HL Deb 16 May 1916 vol 21 cc1053-6

THE EARL OF DESART rose to ask His Majesty's Government whether they are able, or expect shortly to be able, to publish the following information—(a) The names of the wounded and sick officers and men of the Kut Force who have been handed over to the British authorities; (b) The names of those who have died since the last publication of the losses in that Force; (c) The names of those who are now prisoners of war in the hands of the Turks.

The noble and learned Earl said: My Lords, I should like to say a few words before putting this Question. As we know, after considerable fighting at Ctesiphon and other places the Force under General Townshend operating in Mesopotamia was finally invested in Kut. For a time after that investment some information came out, but, if I am rightly informed, since about the middle of January of this year no, or very few, friends or relations of officers and men in Kut have received any information as to what had been the lot of individuals composing that Force. It held out, as we know, through its fortitude and gallantry, up to the early days of last month, and we had the news of the unhappy surrender about three weeks ago. We know that in the fighting at Ctesiphon and at other places before the investment a considerable number of officers and men were wounded. Some were sick; and there have been rumours—I hope not well founded—that there was a great deal of sickness in Kut during the investment. But since the investment we have received no information as to individuals.

Among the suffering from bereavement and loss which in this great war has fallen so heavily on the community, and on no body of men more than on members of your Lordships' House, I think perhaps the most trying is a long period of suspense with no knowledge as to the fate of those dear to people at home, and there is no doubt that this period of three months has been an extraordinarily trying time to those who have friends in the Kut Force. Now we know that those who are sick and wounded have been handed to the British authorities by the Turks, to whom in this respect I think one should pay a tribute in comparison with others of our enemies who, before the war, posed as the exponents of the highest specimens of the martial virtues, among which up till now we had included consideration for sick, wounded, and prisoners among enemies. There are also those who have been made prisoners of war, and whose names will be known if they are not already known. I do not for a moment suggest any blame to the Government or to any member of the Government because this information has not yet been given. I can well imagine the difficulties. They may not yet have been overcome.

I am sure that every member of the Government would desire to terminate at as early a date as possible the suspense under which the friends and relatives of these men have so long suffered. I will give a concrete case, and there must be others very much like it. A young officer with whom I am well acquainted was wounded in the fighting at Ctesiphon, and, like many of our officers and men, managed to carry on and fought continuously until the investment. After the investment he was seriously wounded, and the last news—not at all reassuring—which his parents received was in the middle of January. Since then they have not heard anything. When the investment came, with the feeling of sorrow for the necessity of the surrender there was this amount of comfort—that relatives at home thought they might soon get news of those belonging to them. I am sure they will receive it as soon as it can be given. But it would be of some consolation to them if the Government were able to give an idea of the date at which relatives and friends in this country may hope to know whether those belonging to them are in our hands as sick and wounded, whether they have passed away altogether during the siege, or whether they are prisoners of war in the hands of the Turks. That is my only motive for putting this Question. It is in no sense an attack upon or criticism of the Government, who must be as anxious as we all are that the information should be given at as early a date as possible.


My Lords, I am sure that all your Lordships fully sympathise with what has been said by the noble and learned Earl, and that the Secretary of State for War will be the very first to desire to alleviate the anxiety which all relatives must feel for those who are dear to them and who have done so well. The noble Earl has placed three specific Questions on the Paper, to which I shall be glad to give answers. At the same time I will carry in my mind what he has said, and will make it my duty to report it to the Secretary of State.

First the noble Earl asks for the names of the wounded and sick officers and men of the Kut Force who have been handed over to the British authorities. Four British officers were exchanged. Their names are Lieutenant F. G. S. McLean, Lieutenant W. A. G. Hinds, Lieutenant F. W. Portsmouth, and Lieutenant J. H. Bulloch. The two former belong to the Indian Army, and the two latter to the Norfolk Regiment. It is hoped to publish these names in the casualty list to-morrow. There were also exchanged one conductor, one chief petty officer, and one petty officer of the Royal Navy, 97 British rank and file, and about 970 native officers and other ranks. The names of the conductor and of the two petty officers have not yet been received. The names of some of the rank and file have been received and have been notified to the next-of-kin. A full list has been asked for, but has not yet arrived.

Next the noble Earl asks for the names of those who have died since the last publication of the losses in the Kut Force. Deaths were notified as they occurred during the siege. An inquiry has been sent as to whether there are any deaths which have not yet been notified.

Lastly, the noble Earl desires the names of those who are now prisoners of war in the hands of the Turks. No lists of those taken prisoners have yet been received from the Turkish Government, but the United States Embassy have been asked by the Foreign Office to try to get lists as soon as possible, and it has been suggested that the officers who are prisoners should help in compiling them.