HC Deb 23 October 1945 vol 414 cc1848-51
18. Lieut.-Colonel Thomas Moore

asked the Secretary of State for War whether His Majesty's Government is prepared to bring home the bodies of British soldiers buried abroad whose relatives wish to have them interred on British soil.

Mr. Lawson

A full statement on this question was issued to the Press by the Imperial War Graves Commission on 4th October, 1945. I am including a copy of the statement in the Official Report.

T. Moore

As it is generally expected that a statement of this great importance should be made to this House, and as I have not had access to the statement to which my right hon. Friend has referred, may I ask him if it is the intention of the State to bear the cost in cases where the bodies are being transferred for interment in this country?

Mr. Lawson

This is a very long statement and I am sorry I cannot read it to the House, but, generally speaking, the policy of the Imperial War Graves Commission is not to allow the removal of any bodies that have been buried in consecrated cemeteries.

Mr. Marlowe

On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. Yesterday we had an announcement referring to some statement by the B.B.C., and to-day we have had an announcement referring to a statement made by some outside authority. Is it in Order for a Member of the Government to make an announcement of a statement which is not available within the archives of this House?

Mr. Speaker

The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War made reference to a statement of the War Graves Commission, and that certainly is in Order.

Mr. Lawson

I pointed out that I would circulate the statement in the Official Report.

Mr. Godfrey Nicholson

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is some obscurity about the future treatment of the bodies of prisoners of war who died in Germany or enemy-occupied country, and will he get that matter cleared up?

Mr. Lawson

I will make inquiries but I am unaware that there is any difference in the policy in that type of case.

Mr. Lipson

What does the right hon. Gentleman mean by the phrase "generally speaking"? Does that mean that there are exceptions to the rule laid down by the War Graves Commission?

Mr. Lawson

Possibly I used too wide a phrase. There are no exceptions.

Mr. McGovern

Will the Minister get the Services also to consider making payments for the burial of men who have died as a result of wounds and disease contracted during the war?

Mr. Lawson

I do not know the practice on the matter, but I will give the point my consideration.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether it is not the fact that the next-of-kin in every case has received a copy of the statement of the Imperial War Graves Commission?

Mr. Lawson

I think that that is the policy, but I would not be sure. As an ex-member of that body, I know that they are very considerate in dealing with the next-of-kin of the men who are interred.

Colonel Ropner

Does the right hon. Gentleman desire the House to understand that the War Graves Commission itself lays down the policy in matters of this sort? Surely it is a Government decision and not one for the War Graves Commission?

Mr. Lawson

No, Sir, the War Graves Commission is only carrying out the policy laid down after a very long Debate in this House.

Following is the statement:

The Governments of the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Newfoundland and India have decided, as after the 1914–18 war, that the return of bodies of members of His Majesty's Forces buried overseas to their home lands shall not be undertaken nor allowed and have authorised the Imperial War Graves Commission to issue the following statement:

Since the outbreak of war in 1939 a number of requests have been received from relatives of members of His Majesty's Forces buried overseas that the bodies should be brought back to their native countries for re-burial. Similar requests were made soon after the war of 1914–18. The Imperial War Graves Commission then gave the most careful consideration to all aspects of the problem and in 1918 they issued an announcement of their policy which in the following years, as the results of their work were seen and understood, won general acceptance throughout the Empire. The Commission feel that a restatement of that policy is desirable now that hostilities are over.

To-day, as in 1918, the Commission are the servants of the public in all parts of the British Commonwealth and Empire, and it is their duty to treat with all possible sympathy the desire of the individual relative; but the reasons against any change of their policy appear to them overwhelming. To give effect to even a moderate demand for repatriation would be a task of even greater magnitude than it would have been in 1918; for, though the numbers involved are happily fewer, the graves are far more widely scattered and shipping facilities are practically nonexistent. On the other hand, private repatriation by a few individuals, who could afford the cost, would, be contrary to that equality of treatment which is the underlying principle of the Commission's work and has appealed so strongly to the deepest sentiments of our peoples.

Once again, France has given a generous lead in providing in perpetuity the land required for our cemeteries in that country, and by a like generosity on the part of other Allied Governments, or by provisions in peace treaties, the last resting places of the Empire's dead in foreign lands will be permanently secured. The cemeteries are being laid out and constructed on the model of those of the last war, and, like them, they will be reverently tended by the Commission's own gardeners and be honoured for all time.

The Commission have learnt, from intimate contacts with the relatives during the past twenty-five years, that real consolation is derived from the knowledge that the last resting places of their dead are so honoured and made sure