HC Deb 27 May 1952 vol 501 cc1123-6
1. Mr. W. J. Taylor

asked the Secretary of State for War why Private Geoffrey Boot, 1st Battalion the Green Howards, was reported killed in Malaya and his parents informed by telegram and letter accordingly when, in fact, he was only slightly injured; and if he will take all possible steps to prevent unnecessary suffering to next-of-kin by errors of this kind in his Department.

The Secretary of State for War (Mr. Antony Head)

I very much regret this mistake, which was due to the ambiguity of the signal reporting this accident. A new instruction for the wording of such signals has been circulated to all concerned which will, I think, eliminate chance of recurrence.

13. Mr. Hamilton

asked the Secretary of State for War what steps he intends to take to ensure that 4691891 War-substantive Staff-Sergeant G. Grimshaw, Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, will return to his home in Fife from his training as a Z reservist at Lydd Town in sufficient time to obviate the loss of the bonus shifts payable to miners.

Mr. Head

I am arranging that this soldier's time of reporting and return to his home shall not interfere with his bonus shifts in the weeks before and after his training period.

Mr. Hamilton

While I thank the Minister for that reply, may I ask whether he is aware that this man is to take his colliery manager's certificate in November? Is it not ridiculous that this highly skilled man is to go from Fife to Kent—a matter of 600 miles—to engage in about 11 day's training, when in the event of an emergency he would obviously be in a reserved occupation?

Mr. Head

This man is exceptionally qualified in so far as he is a radar technician, and the only place where such men are trained is in Kent. As regards his present course of studies, I think that in the event of war his services as a radar technician would be absolutely invaluable to the country.

Mr. Hamilton

If he is a very highly skilled man, what advantage will he or the War Office get out of this 11 days' training at Lydd? Is it not a fact that valuable though he might be in an emergency, he would be infinitely more valuable as a colliery manager?

Mr. Head

The hon. Member will agree that this man has not yet passed his examination to become a manager; I hope he will do so, but I would point out that there have been great changes in radar equipment and the techniques of radar, which have progressed very considerably since he left the Army.

21. Lieut.-Colonel Lipton

asked the Secretary of State for War whether leave to presume the death of Gunner J. O'Leary, missing on active service in Malaya since 2nd March, 1951, has now been granted by the Supreme Court at Pahang.

Mr. Head

This case was due to be heard last week and I had hoped by to-day to know the outcome. I have, however, just heard that the civil court concerned will not accept the local affidavits and that an affidavit has now been sent for signature by a witness in this country. I much regret this further delay, but there is nothing I can do to avoid it.

Lieut.-Colonel Lipton

If all the facts of this deplorable case were revealed, the public conscience would be outraged. Would the right hon. Gentleman now do his best to honour the undertaking which he gave last November, when he said that he hoped to get this matter cleared up in a week or two?

Mr. Head

I share the hon. and gallant Gentleman's regret about this case. I am not trying to absolve myself, but it is now out of my hands. I have sent a great many telegrams and I was hoping that it would have been finally settled today.

24. Mr. Yates

asked the Secretary of State for War if he is aware that 916925 Gunner C. D. Yates, Royal Artillery, has been missing for over 10 years from the Netherlands East Indies and that his wife has been unable to claim a widow's pension; on what grounds he assumes that this soldier originally absented himself without leave and is still absent without leave: and if he will now presume his death and pay a widow's pension to Mrs. Yates accordingly.

Mr. Head

This man is recorded as being, not missing, but absent without leave. This is because he went absent from his unit on 21st February, 1942, and was seen in Java on several occasions in February and March, 1942. Since then he has not been heard of. I am going to re-examine the case to see whether something cannot be done to help Mrs. Yates, and I will write to the hon. Member.

Mr. Yates

Is the Secretary of State aware that this man went through France with a machine gun unit and was wounded at Dunkirk, that he possesses all the attributes of a very brave soldier, and is not the sort who would absent himself without leave? In considering this case, will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that this man had been missing for four years before he was discovered absent without leave, and that since that time—for six years—his wife has had to exist on public assistance? It is most regrettable that the wife of a man who served his country in this way should be in such circumstances. Will the Secretary of State give his personal consideration to this case?

Mr. Head

I have informed the hon. Gentleman that I am far from happy about the position of Mrs. Yates. It is difficult for me to say the man is dead since he was seen after he left his unit. I have given the hon. Gentleman the assurance that I will go into the case to see if there is anything that can be done for Mrs. Yates.

Mr. Ian Harvey

Can my right hon. Friend give any indication of what consideration was given to this case by his predecessor?

Mr. Shurmer

Regarding the question of a man who is seen after leaving his regiment, what is the position of a number of soldiers whose wives have not seen them for years and whom no one else has seen? The right hon. Gentleman may remember the case that I raised some time ago of a man who had been missing. After a certain time, cannot his death be presumed?

Mr. Head

In those circumstances a man is reported missing, or missing believed killed; but this man who was reported absent without leave was seen walking about Java. He may be doing some job in that far off country.