HL Deb 02 April 1919 vol 34 cc94-8

LORD ORANMORE AND BROWNE rose to ask His Majesty's Government whether it is proposed to revise Army Order 8, 1918, so as to enable officers and soldiers who, while on a visit to a theatre of operations for a temporary purpose, were repeatedly under the fire of the enemy to become eligible for war medals or for the "crossed swords" entry in the Army List.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, it might be advisable if I were first of all to read the Special Order referred to. It was published on the 30th of December, 1917, and is as follows— VIII. WAR MEDALS, ETC—It has been decided that. officers or soldiers not definitely appointed for duty on the establishment of a unit serving overseas are not, by virtue of a visit to any theatre of operations for a temporary purpose, to become eligible for war medals, or for the crossed swords' entry in the Army List. If this Question were asked in another place I dare say the inquirer would be informed that the reply was in the negative, but in this House we are generally given more detailed information, and I think that my noble friend who replies on behalf of the Government will not be sorry to have an opportunity of giving that more detailed information, because the Order is one of very far-reaching effect, and I am sorry to say has been a cause of—shall I say some discontent?—to a very large number of very gallant men who have done their duty to this country during the war.

I think your Lordships all understand the reason why this Order was issued. It was in order that persons who were allowed to go to the front for a very short time and who did not take any part in the lighting should not receive the award of valour which is understood by the Ribbon and Star of 1915. There were a good many people who were allowed to visit the scene of operations, among them members of both Houses of Parliament who, I believe, were commonly known as "Cook's trippers," and it is said that on some occasions it was even the habit for our guns to fire shells which might explode within a convenient, butt not a dangerous, distance from them, in order that they might have evidence of the actualities of warfare. I need hardly say it is not suggested that any of those gentlemen should receive the Ribbon and Star.

I wonder if the noble Viscount could tell me whether it is a fact that amongst those who are eligible for the Ribbon and Star are those gallant.officers who performed the very useful and necessary, but not extremely dangerous, duty of carrying despatches to and from G.H.Q.. or even to the Base? Because it seems to me that if they are eligible they really were not in much more danger than were your Lordships on an occasion last year when you proceeded to show an excellent example, both to another place and to the whole country, by continuing your deliberations during one of the worst air raids which visited this town. But if it is the case that these gallant officers are eligible for this reward, may I ask my noble friend why it is that officers and men of the Remount Service who constantly had to cross the Channel in charge of horses are not eligible? I think the truth of the matter is, if I may say so with all respect, that the Army Order is based on a wrong foundation. It is based rather on the question of whether any soldier has been definitely appointed for duty on a unit, than whether (as it seems to me ought to be the case) he has been detailed on duty for service in a theatre of war.

I should like now to give an instance of what I mean of some officers being badly treated with regard to this matter. Let me take the case of an officer who commanded a brigade of artillery at home. I believe there were a great many cases like the one I am about to quote. The brigade was trained at home, but it was considered desirable that the commanding officer should go abroad in order that he might observe how artillery operations were being carried on at the Front. While at the Front he was attached to a battery. During the time he was there they discovered an enemy battery which was doing much harm. They attacked that battery and tried to silence it, with the result that the enemy battery retaliated on them and they had a very narrow escape from being completely annihilated. During the whole time that this particular officer was at the Front he was continually under fire.


How long was he there?


Between three weeks and a month. I desire now to ask my noble friend two questions. In the first place, supposing that officer had been wounded while at the Front would he have been eligible for a gratuity? In the second place, if he had been killed would his widow have been eligible for a pension? If those two questions are answered in the affirmative—as I imagine they must be—I should like to know why it is that, as he safely returned to England to command his brigade later in France, he should not be eligible for that reward which is given to all those men who in the early years of the war went out and risked their lives on behalf of their King and Country? I may say that if this officer had been sent out with his brigade to a base abroad he would have been eligible, although he might never have been within fifty miles of the fighting line.

I remember last year, in the debate on the Bestowal of Honours, the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, in a very eloquent passage referred to the pleasure felt by the recipients of what he called "minor honours" which were graciously conferred by the Sovereign. We all know that in this country there must be many men who deserved either the Military Cross or the Distinguished Service Order, but probably those who witnessed the gallant deeds may have all been killed or may not have been able to report them to the proper quarters. That was the fortune of war, and nobody complains of it. But every one of those men will now have the opportunity of wearing on his breast the ribbon which will show his fellow countrymen that he came forward in the cause of liberty and justice and helped his country in its hour of need. I cannot see why those for whom I plead should be exempted from receiving the same honour. In my opinion the question is not whether a man went out as one of a unit or whether he went out as an individual. The sacrifice is the same; and I hope I shall not appeal in vain to the noble Viscount when I ask that the question shall be reconsidered, and that rewards shall be given for what individuals have done and not merely by red-tape rules which make all those who have been at the Base eligible, but exclude brave men who have undergone for a considerable period the hardships and dangers of the campaign.


My Lords, my noble friend no doubt realises quite as well as I do the extreme difficulty of deciding upon the precise limitations within which medals for different services shall be accorded. I think the noble Lord quoted Lord Salisbury with regard to the great effect the bestowal of what he called the "humbler honours" had upon the recipients. I am sure he will bear in mind also the effect upon those who have those honours, and that the more Widely you spread them the more you depreciate from the value of the honours when they are bestowed. I thought my noble friend was very generous in the proposals he made to your Lordships. He referred rather touchingly to an incident I well remember in this House when your Lordships—of whom I was a humble member—went on with your discussions while the bombs were falling right and left. Did I understand the noble Lord to suggest or to appeal to me to see whether a medal could be obtained for those of your Lordships who were present and who displayed such gallantry on that occasion? The noble Lord certainly inferred it, but I do not know whether he appealed to me more directly.


I asked whether officers who were King's Messengers were eligible for the Ribbon and Star, and I suggested that they had not undergone much more danger than had your Lordships on that occasion.


I certainly have great sympathy with your Lordships in that connection. However, I think my noble friend has been drawing a great distinction between commemorative medals—that is to say, medals issued for a particular occasion, or for being in a particular area—and general medals issued for war service. The particular question asked by the noble Lord at first was with regard to Army Order 8 of 1918, which have here. That Order was drafted with special reference to commemorative medals which refer to service in an area, and especially to what are called the 1914 Star and the 1914–15 Star. Since that Army Order was drawn certain exceptions to it have been made, and Draft and Remount conducting officers who were constantly within the theatre of operations—conducting troops and so on—have already been brought within the sphere of that particular Order. The Army Council was no doubt influenced by the fact that those officers during that time were constantly within the theatre of operations. But my noble friend talks about "red tape rules" dealing with these things. You must have rules to limit these Orders; because if you give way in one case you have to give way in another; and you gradually get back from the Front to the rear, then from the rear to some place far behind the Base, and all kinds of people put in claims for that particular honour based upon the fact that somebody a short step in front of them had already received it. So you must have, not a red-tape rule, but a reasonable definite line, which shall decide who is to get and who is not to get the honour. In the case mentioned by my noble friend he says there is a man who has done his duty and served his country, and is not going to get an honour. My noble friend is quite wrong, if he will allow me to say so. The officer may not get the particular commemorative medal for the action in that particular sphere of operations, but he will get the general war medal for war services, and this particular officer may have got other medals besides. Of course as to his question about the revision of the Order, of course this Order 8, 1918, obviously will have to be redrawn, in order to meet cases which I have already said it has been decided come within the grant of the medal.

As to the specific case mentioned by my noble friend, he knows that there are visiting parties and so on who have been within the sphere of operations, very often on duty three or four days at the time, and if we are going to include all those cases you would have to extend the application of the medal very much indeed. I asked specially, and my noble friend was good enough to say, that the officer he referred to had been three weeks or a month doing duty with a battery. Of course it is a matter of interpretation whether this particular officer will be eligible or not, and I shall be very glad to discuss that particular point with the Adjutant-General, to see whether or not it comes within the operations of the rule. As to the further question whether in these circumstances if the officer died his widow will be entitled to so much, or the officer if wounded will be entitled to a gratuity, it is a financial question which I should not like to answer offhand. If my noble friend will allow me to consider the matter, I should be glad to give him an answer at a later stage.