HL Deb 12 March 1900 vol 80 cc548-55

I should like to ask the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for War whether he has been able to make any inquiries into the treatment of certain Reservists, to which I called his attention about ten days ago.*

*THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR (The Marquess of) Lansdowne

I have made inquiries into the matter to which my noble friend referred, and I find that the information given to him was incorrect in some important particulars. My noble friend's statement was to the effect that the two soldiers whom he mentioned had arrived at their destination in a state of exhaustion, having been travelling from 7 o'clock in the morning till 5 o'clock in the afternoon, that they had had no food, and had no money in their pockets. I find, however, that these two men left Netley at 11.12 o'clock in the morning and arrived at High Wycombe at 3.58 in the afternoon. They had therefore been not ten hours on the road, but 4¾ hours. The Principal Medical Officer at Netley has written to the War Office follows— Both these men were in good health. It was very doubtful whether it was necessary to send them to a convalescent home, and I cannot understand why either of them should feel the effects of a 4¾ hours journey. With regard to the statement that the men had no money in their pockets, soldiers, when they are in hospital, usually accumulate a certain amount of pay; they certainly do so during a voyage on board ship, and men leaving Netley can apply to the paymaster for an advance. Even if no balance is to their credit an advance of pay can be made to them, and it appears that neither of these men made any application to be supplied with funds. Then there is the question of their clothes. My noble friend was informed that they had lost their kits, that they were promised that when they got to Netley their kits would be replaced, and that * See The Parliamentary Debates. [FOURTH SERIES.] Vol. lxxix. p. 1057. they arrived at High Wycombe in the clothes which they had worn during the voyage. The rule is, I understand, that if a man has lost his kit it is replaced when he rejoins his battalion, and when a man goes into hospital he is given hospital clothes while he is there. These two men went from the hospital, not to rejoin their battalions but to a convalescent home, and I find that they travelled in their greatcoats and serges, those clothes being no doubt the same that they had worn during the voyage. But before they left Netley each of them was given two flannel shirts and a Cardigan jacket. Those articles were supplied, I believe, from the great amount of clothing and necessaries which have been placed at the disposal of invalid soldiers by the Soldiers' and Sailors' Families Association and by various benevolent local bodies and organisations. I am bound to say, however, that it does seem to me that articles of this kind, so far as they are indispensable and necessary, should be supplied at the public expense; but the authorities at Netley very naturally say that having received an immense amount of clothing they used it in cases of this sort. I think, as I said in this House the other evening, that it ought to be clearly understood that indispensable articles should be supplied at the public expense, and that if we look to private generosity at all it should be for the supply of things which are not absolutely necessary but rather of the nature of special comforts or luxuries. The result of my inquiries leads me to think that the arrangements for the supply of clothing to invalid soldiers on leaving hospital did require further consideration than they at first received, and I am glad to be able to say that attention had been given to the matter some days before my noble friend asked his question. What has been settled is this. In the month of February—the 7th of February was the exact date—the Principal Medical Officer at Netley was instructed that whenever an invalid soldier is about to leave the hospital, he is to communicate with the depôt of the regiment to which the man belongs, and from that depôt he is to receive clothing, either clothing which the man may have left at the depôt before leaving England, or new clothing which he may be given and which he may wear during his journey from the hospital to the station at which his regiment his quartered. In the case of a man going from hospital not to his regiment but to a convalescent home we propose that he should be given, in addition to the usual clothing, hospital clothes which he can wear while he remains in the home. I may, perhaps, be allowed to take this opportunity of expressing our acknowledgment to the many benevolent persons who have offered us houses of all descriptions—I might almost say from cottages to palaces—as convalescent homes for the accommodation of invalid soldiers. My only regret is that I do not see a prospect of filling them all. I am told that the private soldier when he is discharged from hospital very much prefers as a rule going to his own home rather than to a convalescent home, however comfortable or luxurious. We are, none the less, under deep obligation to many persons who at great trouble and inconvenience to themselves have offered accommodation of this kind.


I have heard with great pleasure the concluding words of the noble Marquess, but in reference to the earlier portion of his remarks I think I must be allowed to say a word or two. The noble Marquess stated that instead of being ten hours on the road the men were only 4¾ hours. I saw the men when they arrived, and they both told me they had been marched from Netley Hospital under the charge of the military police, that they had been put into the train at seven o'clock, not eleven o'clock, and that they arrived at their destination at five o'clock. I acknowledge that they were an hour late, but that was due to the fact that at the station for changing trains one of the men was too weak to get across the station in time to catch the train which was waiting at another platform. The noble Marquess said that men accumulated pay on board ship, and that these men ought to have had sufficient money to pay for their necessaries, but neither of the men had had a sixpence paid to him since October and November of last year, and the country was in debt to them £10 each. As to applying to the paymaster at Netley for an advance, it seems to me that in a case where a man has been severely wounded in fighting for his country, and has been discharged as convalescent from hospital, the man should not be required to apply for an advance, but it should be the duty of the authorities at the hospital to give him a portion of the money the country owes him, and not send him away, on what I still repeat was a ten hours journey, in a weak state without food or money. The noble Marquess admits that the underclothing was supplied from a benevolent fund, but the country will hardly agree that such men should be clothed by private charity. It seems hard that men, after fighting for their country, should have to rely on out-door relief. In conclusion, all I have to say is that I gratefully acknowledge the further consideration which was given to the treatment of invalid soldiers some days before I called attention to the subject; but I do not regret having done so, because I feel certain this is not an isolated case but an illustration of the condition in which convalescent soldiers were at that time being treated by the country.


I think your Lordships have something to complain of in the manner in which my noble friend has on both occasions brought this question before the House. On the first occasion there was no intimation whatever on the Paper, and he has again raised the matter without giving notice. It was only by the courtesy of the noble Marquess opposite that I knew it was coming on. When questions of this importance and wide interest are to be brought before your Lordships, notice should be given in order that the Secretary of State himself may be able to make inquiries before being called upon to answer them, and in order that any of your Lordships who are interested in the subject may be able to take part in the discussion. I am not satisfied with the way in which the noble Earl has accepted the reply of the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for War. The noble Earl made certain charges which appear to me to have substantially broken down, but he has not made any apology for having brought them forward. In its relation to Netley Hospital the statements in the question caused very great distress to Miss Norman, the able lady at the head of the hospital, because they implied that no care was taken to provide soldiers leaving Netley Hospital with proper warm clothing. The explanation of the noble Marquess shows that this was not the fact. The men were supplied with two shirts and a cardigan jacket each on leaving the hospital. That has been done since January last.


From private funds.


The point whether these articles were provided by private funds or not had nothing to do with the question put the other day by the noble Earl, which practically accused the people concerned of not having taken sufficient care of soldiers leaving hospital. I contend that the noble Earl had no right to put such a question without first ascertaining the facts of the case and placing a notice upon your Lordships' Paper. I am very glad that it is now quite clear that Miss Norman is giving warm underclothing to the soldiers when they leave the hospital, and I heard with pleasure the words of the noble Marquess thanking those ladies who have taken so much pains in providing these articles. Miss More ton, who is at the head of the clothing branch of the Soldiers' and Sailors' Families Association for Hampshire, has been able to collect and distribute large quantities of clothing of this kind to Netley Hospital and Aldershot Hospital, and I believe that up to the present time the supplies have been adequate to meet the demands. At the same time, I quite agree with the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for War that the supply of such things should not be left to private liberality and that it is the duty of the War Office to take care that these men when they leave hospital are provided with sufficient clothing to prevent any injury to their health. I understand that the noble Marquess is going to take care that in future that course shall be adopted. This is a matter of considerable consequence. Miss Norman tells me that 200 men left in one week and forty the next, and she expects 200 more men to leave immediately. The funds of the Soldiers' and Sailors' Families Association are not in themselves applicable to soldiers, but to their wives and children. This special fund is now nearly exhausted and there is very little more money out of which such articles can be purchased. We have a county war fund in Hampshire, and we have a considerable balance in hand. We had a meeting of the fund this morning at Winchester, and decided that it was not right that a county fund, which is raised for the purpose of helping those men who go from our own county to the front, whether Volunteers, Yeomen, Militiamen, or soldiers belonging to the county regiment, should be used in supplying articles of this kind to a great hospital like Netley, where probably very few of the invalids are Hampshire men. An individual who does not wish his name to be mentioned did provide a number of these articles so that the supply which Miss Norman had might not run out, but after those articles are distributed I do not think there will be any further funds forthcoming from the Soldiers' and Sailors' Families Association for this purpose. Therefore I hope my noble friend's arrangements will be at once made so as to avoid any difficulty. With reference to what the noble Marquess has said of convalescent homes, I hope that the regulations will in no way limit the comforts provided to the men who are to rejoin the colours, but that they will be equally open to men who are discharged from the Army. I was surprised to hear only two days ago that the Principal Medical Officer at Netley Hospital considers that the use of convalescent homes is confined to those who are going to rejoin the colours. I apprehend that no one who has subscribed to these homes would wish that men who have been wounded and are not able to rejoin the colours should be debarred from the use of the convalescent homes if they wish to go to them. I am very glad to hear that attention is being given to the subject of the way in which men leave the military hospitals, for I have reason to believe that the arrangements at Aldershot Hospital are anything but satisfactory, or, at any rate, have been anything but satisfactory.


I feel certain the House will allow me to say one word of personal explanation. I did not think it respectful to interrupt my noble friend while he was speaking, but I think there is really very little between us. The exact words I used in my question a few days ago were— When they arrived at Netley Hospital they were provided with four shirts and four pairs of socks each out of the Daily Mail Absent-minded Beggar Fund. I gladly add my tribute of admiration and respect to Miss Norman for the kindness she has shown to all the men at Netley Hospital. All there is between myself and the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for War is one cardigan jacket. He and I entirely agree that the men should be properly clothed and fed by the country they have so gallantly and so valiantly served, and should not have to rely upon private funds.


I share strongly the feeling which has been expressed by the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for War and by my noble friend behind me that it is the duty of the Government to supply soldiers who suffer in service with everything necessary to restore them to health. Private charity is a very valuable thing, but it should supply those articles which it is not reasonable to expect the Government to supply. The articles referred to are really necessaries, and the whole nation would desire that they should be provided by the Government.


With regard to the length of the journey, there is no doubt that these men left Netley at 12 minutes past 11 o'clock. What they could have been doing from 7 o'clock till that hour passes my comprehension. Lord Northbrook raised a point with regard to men discharged from hospital who are not going back to their regiment or to a convalescent home, but who are being invalided out of the Army altogether. Those men under present arrangements are supplied with clothes. As to the other point raised by Lord Northbrook, I will make inquiry. It was with surprise that I heard the suggestion that the use of the convalescent homes so generously offered to us was restricted to men who intended to rejoin their regiments, especially when, as I have said, we find great difficulty in discovering sufficient inmates for the homes offered. While I agree entirely with what has been said by the noble Earl the Leader of the Opposition, I think it must be remembered that in this case a very great quantity of clothing had been sent to Netley, and it was only natural that the authorities there should turn it to the best possible account


As I have been connected with a good many of these voluntary associations I should like to say that I am exceedingly glad to hear that the Government will deal with soldiers who are discharged from service after being wounded as well as with those who will rejoin.