HC Deb 06 June 1945 vol 411 cc1026-34

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

9.30 p.m.

Major Sir Derrick Gunston (Thornbury)

We now descend from the air to more pedestrian matters, and I make no apology for raising the question of the precedence and pay of the Infantry, the pay of the Fighting Services. I would like to thank the Secretary of State for War for having come down to-night. I take his presence here as a tribute to the great part the Infantry has played in the war. May I, on our side, say that we appreciate very much the great part he has played, for it is under his administration that the British Army has grown to the greatest and finest Army we have ever had?

At the beginning of the war, many people seemed to imagine that the role of the Infantry was over, but the war has proved quite differently. The war has proved that the Infantry is even more important than ever it was. However, I have been rather impressed by the lack of appreciation of the Infantry shown by the man in the street. Many women in my constituency have said, "My poor son has had to go into the Infantry," when, of course, it is a great honour. I am not alone in my idea, and I do not think it is a false one. Perhaps I might quote the few words written by Field-Marshal Lord Wavell in "The Times" of 19th April last. He said: …I do feel strongly that the Infantry…does not receive either the respect or the treatment to which its importance and its exploits entitle it. This may possibly be understandable, though misguided, in peace; it is intolerable in war. He went on to point out that in the end all battles and all wars are won by the Infantry and that it is the Infantry which suffers the greatest casualties, it is the Infantry which bears the brunt, it is the Infantry which has to suffer the greatest fatigue and hardship, and it is the Infantry which wins the battles.

We all know that expression "the P.B.I."—a rather condescending expression which I think must have been invented by a cavalry staff officer in the last war. However, the P.B.I, in this war have had the most difficult rôle of all and, as Field Marshal Wavell points out, theirs is the hardest job. The Secretary of Stale for War has produced most marvellous new weapons which the Infantry have had to master and have had to use with great skill in battle. I think everybody will agree that the most skilled soldier of all to-day is the Infantry. We all admire the commandos and the airborne troops, who are, after all, highly skilled Infantry. To my mind, one of the greatest mistakes the War Office made was to have formed the commandos, for I think it would be quite possible, if the War Office had appreciated them, for any infantry battalion to have been converted into airborne troops or commandos, and thereby have kept their esprit de corps.

We all know how well the rank and file do, but the infantry generals have not done too badly. They are rather a good team—Field Marshal the late Sir John Dill, Field Marshal Wavell, Field Marshal Alexander, Field Marshal Montgomery and Generals Auchinleck, O'Connor, Platt, Leese and Dempsey—all infantrymen. I doubt if this country has even been represented by a finer set of commanders. The Infantry generals of this war have moved faster than the cavalry generals of the last. The Infantry has established itself, but I am not sure if it is appreciated as it ought to be by the country.

I was talking only this afternoon to the Minister of Town and Country Planning, who told me that he had met an American general who had said, with great pride, that his son was in the Infantry. The whole spirit of the Infantry is one of pride, and we want to raise their status in the eyes of the public. Some suggestions have been made that the Infantry should be made the right of the line. If they are first in battle they are entitled to be at the head of the Army List. But I am not emphasising the importance of that. I hope the Secretary of State will consider some means by which the status of the Infantry can be raised.

I want to refer to pay, although I do not want to raise the whole question tonight. I am referring to pay of all the fighting troops, the Infantry, Cavalry, R.A.C. and the Gunners, which, I hope, will please my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Louth (Sir A. Heneage). I am not suggesting that you should raise the pay of the Forces, because we did that not long ago, but I think that in considering the pay of the Army we might consider the question of looking upon the work of the Infantry, the Cavalry, the R.A.C. and the Gunners as a skilled trade. In every infantry battalion there are tradesmen. There are more tradesmen in a mechanised unit, and the further back you go there are more tradesmen still. In fact, one might say that the higher the pay the further one is away from the line. I suggest that you should look upon the skilled infantryman, cavalryman, or whatever it might be, as a tradesman, if he is really trained to his job. After all, fighting is his trade, and if a man can use and look after his weapons and train others to look after, them then surely he is entitled to the same pay as the armourer behind the lines who repairs the weapons.

I have been looking into the figures, and I find that a private, after three years' service, if he is highly efficient, can get 5s. a day. If he is a tradesman in Group B he can get 6s. 6d. a day after three years' service, and in Group A 6s. 9d. A corporal in a fighting unit—and I use the words "fighting unit" to cover them all—can get 6s. a day. As a tradesman he can get from 6s. up to 7s. 9d. a day. A sergeant can get 7s. a day, and as a tradesman can get up to 9s. 3d. Here, I think, is a possible solution of the difficulties. We all want in the Army the best people that we can get, those with the best brains. Would the Secretary of State consider that if a man is skilled he should be treated as a tradesman? I would make it possible for a man in the Infantry, Cavalry, R.A.C. or the gunners to be able to qualify for rates of pay as a tradesman. I would make it hard to get the highest rate. He would have to know tactics, machine guns and everything, but if that was done it would encourage some of the best men in the Army, and get over the feeling of unfairness. I do not in any way criticise the tradesman or suggest that his pay ought to be reduced. I suggest that the fighting man should have his training looked upon as a trade and should be paid the same rate as the tradesman. I hope the Secretary of State for War will crown his great achievements by considering some such idea as I have put forward.

9.40 p.m.

Lady Apsley (Bristol, Central)

Those of us who are interested in the welfare of the Forces owe a great debt of gratitude to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Thornbury (Sir D. Gunston) for raising this very important question. I know from my own contact with the Forces that there is very serious feeling throughout the whole Army because this question has not been tackled before, and that feeling is reflected among the wives and dependants of the men affected. My hon. and gallant Friend referred to the feeling of the Cavalry. As the daughter of a Cavalry soldier, the wife of another and the mother of another, I can assure my right hon. Friend that anything he can do to raise the status of the fighting man in the Infantry would be greatly appreciated by all those who have the honour to serve in Cavalry regiments, whose role to-day is very little different from that of the fighting infantrymen. I hope very much that this matter will receive the attention which it merits. I believe that in the Mercantile Marine there is a sum of money called "danger money" given to every sailor in dangerous waters. It seems to me there might be something of that kind awarded to the infantryman after he is fully trained and when he is in the front line. Unfortunately, there is among the public a definite feeling that the better man is paid the most, and for that reason it is very necessary to raise what is called the status of the fighting man in the minds of the general public.

The second point I want to mention is this. I believe that when Field-Marshal Montgomery is planning a battle, there are three things upon which he insists: first, that everybody knows his job and is fully trained; secondly, that everybody knows what is the intention; and thirdly, that everybody feels, both during the battle and after, that he will have a square deal. The suggestion which my hon. and gallant Friend has made on behalf of the fighting infantryman would be a very great step in that direction. Lastly, I want to remind the House that there is a memorial set up on the road to Manadalay to the fallen of the 14th Army, which reads: When you go home tell them of us, and say, For your to-morrows we gave our to-day. That is a thing which should be written in all Government Departments, and particularly at the War Office. I have great pleasure in supporting my hon. and gallant Friend.

9.44 p.m.

Colonel Lancaster (Fylde)

I would like briefly to support the remarks of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Thornbury (Sir D. Gunston). I have had the somewhat singular experience in the war, as a Cavalry man, of commanding an Infantry battalion, a motorised battalion and an armoured regiment, and I can, with some experience and degree of humility, pay my tribute to the status of the Infantry. I should like also to support the case put forward for the raising of the pay of the trained fighting soldier. I agree that the qualification should undoubtedly be a high one. A number of tests can be applied to bring that man into a reasonable comparison with a tradesman in a fighting unit or in a Service formation. I should like to support that point and to express the hope that the Secretary of State will give this his very sympathetic consideration.

9.46 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel Sir Arthur Heneage (Louth)

I am very largely in sympathy with my hon. and gallant Friend with the exception of what he said about gunners. The last war was a gunners' war but this war is the greatest combination of all arms that we have ever seen in this country, and it is the co-operation of all arms that makes for success.

9.47 p.m.

General Sir George Jeffreys (Petersfield)

I have pleasure in supporting the view which has been put forward by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Thornbury (Sir D. Gunston). I think, with great respect to my hon. and gallant Friend who spoke last, that it is the co-operation of all arms and services which really makes for success in war when battle is actually joined, but it is most definitely the Infantry which bears the brunt of the fighting, faces the greatest danger and either holds the position or captures the position of the enemy. The qualifications of the trained infantryman of to-day are very high indeed. It has been proved in war that it is in the Infantry that the highest grade of man is required, and yet it is a fact that in very many cases the highest grade of man does not go to the Infantry but very often goes to other arms. I do not hesitate to say-that No. 2 on a 25-pounder, the loader of any gun. or any of the ammunition numbers, does not require anything like the qualities which are necessary in a well-trained infantryman. In this war, moreover, Infantry battalions have become searchlight units and all kinds of things. There have been the Guards Armoured Divisions, admittedly an exceptionally high class Infantry, with a high class of men in them, and others as well.

The matter of pay is of real importance. The infantryman, who in the end wins or loses a battle and has most of the dangers, hardships and discomforts of war, is rated lower financially than a clerk at the base, who may be physically graded B or C, who runs no risks, lives a comparatively comfortable life, and is rated as a specialist. Precedence is a less important thing. It dates from 1660, and when the Royal Regiment of Artillery had not been raised, or the Royal Engineers, precedence hardly counted at all. It is not necessary to raise the question of precedence, but it is necessary to pay the Infantry tradesman's rates of pay, and possibly danger money, in order to raise their status.

9.52 p.m.

The Secretary of State for War (Sir James Grigg)

I am glad my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Thornbury (Sir D. Gunston) has raised this question. Apart from the kind remarks he made about me personally, it gives me an opportunity once more of paying tribute to the Infantry. Although I myself, in my brief but not very glorious military career in the last war, was not an infantryman, I yield to no man in my admiration of and gratitude to them. There is no doubt, as has been said already, that many services and arms have helped to win the war, but the war against Germany was actually won, and could only have been won, by the blood and toil of the Infantry. I agree with Lord Wavell and with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Petersfield (Sir G. Jeffreys). Lord Wavell, in the passage which my hon. and gallant Friend quoted, referred to the Infantry as having the greatest casualties.

There happens to stick in my memory the comparative level of casualties of the various arms at one period covering the Battle of Normandy, and, as far as my recollection goes, the Infantry had four times the casualties of the next highest Service, which was the R.A.C.

Even so, though the Infantry had casualties much higher than any other arm or service, they are not nearly as catastrophically high or disproportionately high as they were in the last war. There are two reasons for this. One is the great development of Infantry weapons available in the actual Infantry battalions. The other is the great development of support from other arms and services, such as artillery, tanks and the air. I take the second point first. As regards artillery, I have seen extracts from some of the German training manuals, and there is a great testimony in them to the efficacy of artillery fire. I was talking to a young soldier who returned from a prisoner of war camp a few weeks ago. He was in the hands of the Germans at Anzio when a 25-pounder counter-barrage came down from our artillery, and he said that until you had been on the wrong side of our 25-pounders it was almost impossible to realise the terrifying effect of them. Then we come to all the various kinds of tanks—mine clearing tanks, flame-throwers, the special Royal Engineer tanks, the cruiser tanks, and then the much-belaboured Churchill Infantry tank. This has been of great assistance to the Infantry and is greatly valued by them. Even the cruiser tank is of help to the Infantry, because it exploits the break-through made by the Infantry and prevents the opposing forces stiffening up again. Of course, probably the last word said on Infantry co-operation, or at any rate the best word, has been said by Field Marshal Montgomery—I noticed the other day some high-ranking airmail referred to it with great pride, as one of the greatest of the achievements of the Royal Air Force—and that was the reduction in Infantry casualties which it had achieved in this war, with which I entirely agree.

Let me go back to the weapons in the actual Infantry battalions. We developed a good many of these weapons during the war, and the infantryman has added to the range of his equipment enormously. The late Deputy Chief of the Imperial General Staff, General Weeks, whom I am very grieved to lose but Very glad to give up to Field Marshal Montgomery, had a great deal to do with the development of the new weapons, and he has received great gratitude from the Infantry. I myself have seen letters from the commanders of Infantry divisions just after the battle of Normandy saying how extremely well found the Infantry were in the weapons which tended to promote their effectiveness and to reduce their casualties. But this variety of weapons means, as several hon. Members have pointed out, that an infantryman must have a much wider range of knowledge and skill than he has had before. The point which several hon. Members have made is a good one, namely that infantrymen should be graded in skill, and each grade of infantryman should correspond in pay to the corresponding grade of tradesmen, but it should be by tests as equally exacting as those which apply to the corresponding degrees of skill in tradesmen. That is my view, at any rate. The post-war scales of pay for the Army and the other Services remain to be determined, but that is a view which I intend to maintain for as long as I can.

I must say I did not at all like the alternative idea championed by hon. Members, of paying danger money, which has sometimes been called blood money. I do not think you can reward people for incurring danger. You must reward them for skill. The danger they run and the sacrifices they make are made from a sense of sacrifice, and no amount of monetary reward can compensate for that. The other thing which is required for the infantryman is constant research to develop weapons and methods to support him. I would like to elaborate that, but I have not time.

I do not attach much importance to the capital "I" in Infantry and badges and so on. They can be considered in their proper place. Nor do I much like the idea of altering the order of precedence. I am sorry to differ here from the hon. and gallant Member for Petersfield, but I date the precedence of horse over foot much earlier than he does. It goes back beyond 1660 to the time of Elizabeth.

In all this special singling out of the Infantry we must be very careful not to move towards ideas which are prevalent that the Infantry should be a Corps of Infantry and not a collection of individual regiments. The glory of the Infantry is the regimental system. The War Office has been attacked over and over again during the last three years for letting them down. It is true we have had to post people to regiments with which they had no territorial connection. For example, the number of Englishmen in the 51st Division would surprise a great many Scotsmen in this House.

My final point is that we must so devise our post-war Army that the regimental system is preserved, and there will be nothing in the nature of a Corps of Infantry. I could elaborate all these things—

It being half an hour after the conclusion of Business exempted from the provisions of the Standing Order (Sittings of the House), Mr. Deputy-Speaker adjourned the House, without Question put, purusuant to the Standing Order, as modified for this Session by the Order of the House of 30th November.

Adjourned at One Minute to Ten o'Clock.