HL Deb 27 May 1919 vol 34 cc861-7

LORD AMPTHILL rose to call attention to certain hardships inflicted on quarter-masters now serving in the Army by the existing Regulations and the present practice; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I will try to be as brief as possible and not go into any details, but perhaps I may express my regret that so few members of your Lordships' House have thought it worth while to give their attention to a question which is of considerable public importance. Those of your Lordships, and there are many, who have served in the Army know what very valuable work is performed by the quartermasters and how admirably it has been done. I think you will all recognise that, in times in which unbridled extravagance has prevailed in many Departments, quartermasters have been almost alone in their careful custody of Government stores, and in that way, by their meticulous system, have saved the taxpayer millions of money. It is on their behalf that I want to say a few words.

What I should like to ask your Lordships to remember is that all quartermasters are men who have risen from the ranks, and therefore they have a claim to special consideration. In comparing their position, as is often done, with that of commissioned officers you cannot have it both ways. You cannot say that, for certain purposes they must be treated exactly the same as combatant officers while, for other purposes, they are to hold a distinctive position. Quartermasters have, somehow, been missed out in the general distribution of advantages and favours which has taken place, and the reason is not far to seek. Quartermasters have no voice. They are naturally not organised. The very nature of their occupation and position would make it impossible for them to organise, even if they so desired, for the simple reason that there is only one quartermaster in each unit; but, as they belong to the most loyal class of soldier, to the non-commissioned officers who have risen by sheer merit, it follows that they are the last class which would agitate or make any complaint.

I am principally concerned with the quartermasters of the Special Reserve, because it is a branch of the Service in which I have held a command for over ten years. These quartermasters have had the heaviest burden all through the war. In most cases they have had to deal with battalions which have often been up to 3,000 strong, and they have had no relaxation at all. They have not even had the relaxation of going to France, and every one who has done both knows that it is really a holiday to go out to France after serving at home, especially in a Reserve battalion.

These quartermasters, I know, because I am personally acquainted with many of them, have two main grievances. They have not asked me lo bring them before you, but I think it is right that I should do so. The first is the difference of treatment meted out to officers who were retained in the Army when the war broke out under Article 120 of the Royal Warrant and the treatment which was given to officers who were recalled to the Army. The second is the treatment of quartermasters as compared with combatant officers. As regards the first point, the quartermaster who had earned his pension a short time before the war was naturally recalled, and he has been getting both pay and pension. The quartermaster who was nearly due for pension when war broke out was retained under this Article of the Royal Warrant, and all this time he has only been getting pay; the pension which he had earned has been delayed and deferred. I could give your Lordships lots of instances of this, but I hope a mere statement of the fact is enough. I am quite aware that the answer given to this kind of complaint is that officers do not serve in the Army on a fixed engagement like the rank and file, and, therefore, there is no limit to their services. But the circumstances which have arisen have undoubtedly brought about hardship, and the sense of hardship is very keenly felt. There can be no question whatever that those who framed Article 522 of the Royal Warrant did not contemplate such a long war as we have had or such a long continued deferment of pension.

The difference between the quartermaster and the combatant officer who has been retained or recalled is this. The combatant officer has had opportunities of getting a higher rank and consequently higher pension. I could give your Lordships chapter and verse for that, but I hope the statement of fact is enough. It is not so with the quartermaster. He cannot get a higher rank than major, and he has had no opportunities of promotion. It is a matter which is felt keenly.

It is quite true that a few quartermasters have been given honorary promotion and been made honorary lieutenant-colonels, but the system on which that has been done has worked very unevenly. Where it is uneven is this. You may have—and I am quoting an actual case—in one brigade the three best quartermasters in that particular branch of the Service. To each formation a certain number of these promotions or honours is allotted. They can only give one to the brigade. One of these quartermasters gets his promotion and the other two, who are in actual merit second and third, get nothing, whilst number four who has served in the neighbouring brigade gets his promotion. I say that promotion should be given in cases of this kind by seniority for faithful and proved service.

There is one more little grievance. In 1918 the pay of officers generally was increased by 25 per cent., but quartermasters did not share in that improvement. Their pay was increased by only 3 per cent., from 18s. to 18s. 6d. It is quite easy for experts in the Royal Warrant to turn down any case that can be made out, and we are familiar in this House with the way these things are done and with the official answer to this kind of complaint I make no complaint about that; that is the business of the permanent officials. But I maintain that this matter should be treated as one of equity, taking into consideration all the circumstances of the war and all that has taken place in the last five years, rather than be judged according to the bare letter of the Regulations.

I began by saying that quartermasters have deserved extremely well of the nation and of the Army, and if they have a sense of grievance, which I know they have, you may be perfectly certain that it is well founded and that something is wrong. One way in which it occurs to quartermasters is this, that the War Office have been getting their services on the cheap. The War Office retain a quartermaster for four years; they are saving his pension which he has earned; and the difference is £50. The. quartermaster feels that he is being "got" for £50, and that the War Office should have allowed him to take his pension and obtained another quartermaster. These men have saved you literally millions of money by their careful guardianship and custody of Government stores, and in doing so they have done as much as any other class of men for the comfort and wellbeing of the soldier, on which, after all, the efficiency of the soldier depends. In that way they have played a part in winning the war which has not been generally recognised. It can be recognised by just remedying these little grievances, and what you would have to pay would be a mere drop in the ocean as compared with what you have spent and what these men have saved you.

These quartermasters are all men who have risen from the ranks. They belong to that splendid class of the British non-commissioned officer which was absolutely the backbone of the old Army, and in spite of the enormous and incredible expansion had strength enough to support the framework of the New Army. I think my noble friend the Under-Secretary of State for War will allow that I have placed all my cards on the table in telling him the points I was going to raise, and I hope that he will give me an answer which will be an encouragement for those on whose behalf I have said these few words.


My noble friend was good enough to inform me of the points that he was going to raise, but I think he will probably excuse me front giving him a detailed answer on those points, not because these benches are not particularly crowded—I should have given hint a full answer owing to the interesting and sympathetic way in which he has raised the whole question, whatever the condition of these benches was—but because the whole question of the position of quartermasters has now been referred to the particular Committee which is sitting on the subject of the pay of the after-the-war Army. The whole question affecting these quartermasters, both as regards their pay and service, has been referred to this Committee. I understand that it will be sympathetically considered. My noble friend knows that the Financial Secretary is the Chairman of this Committee, and that they are already at work dealing with the subject. I hope, therefore, that he will excuse me if I do not give him any further answer on the details as the matter is now under the consideration of t he Committee.


Might I suggest two small points to the noble Viscount. There are two questions on which quartermasters are keen—one is the question of rank, and the other is the question of pay. I hope that when the Committee go into it they will not entirely think of the Army as we used to know it before the days of war. We all hope that we shall not have another war in our time, or perhaps ever, though I personally a[...] doubtful on the point, but we know what does happen with a very rapid expansion of the Army. Men are pushed up quickly from one rank to another. Quartermasters get left, and do not receive the rapid promotion which is given to combatant officers.

I suggest that if it can be done, quartermasters should get promotion to the same rank and in the same way as other officers. If, for instance, an officer who gets his commission in 1920 becomes first lieutenant in 1925 and captain in 1930, quartermasters should get their steps at the same pace, and preferably rather sooner, because they have served in the ranks. Progress in the ordinary way in time of peace is slow, but in time of war the whole thing is changed. You get men given a commission, and within the course of a few months they have already got their second step to captain, and I suggest that quartermasters should also get the benefit of the rapid promotion that then takes place in the case of combatant officers, and should be put on the same basis as the combatant ranks.

There is another point. A quartermaster's pension is allotted principally on the amount of pay he receives, but his pay is low because he get certain allowances, some of them in kind, which compensate for his pay not being as high as we should like. For instance, in all barracks the quartermaster gets free quarters. It does affect the pension if these allowances are not considered and if the pension is rated purely and simply on the basis of pay and not on the basis of pay plus allowances. The sovereign now goes very much less far than it did, and I suggest that my noble friend should bring this matter before the Committee, because I know that many quartermasters feel that the allowances as well as pay should be considered in arriving at pensions.


There is one other point upon which quartermasters, and still more those who are not less important, quartermasters' wives, feel very much and which affects especially quartermasters in the branch of the Service which I know very well and which used to be called the Militia. The question is this, that with quartermasters appointed to a Special Reserve unit, especially and chiefly where that unit is not at a depot, the social question comes in very much. Take, for instance, a unit with which I am particularly acquainted and with which I had the honour of serving for twenty-one years. It was an Engineer unit, and of course the quartermasters came from the Royal Engineers and were sent to it usually having been quartermasters at Chatham. There there was a large society for quarter-masters and quartermasters' wives. Then the man is transferred, say, to Monmouth. To the ordinary civilian a man who is Mr. Jones, or whatever may be the name, is no more than a quartermaster-sergeant; whereas if he is Captain Jones his social position is enormously improved. Therefore if quartermasters, on being appointed to the Special Reserve, could be granted the honorary rank of captain it would cost nothing and would confer a great benefit upon these excellent officers and their wives.


The points raised by my noble friends will no doubt be carefully considered by the Committee.


Brought from the Commons, read 1a; and to be printed.