HC Deb 05 December 1950 vol 482 cc191-3
38. Mr. Driberg

asked the Secretary of State for War if he will make a statement on the exhumation at Imphal and reburial in the United States of America of the bodies of Major-General Orde Wingate, Captain George Borrow, Mr. Stuart Emery and Mr. Stanley Wills; on what date the Imperial War Graves Commission was notified by the United States authorities that the reburial was to take place; and what steps he is taking to ensure that the wishes of the relatives will be ascertained before similar action is taken in future.

39. Mr. Dodds

asked the Secretary of State for War if he will make a statement about the reburial of Major-General Orde Wingate in the United States of America on 10th November last giving details of how long this had been contemplated; when his widow was informed; and why the usual courtesies associated with a military burial were not observed.

80. Wing Commander Bullus

asked the Secretary of State for War what were the circumstances of the reburial of General Wingate; and why earlier notice was not received.

Mr. Strachey

There were during the war a number of cases where, unhappily, the remains of those killed could not be separately identified, and had to be buried together in one grave. As in the aircraft crash in which General Wingate lost his life, American and British soldiers were sometimes involved together.

In January, 1947, the United States Government asked that because United States law requires that American Service men killed in action abroad shall be returned to the United States for final burial, all the remains, where separation into nationalities was impossible, should be repatriated. Negotiations with the United States Government on behalf of His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom and the other Commonwealth Governments led finally to an agreement that where group burials of British and American dead contained a majority of British remains, the final burial place would be determined by the British authorities, and in those cases in which the majority of the remains were American, the remains in the group should be returned to the United States for burial in a national cemetery, and that in neither case could there be prior consultation with the next-of-kin.

His Majesty's Government, after a preliminary approach had been made in this particular case to the United States authorities, considered whether in view of General Wingate's renown they would ask for the grave to be allowed to remain at Imphal despite the fact that it was the grave of five Americans and four British, but we felt that we could not press for an exception discriminating against the American dead concerned.

The grave in Imphal Military Cemetery containing the remains of General Wingate and his companions was accordingly opened by an officer of the United States Army in the presence of a representative of the Imperial War Graves Commission, and the remains removed in December, 1949. All possible respect was shown at the interment by the American authorities to these British dead. The ceremony was attended by the British Military Attaché in Washington and by members of the British Army Mission, who laid wreaths.

Major Legge-Bourke

Will the right hon Gentleman say whether, when this decision had been taken, the relatives were notified and given an opportunity of attending the ceremony he has just described?

Mr. Strachey

No, Sir. The agreement, which was come to with the United States Government laid it down that there should not be prior consultation with relatives in either case.

Wing Commander Bullus

Could the right hon. Gentleman ensure that in the future, on the occasion of reburial, ample notice will be given to the country concerned?

Mr. Bellenger

May I ask my right hon. Friend whether no change is to be made in the principle that British troops shall be buried where they fall and not removed for reburial in their own country?

Mr. Strachey

No, there is no intention of altering that principle.