HL Deb 14 February 1922 vol 49 cc126-8

LORD NUNBURNHOLME rose to ask His Majesty's Government the reason why battle honours have not been conferred on county regiments for the great war. The noble Lord said: My Lords, in rising to ask the Question which stands in my name I may, perhaps, say a few words upon a subject in which a great many people in this country are interested, and that is the subject of battle honours and clasps for engagements in the late great war. It is now some three years and three months since the war terminated, and many committees who have erected county war memorials would like to have the battle honours of the county regiments inscribed thereon. We are all proud of the engagements in which the various arms of His Majesty's Service took part in the war. At the present time there is a great deal of talk of doing away with many units of His Majesty's Forces, and it will be a pity if these units are abolished without the ordinary recognition they have always received after a great war in the shape of honours for the engagements in which they have fought.

This is, of course, a very difficult subject for the various Committees which have been sitting at the War Office to deal with. I trust I am voicing your Lordships' opinion when I say that I hope the time has now arrived when we should have some decision on the matter. I do not speak on behalf of those who served in the Royal Navy, but I notice a letter from one in The Times to-day. He says that he has received his war medals, is very thankful to have lived long enough to get them, and hopes that some day he may receive a clasp. If the Government can give any satisfactory information on this Question I am sure we shall be greatly obliged.


My Lords, I quite understand that there is much public interest in many quarters on the points raised by the noble Lord as to the question of the battle honours of different units. May I point out that it is a very complicated subject. Before you can decide what battle honours can be borne on the colours of the different regiments you have to decide what a battle is, and that has been a matter of very great difficulty. The old definition of a battle will not do, in view of the prolonged engagements, lasting over several weeks, with which we are now familiar. A Committee called the Battle Nomenclature Committee was appointed, which reported on what were officially the actions of the war and what were the geographical and chronological limits of those actions and their relative importance. This Report was published last year.

Having defined what the battles were, the next point was to set up another Committee to ascertain what units had taken part in them. That again was a matter of considerable difficulty. Let me give your Lordships the terms of reference to this Committee. They had to consider and report on the selection of battle honours to be borne on the colours of regiments and corps for the great war with special reference to five separate points. I will not trouble you with all the five points, but I will quote two in order to show the difficulty of the problem. One point in the selection and allotment of battle honours was whether the guiding principle remained, that headquarters and at least 50 per cent. of the effective strength of the unit should have been present in engagements for which the honour is awarded. It was rather unfortunate that certain units had to be disbanded without knowing the battle honours to which they were entitled, but a much more difficult question is raised in connection with the temporary units which have been disbanded in large numbers. Another question the Committee have to consider is what action, if any, should be taken regarding the honours to be borne on the colours of the New Army battalions which have now disappeared. It will be some time before the Committee, which was set up in December last, will be able to complete its Report.

It may interest your Lordships to know how long it was before decisions were finally reached in the bestowal of honours in previous wars. The periods vary. The battle honours for the South African war, which ended in May, 1902, were awarded in December, 1904, some two and a half years afterwards. Those of the Crimean war were awarded in October, 1855, whilst the war was still in progress. The battle honours of the Peninsula war, which ended in 1814, were awarded in 1818, or four years after the termination of the war. It is interesting to observe that the battle honours for the Marlborough Campaign in Flanders were not finally settled until the year 1882, a very considerable time after the termination of that campaign. I do not say that such a long period is to elapse now, but I feel sure the noble Lord will agree that some time must pass before this question of battle honours is finally decided. I agree with him that it should be settled as soon as possible.