that he is at present fit to command a battalion in the field on active service. Note that the brigadier says "a battalion," and not "the battalion." He goes on: He has completely failed to gain the confidence of either his officers or his men, and does not appear to have the ability to handle or manage his battalion in such a way as to gain it. This officer fought extremely well, I understand, in Singapore, in 1942, and appears to be obsessed with jungle warfare ideas to the exclusion of most other considerations. I recommend that he should be employed in his war substantive rank, that is major, in some capacity in the type of warfare of which he has experience. Major Rose appealed to the divisional commander who, on 24th May confirming the brigadier, recommended in his report that he should be further employed in his present rank of lieut.-colonel, either as commander or trainer of troops engaged in jungle fighting in which, as he said, he takes the greatest interest and has wide knowledge and experience. Major Rose did not see the report of the corps commander, but did see that of the Commander-in-Chief, General, now Field Marshal, Montgomery, who, on 30th May, just a few days before D-Day, wrote: It is a great pity that this state of affairs was not discovered earlier. The divisional corps and Army commanders have confidence in the commander of the infantry brigade. It is quite clear that Lieut.-Colonel Rose cannot now Stay where he is. He will be replaced at once. He is an experienced officer and has much knowledge of jungle fighting. I recommend that he be given a battalion command in South-East Asia. Major Rose then appealed to the Army Council asking for an impartial inquiry into the whole matter, but his appeal was turned down. The Army Council, however, stated that——

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